I remember someone saying this to me years back when I told them I worked in a refuge for women escaping domestic abuse. “Oh, those places are full of council house women with snotty nosed kids” they said to me! I was deeply offended. For a start, what is wrong with someone who lives in a council house? I was brought up in one and still live in one!! The fact is that women who choose to go into a refuge to escape their abuser do tend to be women who are in local authority housing and on benefits. Why? Well, let me tell you……
Refuges cost a lot of money! Contrary to what a lot of people think, the rents to stay in one are high as they have to cover the costs of the building and the support element. In London, the rents are upwards of about £500 a week! REFUGES ARE NOT FREE!!!
If you work, you would not be able to afford these rents. But if you are on benefits, you will get help to pay the rent. Women who do work are often advised to give up their job!
If you own your own house, you may not be able to get housing benefit, therefore you wouldn’t be able to afford to live in a refuge.
If you have lived in local authority housing prior to going into a refuge, you can be fairly certain that local authority will help rehouse you, although of course, this may take a long time.
If you already claim housing benefit/universal credit, you are able to claim for help living in the refuge as well as keep the benefit going on your home for up to 52 weeks. This can give a lot of women the breathing space they need to decide whether they want to return to their old home or move somewhere new.
Women who are fortunate enough to own property or have access to money are actually often trapped within abusive relationships as a result of the reasons above and the stigma that domestic abuse only happens to ‘council house women with snotty nosed kids’.
I once shared a really interesting article to my social media accounts on a study that revealed higher educated women were slower to report domestic violence – Click here for article.
A survivor who was quoted in the article stated:
“I was a victim in a world where there was power, luxury and money. The stigma in those areas is double, because it is not expected, because there is fear of losing prestige, there is a lot of invisible violence”.
Many years ago, when I worked in a refuge, I used to also work on the refuge’s 24 hour helpline. I took several calls one particular week in the middle of the night from a woman who refused to give me her name or where she was. What she did tell me was that she was married to someone well known and her children went to private schools. She said they were very wealthy and it was all this that was trapping her within the very violent relationship. She told me of incidents of violence where she had been badly injured but was not able to go to hospital because she would be recognised. That she could not go to a refuge because the press would find out where she was and be camped outside which would put the other women in the refuge at risk of being found. She told me she envied the women who did not have the property and wealth she had and she would give everything to be on benefits and live in a council house! I have never forgotten that woman and often wonder if she ever made it out of the relationship. I didn’t even know her name but I will never forget what she said and how trapped she felt by what most of us wish we had!!
So if you ever hear someone describe the women that go to refuges as ‘council house women with snotty nosed kids’, please explain to that person that in actual fact, they are the lucky ones!
Head Of Partnerships & Development Of Domestic Abuse Services