Earlier this month, Solace Women’s Aid detailed to the Citizen the critical challenges faced by domestic abuse services during the coronavirus pandemic.
The charity highlighted an acute lack of financial support and availability of refuge places, alongside increasing rates of domestic abuse, which had forced them to launch an emergency funds appeal to support survivors during the crisis.
The Citizen last week reported on a 60 per cent increase in domestic abuse referrals to Hackney Council’s intervention service since lockdown began.
Since our last conversation, Solace has now received funding from the London Mayor’s Office and in partnership with Southall Black Sisters, it has launched the Covid-19 Crisis Project.
The project will provide much needed, safe accommodation to women and their children escaping domestic abuse.
It will possess the equivalent capacity of three refuges, with seventy places available for all women and their children living in London, including those in Hackney.
Solace confirmed that the project has already begun to admit those in desperate need of secure accommodation.
At the beginning of May, Solace told the Citizen about the plight of Ava*, a woman who was forced to leave home with her young son, at the start of lockdown.
Her violent partner was the sole recipient of household funds which left Ava with no income and sleeping on her friend’s sofa.
At the same time, the Citizen heard the story of Terry*, who went to stay with her friend after escaping violence from her own husband, when her friend’s husband attempted to sexually assault her.
When Terry first sought support from Solace, she was emotionally and physically traumatised and in possession of just £7 in cash to live on.
Solace says it has supported Terry to find temporary accommodation and were able to provide some limited funds for her to live on.
Terry is now receiving specialist support for the sexual assault and will receive ongoing help from Solace for the foreseeable future.
The stories of Ava and Terry are heartbreaking, and there is a plurality of similarly disturbing experiences of domestic abuse survivors during lockdown across the country.
It is hoped the Crisis Project can provide holistic support to women like Ava and Terry who require stable, safe living environments as they rebuild their lives.
Fiona Dwyer, CEO of Solace, said: “Never has the need for safe accommodation been greater and we are relieved to be able to deliver this groundbreaking model of support at a time of crisis for women and children in London.
“Solace also brings to the project, vital counselling and a package of critical welfare support.”
She added: “We saw a 49 per cent rise in calls to our London Advice Line the week before lockdown and since then have been working with a growing number of women who have managed to leave their abuser, all of whom have been considered at high risk of further harm.”
Solace highlighted that the Metropolitan Police are answering roughly 100 domestic abuse calls per day across London.
The charity also says 19 women and two children have died as a result of domestic abuse since lockdown began.
Southall Black Sisters is an organisation working to raise awareness and challenge all gender based violence against women of colour in the UK.
Pragna Patel, the organisation’s director, told the Citizen the Covid-19 Crisis Project will be open for all women regardless of immigration status.
She said: “The project will help to form a much-needed critical safety net for abused women and children, especially migrant women who have no recourse to public funds.
“In these unprecedented times, no vulnerable group should be excluded from support and protection.”
She continued: “We hope […] that local authorities, with support from the government, will do the right thing by underwriting the costs needed to meet their human rights obligations to keep all women and children safe and protected, irrespective of their immigration status.”
Fiona Dwyer said staff members at Solace have been heartened and encouraged by the generosity of the public in responding to its emergency funds appeal.
Although the sector is working hard to support survivors, significant concerns remain about whether the current infrastructure is robust enough to cope with the anticipated spike in demand for services once lockdown measures ease.
It is predicted that once normality returns there will be a considerable increase in the number of people reaching out for support, as many may be too scared to make contact with services whilst being confined with their abusers.
The domestic abuse sector is resolute in its demand that the government ensures long term, comprehensive financial support so that organisations like Solace and Southall Black Sisters have staff capacity and refuge spaces to be able to help all survivors who need them.
* Some names have been changed to protect people’s identities
To find out more about the work of Solace Women’s Aid, head to solacewomensaid.org
For more information on Southall Black Sisters, visit southallblacksisters.co.uk