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‘Transformation needed’ to encourage domestic abuse victims to come forward

Many families will suffer the consequences of domestic abuse over Christmas, Women’s Aid warned.

A “complete transformation” is needed in society to encourage survivors of domestic abuse to come forward, the head of a prominent charity has said.

Disclosures about sexual harassment “from Hollywood to Westminster” are a “fantastic opportunity” to reflect on power and control “at the heart” of domestic abuse, Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, told the Press Association.

Many families will “suffer the consequences of domestic abuse over the Christmas period”, she warned.

But planned Government changes to funding for supported housing, under which refuges fall, could threaten the availability of safe places for survivors, Ms Ghose said.

She said: “In 2017, from Hollywood to Westminster, we’ve seen these themes of power and control, and abuse of a powerful relationship coming to the fore, and it is power and control that is at the heart of domestic abuse.

“So it’s a fantastic opportunity for us all to reflect on power and control and what that means, and then at Christmas time, to bring it back to the home which should be a place of safety.”

The charity is calling on the Government to “change tack” and abandon “dangerous” reforms to the way housing costs in refuges are funded from 2020, after a survey by Women’s Aid found 39% of shelters in England would have to close down as a result.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said it will ring-fence grants to local authorities for short-term supported housing.

But Women’s Aid warns that making local authorities responsible for how refuges are resourced risks dismantling the charity’s “world-leading national network of women’s refuges”.

Ms Ghose said: “Refuges are already operating on a shoestring in many cases and we fear that the latest proposals mean that many will have to close their doors, and that means that more women and children won’t be able to safely escape domestic abuse.”

A Government spokesman said: “Our new funding model will see all housing costs covered by a long-term ring-fenced grant to be distributed by local authorities.

“Local authorities will also be required to assess the need for support for survivors of domestic abuse from both within and outside their local area.

“This means that survivors will no longer need to worry about paying their rent and accruing rent arrears at a difficult time in their lives and their entitlement to welfare benefits remains unchanged.”

He added: “Domestic abuse is a devastating crime and we’re taking action to make sure that no survivor is turned away from the support they need.”

Government consultation on funding for supported housing is open until January.

The charity is keen to highlight the “hidden” nature of domestic abuse in their Christmas campaign, as ONS figures show that about 1.2 million women experienced domestic abuse in the year up to March 2017.

The story of brothers Luke and Ryan Hart, whose mother Claire and sister Charlotte were killed in July 2016 by their father following years of psychological abuse, is central to their Christmas appeal.

Ms Ghose said: “Domestic abuse is often in the shadows – it’s a hidden problem and people can feel it’s very difficult to talk about it, and we need a complete transformation of our culture and society, so that people feel they will be listened to, they’ll be believed, and there will be the helping hand out there for them to escape an abusive relationship and get the help they need.

“What we want to do this Christmas is send out the message to everyone, women and children, that you’re not alone, there is help out there for you.”

A total of 113 women were killed by men in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2016, the Women’s Aid Femicide Census found.

Two women are killed each week by their partner or ex-partner on average in England and Wales, figures also show.

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