‘We show that things can bedifferent’
It had been years since Carol’s relationship ended, but the threatening calls, text messages and letters continued to arrive. She would be followed to work, school, and when visiting her family. Yet her ex-partner had never been arrested for his treatment of her, and the constant worry left Carol feeling helpless and afraid. She gave up her job, moved several times and lost contact with her family and friends, but somehow he always found her. And then she heard about My Sister’s Place, a pioneering independent charity in Middlesbrough, which helps 1,000 victims of domestic violence a year.
The charity has been crowned the nation’s favourite voluntary/ charity project in this year’s National Lottery Awards – with a visit by the singer Jahmene Douglas, who was himself brought up in a house where domestic violence was a regular occurrence. My Sister’s Place operates what it calls a ‘‘one-stop shop’’ approach offering crisis intervention and specialist counselling services.
“We’re pretty unique in our field because we will sort out things the same day,” says Becky Rogerson, the chief executive. “We look at who’s at risk, does the family need to be put in a refuge, or what security can we put in the house. I’m lucky — I have very proactive staff who have good relationships with other agencies and I think it’s important that we demonstrate to victims that things can be different.”
My Sister’s Place – the name was chosen deliberately so women would not feel stigmatised going there – recognised that victims of domestic violence often found themselves having to repeat their story to the police, social services, housing services and the benefits agency, and often as a result received conflicting and confusing advice. What the charity, set up in 2002, did was to operate as a central agency, which could then deal with all the others.
It also recognised the complex emotional and human costs of domestic violence. “Sometimes women are reluctant to go down the criminal justice route because they don’t want their children to see their father’s picture in the paper,” says Rogerson. “So we help them seek a civil injunction if necessary. And I’m not a great proponent of refuges, as women and children often end up far away from local connections. So we operate something called the Sanctuary Scheme, which means we can help women stay in their own homes but feel safe – whether it’s putting a police marker on the home, a panic alarm, window locks, or even a safe room.
“We help practically and emotionally. If you speak to women they often say that broken bones will mend, black eyes will fade, but the emotional difficulties are hardest to go away.”
So the assistance My Sister’s Place gave Carol was typical. It helped her to obtain a restraining order against her former partner – and then helped to get the order enforced when he breached it. She was also provided with security for her home,