‘Unprecedented levels’ of women report domestic abuse as impact of cost of living crisis emerges
The cost of living crisis is responsible for a third more women reporting domestic abuse to charities, a Sky News investigation has found.
Several victims and charities say the financial squeeze on families is leading to “unprecedented levels” of women coming forward.
New research by Women’s Aid reveals that 96% of victims say that the cost of living crisis is making their abuse worse, and 73% of victims say they are scared to leave their abusive home because of fears over finance. Those who do leave face an uphill battle to find accommodation, as most refuges are full.
Sophie Jones, a family support worker at the Cassandra Centre, said: “We’re seeing more women coming forward than ever before. Every single day we get more and more referrals. The cost of living crisis is making an already broken system even worse.”
Women’s Aid is calling on the government for more help. Chief executive Farah Nazeer said: “This crisis is having an unprecedented impact on women and children and requires urgent action.
“We urge the government to provide an emergency support fund for survivors to offset the impact of the cost of living crisis. We also ask that the government offers discounts on energy bills to domestic abuse services that provide lifesaving support.
“We are quickly approaching the winter months where the crisis will only get worse. Survivors have suffered enough, having been trapped in their homes during COVID, they must be offered the help they need to support their children and to be free from abuse.”
Labour MP Rosie Duffield was a victim of domestic abuse. She gave her testimony to the House of Commons in 2019.
She said: “It’s been three years since I did that and every single day I’ve had women getting in touch asking for help. Last night a lady emailed me.
“The cost of living is having a big effect. There are all these factors like extra stress, job insecurity, all of those things make life more scary for an abuse victim. You walk through the door, and you don’t know what you’re going to get.”
In April, Sky News revealed how domestic abuse victims were placed in “horrific” conditions, with ant infestations and windowless rooms.
Domestic abuse: The hidden housing crisis
We discovered that thousands of women and children are unable to find permanent accommodation after fleeing an abusive home. Many refuges are full, and victims are often passed around temporary accommodation for several months – even years.
We spoke to one mother who fled with her young son seven years ago. And they still haven’t been offered a permanent home.
Karen, who cannot be identified, said: “I naively assumed that when you were in that much a dangerous situation, there would be this net to hold you and grab you. But unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
“I’ve had no help whatsoever from the local authorities I’ve been dealing with. They don’t see me as a victim. They just see me as a number. I’m trying to explain that my son is really traumatised and needs a home. He’s suffered so much. He’s been moved six times in seven years. He’s so unhappy.
“I’ve not said anything all these years because I’m scared. I’m still scared, but the need to speak and tell people what it’s really like is greater.”
Despite the rise in women coming forward, the most recent crime statistics show that prosecutions for domestic abuse have gone down by 6%.
The Cassandra Centre, an independent charity in south London offers support for victims in the capital, receives no government funding.
We spoke to several victims there who have never found justice. One young mother told us that despite her partner being arrested 26 times, he was never convicted.
A government spokesperson said: “Domestic abuse is a devastating crime that ruins lives. We are working across government to ensure victims, survivors and their families are fully supported.
“Our Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan invests over £230m, including over £140m to support victims and survivors.”
Windowless rooms and insect infestations: Domestic abuse victims forced to live in ‘traumatising’ properties
A Sky News report
‘Ayesha’ says she feels like she is in prison
“We just lay on (the) bed and sleep. That’s it. That’s all we can do. I’ve asked the council several times, but they say I’m not high risk,” one woman tells Sky News.
Victims of domestic violence are being forced to live in “traumatising” accommodation that may not even have a working kitchen or toilet, Sky News has found.
Our investigation has documented the state of social accommodation given to tens of thousands of survivors across the UK.
Testimonies have been gathered from women and children who have been housed in properties that have no windows, no furniture, insect infestations, broken kitchens and faulty toilets. And we’ve collected evidence showing that some local authorities are breaking the law and not meeting the needs of some of the country’s most vulnerable.
Lawyer Izzy Mulholland, from the Public Service Law Centre, told Sky News: “I’m frustrated and angry almost daily because I’m having to defend people who shouldn’t need defending.
“And the most frustrating thing – and it seems ridiculous – is that we win. And that means that a local authority accepts that they’re acting unlawfully. And we don’t just win some of the times, we win almost all of the time.
“And that is so frustrating because it means that if a lawyer gets involved, they will deliver the service that they always should deliver. My job shouldn’t be necessary.”
