“Most women like us who need help have experienced child sexual abuse and are either now involved in offending because of that, or need more support than there can be available – and are now [also] victims of abuse as adults.”
This quote from one survivor goes some way to shedding light on the array of issues that can face women who have experienced abuse throughout their life, and what the impact of this abuse can be.
Many women who experience abuse as adults and children are deeply traumatised and can face multiple problems like low self-esteem, poor mental and physical health, poverty, homelessness, involvement in the criminal justice system, or using alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism. Some women may also experience sexism, racism, or other forms of discrimination by systems and services that ought to protect them.
Welsh Women’s Aid supports the global #16 days campaign (between International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November to Human Rights Day on 10 December) which this year calls on everyone to take a stand to end male violence against women and make sure that we leave no-one behind, when delivering support services.
That is why it is vital for specialist services to be funded sustainably, so they can provide safety and support for everyone who needs it. This includes the most marginalised and discriminated against women, including refugees, migrant women, disabled women, and survivors who face multiple disadvantage that creates additional barriers for them to access help and recover from abuse.
Services in Wales told us they supported 14,129 survivors of abuse last year, including 2,848 survivors supported in refuges. But we also know at least 500 survivors were unable to be supported in a refuge in Wales last year, because of a lack of resources or capacity, whether this was because they were full, unable to meet their multiple support needs, lacked accessibility for disabled survivors, or lacked resources to support women with ‘no recourse’ to public funds.
This means that some women who experience abuse along with other forms of multiple disadvantage, including facing substance misuse and poor mental health, may find themselves isolated and vulnerable to further abuse or homelessness, or simply left with nowhere to turn.
This is a problem across England and Wales. We know many specialist services have waiting lists for support, or are inadequately funded to provide women with the holistic support they deserve. Specialist services in many areas are at breaking point, and many have limited capacity and funding to help women rebuild their lives as part of their recovery from abuse.
Forty years ago, local authorities began listening to women’s services that campaigned for their right to safety, to access a refuge if they needed to flee from abuse, and to secure rehousing to help them recover from abuse. It is a travesty that today, we risk losing the hard-won gains that specialist services and survivors of abuse have worked so hard for, as specialist services face year on year cuts whilst women’s support needs continue to increase.
Welsh Government recently proposed that the ring-fence for the ‘Supporting People’ and other grants that currently fund refuges and other support services may be lost. Removal of ring-fencing not only means that the funds might be spent elsewhere, it also means we will not clearly know how much is being spent on violence against women work locally, creating a postcode lottery of support. When this happened in England in 2010, 17% of refuges closed as a result.
At the same time, the UK Government has announced that funding for refuges will be taken outside of the welfare system – currently, someone’s stay in refuge is funded by housing benefit, now this money will be allocated to local authorities to distribute instead. The cumulative impact of this is will likely be that specialist services in Wales would be at risk of losing the bulk of their funding, and refuges in particular will face closure.
This would be devastating. Specialist services have the expertise and understanding to best serve the needs of survivors and communities, based on four decades of experience delivering services in Wales. They deliver needs-led and trauma informed support so that survivors and their children are given the opportunity to recover in an environment where they are unlikely to be re-traumatised.
Specialist services are best able to deliver innovative and flexible services, and deliver much more than the public sector can do alone. And we know that the public sector is already struggling – only five local authorities in Wales report substance misuse support specifically for women. We know from survivors that long waiting lists for counselling services or a lack of provision of therapeutic support in some areas is a real problem. In the words of one woman:
“It takes months to even get an assessment, and the system is designed for women to fail. From assessment to appointment can take four months or longer and if we miss an appointment we have to start again”.
It is against this backdrop that we are calling for secure and sustainable funding for specialist violence against women services; funding that is ring-fenced to ensure it is protected, consistent and transparent. This is the only way we can ensure no one who needs safety, protection and support is left behind.
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