If you have been to a domestic violence refuge yourself, or you know someone who has, you may have a clear sense of what a ‘refuge’ is and the kind of help provided there. Similarly, if you work in public services – in housing, health, social work or the police, for example – you may be familiar with referring women and their children to a refuge. After all, there have been domestic violence refuges for women and children in the UK since the 1970s, and a recent presentation to the UN Human Rights Council described refuges (‘shelters’) as “survival tools which protect women whose lives are at risk” and “human rights obligations” “not optional extras”.
But many people have no idea that anyone would help them if they experience abuse – and have no idea what a domestic violence refuge is.
Cathy was from the UK but spent much of her adult life in the USA, so when she returned to the UK did not know about her options when her partner became violent.
‘I’d already made my decision years ago to go; but I always ended up going back – not because I liked him, but because I had nowhere to go.’
She didn’t find out about refuges from formal public information, but from a chance conversation while she was sleeping rough and keeping warm in a late-night restaurant.
‘I was in McDonald’s in Marble Arch, and I was just talking to a person in there – just a regular customer – and she said – why don’t you call the Domestic Violence shelter?’
When a Housing Officer told Gloria he would refer her and her baby to a refuge, he didn’t think to explain to her what a ‘refuge’ was.
‘I said ‘refuge’? I have no idea what you are talking about – explain to me what a refuge is – because I say to them – you’re sending me to prison? Did I commit something that I don’t understand?’
Many women and children are so isolated in an abusive relationship that they do not know about refuges. It’s vital for everyone to think about how they could ensure that women hear about refuges if they need them – think about having leaflets and the freephone number (0808 2000 247) available anywhere where a woman might first find out about her right to escape abuse.
 Press release 12 June 2017 ‘States must provide shelters as “survival tool” for women victims of violence – UN expert’ http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21724&LangID=E
Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session35/Pages/ListReports.aspx