Only one in three abuse victims is accepted into refuges because most are full or have closed due to government cuts.
If they can’t get into a sanctuary, the victims are placed into so-called temporary accommodation by their local authority.
And there are now more women needing help than ever before, according to the UK’s largest abuse charity, Refuge. Last year saw a 22% rise in people being supported by the National Domestic Abuse Helpline. All mainstream political parties agree something needs to be done.
We were invited to meet a mother who has been housed in B&B accommodation in London. The law says that vulnerable people should not stay in this type of property for more than six weeks.
But the family we spoke to had lived there for more than two years. “Ayesha” and her three children live their lives in a small, windowless room with no table and chairs, a broken cooker, broken shower and an ant infestation.
She told us: “When I first arrived, I thought I would receive some support. I was told I would only be here for a while before we got a new home, but we’re still here. They’re not supporting me or my children. We can’t do anything in here.
“We just lay on (the) bed and sleep. That’s it. That’s all we can do. I’ve asked the council several times, but they say I’m not high risk.”
She added: “Sometimes I feel like I’m living on the streets because I don’t have a house. It’s like I’m homeless. I feel like I’m in jail. I don’t even know when it’s sunny or raining outside.
“I never thought that life would be like this. That my children would suffer like this. I will bear all the sufferings in the world, but I cannot bear to see my children suffer.”
Sky News is not identifying the local authority responsible for this family in order to protect the family’s identity, but after being presented with our evidence the council says it will arrange an urgent inspection of the property and will help them find “suitable accommodation”.
The government has pledged £125m for emergency accommodation for domestic abuse victims this year, but charities who help survivors say that’s not nearly enough.
Labour MP Jess Phillips has campaigned on this issue for years and says women and children are being housed in “dangerous and unsavoury accommodation that is not fit for human habitation”.
She told Sky News: “Women expect to come forward and be provided with reasonable services, and it’s a big, huge thing to break free of such exploitation.
“And what they find is exactly what their perpetrator promised them. They find a system that doesn’t believe them, that treats them like animals, that places them in dangerous situations, and a huge amount of them will describe it as going from one hell to another.”
“People often say to me and I hear this again and again: ‘I can get over the things that happened to me, the trauma that happened to me. I can’t get over is how traumatising the process was for me and my family.'”
All mainstream political parties agree that the situation for domestic abuse victims needs to improve.
We asked the government for an interview with a minister about the findings of our investigation. They said no one was available but gave this statement by Eddie Hughes, the minister for rough sleeping and housing: “It is absolutely vital that victims of domestic abuse and their children across the country can access practical and emotional support to help them rebuild their lives in a safe environment.
“Since April 2021 we have provided £250m to councils across England to make sure safe accommodation spaces, such as refuges, can provide victims with vital support services including counselling and therapy, children support and advocacy support to access healthcare, social workers and benefits.”
HI, I am survivor from domestic abuse and was referred to the Cassandra Centre for help by another DV charity in the borough and Jennifer the CEO of the Cassandra Centre recommend I do therapy which they funded, this support was to help me express my trauma.
This charity has helped me so much from funding and installing security cameras for my property to ensure me and children felt safe, helping me move from a one bedroom property to a two bedroom, attending court and supporting me with a serious case. I have been involved with the Cassandra Centre for 3 years now and have begun to volunteer there as I would like to be involved with helping others who have experienced this type of trauma.
I’ve started this page because the Cassandra Centre has been broken into multiple times this year and electrical items and various other things have been stolen.
I would like to give back to the community so that Cassandra Centre can continue supporting other domestic abuse victims.
Founder of Croydon domestic abuse charity devastated after losing £10k after third burglary in under a year.
Footage from the most recent burglary shows the thief on site
The reception area of the Cassandra Centre, where the thief ransacked it last month
A domestic abuse charity in Norbury, Croydon has sadly been hit with yet another burglary, which totals up as the third break-in to occur at the premises in under a year.
The latest break-in which The Cassandra Centre was unfortunately the victim of happened on the evening of Thursday, 24 June.
The charity’s founder, Jennifer McDermott, was horrified to discover the following morning that the centre was vandalised and brand-new laptops, which were all donated to the charity, were nowhere to be found.
The Cassandra Centre is a safe space for nearby victims of domestic violence, but the series of burglaries has left Ms McDermott utterly devastated and terrified that the culprit may return again.
