Imagine suffering so much abuse at the hands of a partner you love that you are forced to make a decision to flee your home, your friends, your possessions in fear of your safety.
You may have only the clothes you were wearing when the final push came to leave.
That is where the YOU Trust steps in to provide a refuge to victims of domestic abuse.
In some cases, the charity, based in Portsmouth, can pick up a family at risk within minutes of receiving the first phone call.
Frightened, mentally exhausted, and guilt-ridden over the effect on their children, women turn up desperate for help.
And it is the staff and volunteers at YOU who help pick up the pieces and put families’ lives back together again.
Christmas is a particularly tough time when it’s your first away from the family home. So that’s why YOU is launching an appeal to make it as special as possible for those families in need of their support.
Tonia Redvers, domestic violence and abuse service manager at YOU, said: ‘We want to give these women and children the best possible Christmas. They deserve it after going through the horrors they have gone through.’
Tonia believes the community as a whole has a responsibilty to vulnerable people, including victims of domestic violence. The refuge – the address of which must remain secret – can house up to 22 women and 25 children.
Victims stay in the refuge an average of three to four months but stays are getting longer because of a lack of housing for them to move into.
They arrive through referral from police or social services. They can also call the refuge directly.
Some arrivals are planned so mothers can leave while partners are at work and pick children up from school.
‘We would meet her at a secret location and bring her to the refuge,’ said Tonia.
‘We go through the paper work, check she is okay and that she has got food, toiletries, towels and all the basics.
‘They are usually so emotionally drained. We had a woman who came in recently who could not stop crying. She was so relieved to be in a place of safety that she couldn’t talk for 30 minutes, she was so distressed.’
Kirsty Mellor, a volunteer and service user advocate for YOU, said they never judge victims, even if they go back into the relationship.
She said: ‘Everyone’s story is completely different. Some women may come in for a bit of respite and they may go back into the relationship.
‘People will say “why doesn’t she just leave?” but it isn’t easy. The dynamics of an abusive relationship are extremely complex.
‘Not only do they flee their homes, family, pets. They also have to overcome the grief of losing their loved one.’
Once women feel they can move on from the refuge they are provided with support to resettle and directed towards other support services.
ABUSE COMES IN MANY FORMS
THE stereotypical view of an abuse victim is a woman, beaten black and blue by their partner, but that is not always the case. Domestic abuse effects one-in-six men too.
Tonia Redvers describes the abuse as ‘insidious’ and says some victims may not realise it’s an abusive relationship until it is too late.
She said: ‘It can start and remain for some women emotional and financial abuse – belittling and undermining the victim at all times.
‘It can remain non-violent. Sometimes we meet women who have been broken over many years of abuse.
‘Their journey to try to pull themselves back together, after they have been broken apart, to become that person they once were is torturous.
‘Someone who has never experienced violent abuse can be broken to pieces.’
But there are victims who experience sustained violence with abusers targeting specific areas of their bodies over and over again where others can not see the damage.
Tonia added: ‘That’s when you know the perpetrator was very much in control, knew where to hit that woman.
‘A cycle of power and control.
‘They not only controlled the woman but how to abuse her to maximum effect.’
HOW TO HELP
THE YOU Trust has launched a Christmas campaign to make what will be a difficult time of year for the families in the refuge a little brighter.
They are calling on the public to help by donating brand new gifts for the women and children to unwrap on Christmas day.
On December 21 there will be a Christmas party for the women and children in the refuge and Tonia Redvers and her staff are hoping local shops and businesses will help by donating food for the party and some gifts for Father Christmas to give to the children on the day.
On Christmas Day staff and volunteers will cook Christmas dinner for the women and children and any donations of food would be greatly appreciated.
There are other ways to help.
Volunteers are needed at the refuge to provide a listening ear, to pick people up and drop them off and a range of roles.
Grocery shopping vouchers are also needed. They can be from any major supermarket but Asda is the most convenient.
There is also a constant need for toiletries and new towels.
If you can help please call (023) 9229 1034 or call into the YOU Trust, at Focus Point, 116 Kingston Crescent, Portsmouth.
ON FRIDAY hundreds of people are expected to march from the Spinnaker Tower in a bid to end domestic and sexual violence in our communities.
As reported previously in The News, it will be the city’s third Reclaim the Night march and will take place from 7pm. It has been organised in partnership with Aurora New Dawn and Portsmouth White Ribbon.
They will march from the tower to Guildhall Square for a rally.
Local drumming group Batala will lead the march before a rally in the square with musicians El Morgan and Steph Arburrow.