‘We show that things can be­d­if­fer­ent’

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

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,

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