No Woman Turned Away
Supporting women and their children fleeing domestic abuse, who face barriers when trying to access a safe refuge.
The No Woman Turned Away (NWTA) project has been funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) since January 2016. It provides dedicated support to women who face barriers in accessing a refuge space. A team of specialist domestic abuse practitioners receive referrals from Women’s Aid member services, and we conduct detailed monitoring and analysis of survivors’ experiences alongside this.
Nowhere to Turn, 2020
The Nowhere to Turn, 2020 report provides an insight into what happens to those women who are unable to access refuge services after having to give up their homes to escape abuse. Many survivors supported by Women’s Aid’s caseworkers said that since leaving their home they had faced homelessness whilst looking for refuge space. Just under 40% of survivors had been ‘sofa surfing’ – staying temporarily with friends or family while homeless – and 7% (17 women) had been forced to sleep rough.
Nowhere to Turn, 2019
This year, in addition to carrying out statistical analyses of survivors’ experiences, we worked closely with 17 survivors who took part in interviews and used art to document their experiences of trying to find a safe place to live. We are hoping that the report, and especially survivors’ quotes and artwork, will add to our previous project reports (Nowhere to Turn and Nowhere to Turn, 2018) by offering readers extensive insight into survivors’ often long-drawn-out and harrowing journeys.
Browse through the artwork created by our participants:
This image depicts Abby’s experiences of breaking the chain of abuse from her partner, and her struggles to secure a specialist refuge that could support her with her mental health support needs. While waiting for a refuge space, she stayed in a hostel for four night. On her first day there she had to call an ambulance for someone who overdosed. She did not sleep the whole time that she was there. Abby said that given her mental health support needs, this could have “tipped [her] over the edge”.
Aisha had come to the UK for an arranged marriage, but her husband turned out to be abusive. She had no recourse to public funds and did not know where to turn. In her poem she describes how her lack of knowledge of domestic abuse laws and available support almost cost her her life.
Aisha ended up making a long journey across the country in the rain and ended up staying with her sister whilst waiting for a refuge place. During this time, she experienced telephone abuse form her sister-in-law.
When Alya called the police after being attacked by the father of her two young children (see her image of the king), the police responded very quickly. However, Alya received no follow-up care from the police or social services. Alya had no recourse to public funds and had to stay in the house with the abuser for 12 days before being accepted by a refuge. During this time, she locked herself and her two young children into her bedroom to keep safe. Whilst Alya felt safe in the refuge, she also felt stuck as her immigration status meant she was not allowed to work or study.
Emira and her young daughter were severely abused by Emira’s husband and his family. Because they had no recourse to public funds, it took several weeks before they could be accommodated in a refuge. Emira and her daughter stayed with a friend. Emira was struggling to pay for essentials for herself and her daughter. During this time, her daughter wore the clothes of her friend’s son, who was several years older. Emira described that her daughter was “drowning”. They finally were accepted into a specialist BME refuge, where they felt free.
Emma had a teenage son who was too old for refuge and sought help from her local housing team. However, she had negative experiences with them. This meant that when she experienced abuse in a subsequent relationship, she did not want to ask for help from her local housing team again. She felt trapped, and did not know where to turn. With the help of friends and family, she eventually found a specialist place for LGBT+ women in a refuge, where she was also supported around her specific mental health needs.
After fleeing her abusive husband, Faiza was treated in hospital while waiting for a refuge space. She had no visitors and felt very alone. She eventually found a space in a specialist BME refuge, where she felt very well supported.
Gita was unable to find a refuge that was able to support her with her mental health and drug support needs for several weeks. She stayed with several friends and with her ex-partner, who continued to be abusive. Due to the stress that she suffered, Gita attempted to take her own life. When she finally got to a refuge, she felt that her “life could start again” and that the refuge would help her with her process of “transitioning”. Her poem ‘Open Book’ highlights the importance of the specialist support that she received in the refuge for her ability to “work on understanding”. Gita told us that “Between my friends, the Shelter lady and the woman from NWTA on the phone, they kept me going. Little bits by little bits, they kept reinstalling that hope. And the more hope I had, the more courage I had.”
Tabia escaped the prospects of a forced marriage and was supported by her teacher in her search for a refuge space. She does not know what she would have done without her teacher.
Lasma had nowhere to go with her son after fleeing her abusive partner. She was struggling with both physical and emotional pain. She had very little money and struggled to pay for food and other essentials for herself and her son. Lasma had language support needs and relied on the help of a friend. She felt incredibly happy once she was accepted by a refuge. She was eventually provided with a new home by the council.
Moira produced a collage for the project, which for copyright reasons we cannot display here. She spoke about how her disabilities meant it took her longer to find a refuge space. Whilst waiting, she stayed with a friend, who became abusive. She said that she felt she had jumped “from the pan into the fire. One abuser to the next.”
She also told us the following: “If I could have gone from A to C without going to B, without going to my friend’s [who turned out to be abusive], straight to the safe house, that would have been absolutely brilliant…I think that was mainly because of my disabilities. If I didn’t have my disabilities, I think I would have been there sooner. But because my needs, they had to meet my needs, it was harder for them to get a place, because there’s not a lot of places about for disabled. There’s a few, but not many.”
Mumtaz had no recourse to public funds. She drew this picture to convey how she felt when she suffered additional abuse from an organisation that turned out to be illegitimate and which abused her vulnerable position. She had nothing to eat and told us that she felt like she had been shredded to pieces by her experiences. She considered taking her own life. She eventually received support from a specialist BME organisation.
Nidhi and her teenage daughter were made homeless after fleeing Nidhi’s abusive husband. They had no recourse to public funds and nowhere to go. They eventually stayed with a complete stranger, who offered them a bed for one night. After being homeless for several days, they both became suicidal and were hospitalised. Once they got a place in a specialist BME refuge, they felt very relieved. Like many of the participant, they wanted to encourage other women to keep fighting for their right for a safe place to live.
Rowan felt like she was being treated like “a number” by her local housing team. She felt like they did not care about the threat of homelessness that she and her young son, who has special needs, experienced. She relied on her sisters for support whilst searching for a refuge space. She and her son also sofa-surfed with people who they barely knew. She told us: “My picture is a mess on purpose…because that’s what my head and my life is like and has been for a long time.”
Safa had no recourse to public funds and stayed in a hotel with her two young children for three months whilst waiting for a refuge space. She struggled to feed herself and her children with the money that she received form social services. She relied on the support of a teacher, who organised for a pizza to be delivered to them every day. This was paid for by the children’s school.
Samira had experienced severe abuse from her former partner. She and her young son had ties to her local area, and Samira felt lucky to find a local refuge space where Samira could start “a new chapter”.
Zainab decided to leave her abusive husband whilst cooking a meal. She had no recourse to public funds. She drew a crying and burning phone to depict the large number of phone calls she had to make to find a refuge space. She was turned away more time than she can count. Whilst waiting for a refuge space she stayed with several family friends and in a mixed-gender hostel. She did not feel comfortable in any of these places and did not leave her room at all whilst staying in the hostel. She finally got accepted by a specialist BME refuge, where she felt very well supported.