A refuge is a safe house where women and children who are experiencing domestic violence can stay free from abuse. There are also some refuges across the country that are for men who are fleeing abuse but most are for women. Refuge addresses (and sometimes telephone numbers) are confidential. There are over 500 refuge and support services in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Most refuges are unlikely to accept women from their immediate local area as this is usually where they are most at risk and therefore are likely to have to go to another area. Any refuge accepting a victim would have to be a 'safe' distance away from any areas where their abuser has connections.
Some refuges have space for many women and children, and some are small houses. Some refuges are specifically for women from particular ethnic or cultural backgrounds (e.g. black, asian or south American women). Many refuges have disabled access and staff and volunteers who can assist women and children who have special needs.
Who can go into a refuge?
Any woman or man who needs to escape from domestic violence or abuse can go into a refuge at any time. It does not matter whether or not they are married to or living with their abuser, or whether or not they have children.
If the victim has children, they can take the children with them; however, women's refuges will normally have restrictions on young boys over the age of 16 or, in some areas, over the age of 14. There are some refuges that have self-contained family units but most refuges will usually give the victim their own room for the victim and their children. Other spaces (the living room, TV room, kitchen, playroom and possibly the bathroom) will be shared with other refuge residents.
It is advisable to inform the Local Authority with what's happening to the children. If the couple were not married when the child was born and the child was born before 1 December 2003 – then by default parental responsibility lies with the mother – i.e. she decides where the children live, who with, school etc. The only right the father has is to go to court to request these. If, however, the child was born after 1 December 2003 and the father is named on the birth certificate then parental responsibility is shared. The mother will be advised by the refuge to see a solicitor as soon as possible.
How to arrange refuge accommodation?
Anyone can call the National 24-hour Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 and a refuge space will be found for a victim if this is what they want. Many refuge organisations have public contact numbers, and if the victim wants they can contact the refuge directly (see the Women's Aid Domestic Abuse Directory). The victim can also contact refuge organisations through the police, the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 (from within the UK) or 1850 60 90 90 (from within the Republic of Ireland), social services or the Citizens Advice Bureau.
A victim should be able to go into a refuge on the day that they call. Refuge accommodation can't usually be booked in advance, nor will a victim always be able to find refuge space in the location of their choice. When refuge accommodation has been found for them, a member of staff or a volunteer from the organisation will discuss with them how they can get there. They may arrange to meet the victim at their office or somewhere else which is easy to find. If they do give the victim the address and the location of the refuge, it is important that they keep this information to themselves, and take care not to leave any of this information behind (thus enabling their location, or the address or telephone number of the refuge, to be traced).
Many victims have little or no money. If they cannot take themselves, always ask if there are family members or friends who can take them to a place which is acceptable to the refuge. If they have children – speak to the Children and Families Assessment team at the Local Authority who may be able to assist in travel fees. Those without children may be able to get assistance from the Adult Assessment team.
Are there any rules?
A license agreement will need to be signed which will include the terms under which the victim can stay in the refuge, how long they can stay and any necessary rules to ensure the safety of themself and other residents (e.g. regarding the use of alcohol or drugs, confidentiality, visitors, etc.). Refuges also have their own codes of conduct regarding the day-to-day running of the house. These usually cover things like bedtimes for children, incoming telephone calls and rotas for using the washing machine.
What can be taken to the refuge?
As a guide, try to take the following to the refuge:
- Birth certificates for the victim and their children.
- School and medical records, including the telephone numbers of the school and the GP or surgery.
- Money, bankbooks, cheque book and credit and debit cards.Keys for the house, car, and workplace.
- Driving licence (if one is held) and car registration documents, if applicable.
- Prescribed medication, and vitamin supplements.
- Cards or payment books for Child Benefit and any other welfare benefits entitled to.
- Passports (including passports for all the children if they have them), visas and work permits.
- Copies of documents relating to the housing tenure, (for example, mortgage details or lease and rental agreements).
- Current unpaid bills.
- Insurance documents.
- Address book.
- Family photographs, diary, jewellery, small items of sentimental value.
- Clothing and toiletries for the victim and their children.
- The children's favourite small toys.
Not all women will need all of these items, and there may be some items that would need to be taken that have not been included in this list, but this is a general guide.
What can't be taken to a refuge?
Most refuges do not have a large amount of storage space, so it is unlikely to be able to take large items such as furniture at the refuge. Also, refuges cannot generally take house pets. Some refuges are equipped to accommodate small animals such as fish, mice and other caged pets. Some refuge organisations have arrangements with local pet fostering schemes. For more information see the web page on pet refuge.
How long can someone stay at a refuge?
Usually the victim can stay as long as is needed - from a couple of days to several months - though some refuges have a maximum length of stay. Many women stay in refuges for a break from the violence, a breathing space with time to think away from danger. Some women decide to return to their partners.
If the victim leaves a refuge, can they go back?
Yes, in most cases. If the victim choose to leave the refuge but later need safe accommodation again, they and their children will be able to go back, either into the same or another refuge, depending on space and availability at the time they need it. If the victim were asked to leave a refuge because they broke the terms of the license agreement, it may not be possible for them to return to the same house. They may be referred to refuge accommodation elsewhere, or another safe place will be found for them.
What about the victim's permanent housing situation?
The victim can return home from the refuge at any point. They may decide to return with an injunction. They may decide they want to be re-housed elsewhere. The choice is theirs, and refuge workers will give them information about the various options in order to help them to decide what they want to do. The refuge workers will also help the victim to get advice regarding joint property and mortgage agreements. Do not agree to sign any documents relating to the tenancy or ownership of the home until the victim has taken legal advice. Look at the section on housing for additional information on long-term housing options.