By Rachel Misra, 16 Dec 2023

The writer is Head of Digital at Hestia, a social enterprise supported by SBT

On average, two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales. The police receive a domestic abuse-related call every 30 seconds, according to Refuge. And, reports the ONS, in the year ending March 2022 there was over 1.5 million domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes recorded in England and Wales, marking a 7.7% increase on the previous year. 

Worse still, it is estimated that less than 24 per cent of domestic abuse crimes are reported to the police, suggesting the problem runs even deeper official records indicate. And it's worth noting that many people do not know that help is available, enduring an average of 39 incidents of domestic abuse before seeking help. 

The role of domestic abuse refuges and support services
Domestic abuse refuges and community support services are instrumental in providing a safe haven for individuals and their children escaping abusive environments. Refuges are more than just a place to stay – they enable survivors to rebuild their lives free from the grip of their abusers. Community support services support victims and survivors to manage the high level of risk they can be exposed to when living with a perpetrator.

Despite the vital role of these support services, research by Women's Aid shows refuges and community support services are facing increasing financial challenges to stay open, with 78% of domestic abuse services struggling with the cost-of-living crisis as their services are not being increased in line with inflation. This has a detrimental impact on survivors, as services have to cut back on non-essentials such as care packages for survivors or peer support groups, which can be a lifeline for many survivors who are isolated.

At Hestia, we continue to hear of many partners who run refuges and support services that have closed or are at risk of closing – information that is not always publicly available. 

The challenge of finding support
One significant issue survivors face when trying to escape an abusive relationship is the challenge of finding support – especially in the context of ever-changing services. Perpetrators, particularly with the rise in tech abuse, closely monitor their partner’s actions online, making it increasingly difficult to search for available help and resources. As a result, survivors may remain trapped in dangerous situations, unable to access the assistance they need to break free from the cycle of abuse.

Hestia's innovative solution
We are committed at Hestia to supporting people experiencing domestic abuse. We are on a mission to get people experiencing domestic abuse to safety, quicker. We have partnered with a growing number of high-profile organisations to bridge this critical information gap. Our partners include TSB, British Gas and the Ministry of Defence, where we have partnered to implement our Online Safe Spaces tool.

The tool provides information about recognising domestic abuse and a regularly updated list of support services available in an untraceable pop-up linked to the website's footer. This innovative tool includes multiple quick exit options and leaves no trace in the user's website history, ensuring that survivors can seek help without putting their safety at risk. 

The initiative creates an online accompaniment to our Safe Spaces on high streets, which has seen over 7,000 pharmacies and banks providing a safe space for someone experiencing domestic abuse to safely call a helpline, support service or loved one.

Online Safe Spaces – only available thanks to the support of the Permira Foundation
Tools like Online Safe Spaces require funding to run effectively. Recent funding from the Permira Foundation enabled us to implement essential security, design, and accessibility updates to the tool. This immediately enabled new partners to come onboard and made the tool easier for users to access.

In the face of the hidden crisis of domestic abuse, we must remain committed to raising awareness, supporting survivors, and providing innovative solutions that bridge the gap between victim/survivors and the help they urgently need. We will never stop on our mission to end domestic abuse, ensuring that safety and support are readily available to all who seek it.

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