The front door into the building remains boarded up and various rooms inside remain in a ransacked state as it’s been difficult for Ms McDermott to tidy away.
The CCTV footage from last month shows a man with a mask on with gloves to disguise his identity. He is also wearing a cap and has a backpack on his shoulder.
Ms McDermott told My London: ” We work so hard. We’re constantly helping and doing something because the need is so huge. So when our equipment is stolen it really is disastrous – it slows us down.
“What’s happened is horrendous, it’s so intrusive. This is not a home, but these are our offices where we spend a lot of time.
“We spend a lot of energy with our women who talk about very serious things. They themselves have been violated in their relationships, but it’s even more so a violation of privacy that this is happening.
“I feel violated by the whole thing because how dare you come into our space and violate us.”
The two previous burglaries happened within a week of each other last summer, where the thief stole extensive CCTV equipment from the centre.
The disastrous consequences of being a victim of three burglaries means Ms McDermott has been set back some £10,000, as she tries to pay for the damages out of her own pocket.
Ms McDermott is ‘really confident’ that it is the same culprit responsible for all three incidents, as so much time has passed since last summer’s two burglaries, she believes he would have known what devices have been replaced.
Meanwhile, the police’s slow response to send an officer down and pick up the CCTV footage from last month left Ms McDermott extremely disappointed at the lack of support from the force.
Ms McDermott said: ” I am so annoyed with the police, I know that the police takes no interest in burglary. But come on now, this is a centre where we work with women – sometimes we’re here late at night.
“They (police) told me they haven’t got any footage from the main road. They will find some excuse because time has passed.
“I’ve got the CCTV footage and have told the police. They told us they have a named officer but up until now that named officer hasn’t made contact with us, which I’m annoyed about.”
In 2001, Ms McDermott lost her 19-year-old daughter, Cassandra after an ex-boyfriend brutally attacked and killed the teenager in her own home.
The Cassandra Centre was established ten years later in Cassandra’s name, who would be 40 years old were she alive today.
Ms McDermott adds: ” Each time we have a burglary it triggers me, because it was somebody who killed her. I do this in memory of her, but this person is in our space.
“I am sure our women would feel really horrible knowing this is happening. When they come to see the front door boarded up, it questions what is a safe space.
“We’re not a publicly funded service, we have to beg for people donate to us. That’s how we survive. So this just kills me.”
The centre has been a beacon of hope and support for women and men who suffer from domestic abuse, and calls for help come from as far as Wales.
Superintendent Andy Brittain, from the local policing team in south London, said: “I understand that offences such as burglary cause incredible distress and concern for victims and I acknowledge that our initial response to these reports was not sufficient.
“Officers are in the process of collecting CCTV from the premises and are reviewing whether there are any other evidential opportunities. We have offered the occupier crime prevention advice and would welcome the opportunity to meet with them to discuss their experience and to reassure them that we are committed to bringing offenders to justice.”
Shortly after My London approached the Met for comment, officers turned up at the centre to collect CCTV footage of the burglary, but Ms McDermott says the damage has already been done.
Swindon Advertiser, 2015
Domestic abuse centre opened in Norbury in memory of Cassandra McDermott who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend.
Cassandra McDermott’s mother Jennifer talks to Croydon North MP Steve Reed at the launch of the Cassandra Learning Centre.
A charity set up in memory of a teenager killed by her ex- boyfriend has opened a centre in the town where she was killed.
The Cassandra Centre (CC), (formerly known as Cassandra Learning Centre) was opened in London Road, Norbury, 13 years after Cassandra McDermott, 19, was attacked at her mother’s house by Mario Celaire on October 25, 2001.
Celaire was found not guilty of her murder following a trial in 2002 but after new evidence came to light, he was the first person to be retried after the Double Jeopardy rules were abolished.
He pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Cassandra at the Old Bailey on May 22, 2009.
Since Cassandra’s death the family has dedicated themselves to helping victims of domestic abuse, and CC worked with 200 people last year.
Cassandra Centre Chief Executive, Jennifer McDermott said: “Our family suffered a tragedy and, through our work at CC, I want to show that this will ultimately benefit others. We will work to provide support to those in difficulty and teach young people the value of independence. I can think of no better way to honour my daughter’s memory.”
The centre aims to teach 13 to 25-year-olds life skills, and to build the strength needed to walk away from unhealthy relationships.