Refuge CEO: back our campaign to save lives

Sandra Horley, CEO of The Lawyer Awards’ charity Refuge, calls for a radical shift in the way society views domestic violence.

Last month, The Lawyer Awards raised over £75,000 for Refuge’s services for victims of domestic violence.  This is an incredible amount.  It will help to sustain our work supporting women and children to rebuild their lives, free from fear.  I would like to thank everyone who attended the awards and donated so generously – as well as those law firms who provide pro-bono legal support for our work.

Refuge opened the world’s first safe house for women and children fleeing domestic violence in West London, in 1971.  Women and children flocked to its doors in their hundreds because, for the first time, they had somewhere safe to go.

Since then, our original Chiswick refuge has expanded into a wide range of services that support 3,000 women and children on any given day.  Our national network of refuges forms the backbone of Refuge’s work.  Behind the doors of these extraordinary houses, lives are saved and transformed.  Women are kept safe and children are given the support they need to overcome horrific trauma.  Alongside emergency refuge accommodation, we also provide a range of other specialist services: community-based support for women who choose not to go to a refuge; independent advocacy to help women and children navigate the civil and criminal courts; culturally specific support for women from black and minority ethnic groups; a team of child support workers; a service for teenage girls affected by gang-related violence; and the National Domestic Violence Helpline, which we run in partnership with Women’s Aid.

The money raised by The Lawyer Awards will help to sustain these vital services.  This support could not have come at a better time, as austerity measures continue to erode local budgets, placing many of our services at real risk of closure.  Demand for our services is also relentless.  One woman in four will experience domestic violence at some point in her lifetime, and every week two women are killed by current or former partners in England and Wales. 

Refuge is also working hard to reduce this horrific death toll.  We support families in the aftermath of their loss, helping them to pursue legal routes to highlight and challenge the failure of state agencies to protect their loved one.  In recent years we have contributed expertise and support to a number of domestic homicide inquests – most recently at the inquest into the death of a young woman called Cassie Hasanovic, who was killed by her estranged husband in 2008, as she was attempting to flee to a refuge.  In February 2014, the inquest jury found that Cassie – who left behind two young boys – was failed by two police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service prior to her death.

Sadly, Cassie’s story is not a one-off.  The list of women and children who have been failed by agencies with a legal duty to protect them is shockingly long.  That’s why Refuge is calling on the Home Secretary to open a public inquiry into the response of the police and other state agencies – the CPS, social services, health, housing, and probation – to victims of domestic violence. 

We need a radical shift in the way our society views domestic violence – and in the way our state agencies respond to victims.  We need an event in British history that has the same generational effect on violence against women as the Stephen Lawrence inquiry had on institutional racism.  We believe that only a full public inquiry will catalyse this change. 

So many of you have already shown your support for Refuge by making a donation towards our work.  I hope you will consider doing one more thing – please sign our petition calling for a public inquiry, and add your voice to a campaign which could help save lives: www.refuge.org.uk/publicinquiry

Thank you.

Sandra Horley, chief executive of national domestic violence charity, Refuge