For the last four decades, Leeds Women’s Aid has become a safe haven for women whose lives have been affected by domestic violence. Laura Bowyer reports.
IT takes a lot of strength for women to make that first step and realise that they are the victims of abuse.
And over the last 40 years, hundreds of women who have become victims of domestic violence have been brave enough to seek support from Leeds Women’s Aid.
The charity has around 300 women under its care at any one time.
Figures reveal that Leeds Women’s Aid received more than 3,000 calls in one year to its dedicated domestic violence helpline from victims of physical and mental abuse.
Whether it is offering advice, providing a refuge or helping women who are victims of trafficking, the charity is there to help women through their darkest hours.
But finding the strength to come forward and report domestic violence is the biggest battle of all.
Statistics show that women are hit around 35 times before they tell anybody about the abuse they suffer in their own homes at the hands of those they trust.
The charity’s director Kate Bratt-Farrar warned that anyone can become a victim.
She said: “Domestic violence can happen to anyone.
“There is no distinction between race, class or background because it can happen to anyone.
“I think people often feel shame because we all think it can never happen to us but it can.
“Women come to us and they have been strangled, they have been kept locked in their homes and they have had no access to money.
“Some have had no access to a mobile phone and they are not able to go anywhere without every movement being monitored.
“They have often experience sexual violence in the home as well but I think it is amazing that they have the bravery to take that step and walk away.”
The Yorkshire Evening Post revealed earlier this year that the number of reports of domestic violence in the city have increased over the last three years.
Police in West Yorkshire get one call every 15 minutes from victims of domestic violence.
But experts fear that these figures are just the tip of the iceberg because crimes of this nature often go unreported.
More than 37,300 reports of domestic violence have been recorded by the force in the past year.
And more than a third of those victims are from Leeds.
Police say they have received more than 11,350 reports of domestic violence in Leeds between April 2009 and March 2010.
But they received a total of 13,970 reports between April 2011 and March 2012.
Kate hopes that these figures show that victims now feel able to pick up the phone and ask for help.
She said: “My hope is it’s not about domestic violence increasing.
“It’s the fact people are more aware of the service and they are more proactive in voicing the fact that domestic violence is wrong.
“People feel more able to ask for help than ever before.
“We do see spikes for example when the World Cup is on but my hope is it’s because people feel able to call the police.”
Law enforcers revealed they are set to declare war on domestic violence after Safer Leeds – the crime-fighting partnership that brings together police, the council and other organisations – has named tackling the problem as its top priority for this year.
And Kate is pleased that the authorities have declared war on domestic abuse.
“Leeds has always been quite forward thinking and that just enforces that,” she said.
“We have to work together to look at how we can make what we do better jointly.”
Leeds Women’s Aid was formed in 1972 and was one of the first charity’s to open a refuge to women who wanted to flee abusive relationships.
Over the last 40 years women from across the city have come to the charity to seek safe haven at their refuge.
They been given a place to keep themselves and their children safe from harm.
They are offered support and advice such as information on how to find alternative housing and how to get the money they are entitled to.
Leeds Women’s Aid offers around 16 refuge spaces and received around 2,000 referrals last year.
But over the last 40 years the charity has flourished and has become a lifeline to those in need.
The charity was recently awarded over £19,000 from Jimbo’s Fund to help provide extra support to more people.
And members of the community help to ensure that the charity can offer Christmas presents and toiletries to women who seek a safe haven.
Kate said: “Leeds Women’s Aid gets credited for the job we do but really it should go to people who start their lives over.
“Often people come to us with just the clothes on their back and I think they are an inspiration.”
But she warned that domestic violence isn’t always physical abuse.
She said that women are often subjected to mental abuse through controlling partners.
Kate added: “The statistics say women are hit 35 times before they tell anyone and often leave and return home seven or eight times before that final break.
“Perpetrators use control and it’s often about control and not physical violence.
“Perpetrators will use anything in their arsenal to control their partner.”
The charity recently marked its 40th birthday with a reception hosted by patron and Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves at the Civic Hall.
Kate added: “In one way we wish we didn’t need to exist but I think that our plan is to continue to identify the needs of families who are experiencing violence and find new ways to help meet their needs.”
Leeds Women’s Aid is looking for ex-staff, volunteers and people who have been supported by the service to come forward to help celebrate its milestone birthday.
To find out more email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Leeds Women’s Aid provides confidential telephone support and information 365 days a year.
To contact their dedicated helpline call 0113 246 0401
For information about Leeds Women’s Aid and support it offers, visit: www.leedswomensaid.org.uk
In emergencies women are advised to contact West Yorkshire Police’s emergency number on 999.
Or you can speak or email specially trained police officers at Leeds Safeguarding Unit by emailing: email@example.com or contact (0113) 2414180.
24hr National Domestic Violence helpline on 0808 2000 247