Escaping the family home

Risa shares her story of fleeing domestic abuse and finding refuge in an LGBTQ+ Safe Space.

LGBTQ+ Safe Space

After losing her job, Risa was no longer in a position to afford living in her privately rented flat in London and made the decision to move back into her family home. Seeing the temporary move as a stopgap whereby she could use the opportunity to get back on her feet, Risa found herself homeless just 16 days later and seeking refuge at Stonewater’s Safe Space. Here, she shares her story.

I know you often hear about rivalry between siblings and its seen as normal behaviour for brothers and sisters to fight when they’re young but in my house, my brother always took it one step further. There was never anything I could do to stop him, and, on most occasions, I’d escape by going to stay with a friend.

Having not lived at home for more than five years, I thought things would be different, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Neither my brother or father realised I was in the house but I could hear them discussing something, almost haggling with one another and that was when I heard it – as clear as day, I heard my father say: “I’m sick of always listening to your empty threats, if you’re going to kill it then do it, how much would it take? £1000? More?”

I crept out and contacted the local authority for where I’d lived for the past few years and told them everything. From there, I was given the contact number for a domestic abuse helpline who put me in touch with Galop, who then told me to leave my family home that day and put me in contact with Stonewater, who offered me a room at its Safe Space.

While I was nervous about making the move, especially to a place I didn’t know a great deal about and had no friends or extended family relatives close by, I didn’t have a choice. I needed to escape.

Since arriving, the Safe Space has given me much more than temporary accommodation it’s also helping me to rebuild other areas of my life. Everyone that stays here is given a support plan tailored to their needs and after just a few days I was assigned a counsellor who specialised in supporting people who had been affected by sexual abuse – something I had previously experienced.

In addition to this I’ve been able to get involved with causes I really care about. For example, I’ve been able to take part in a local transgender support group and get involved with the organisation of an International Women’s Day event.

But in addition to this, I realised there was a lack of local support for older members of the LGBTQ+ community outside of the Safe Space and so I’ve been working on a project with the team at Stonewater to launch a support group for over 18’s. As part of the research phase, Stonewater’s charity the Longleigh Foundation were able to support me with a grant so I could get access to food parcels from the local food bank and also a laptop.

While the face-to-face meetings have had to stop in light of the current pandemic, the laptop has proven even more useful as I’ve been able to continue attending meetings with the support groups and also my coaching and counselling sessions, just virtually.

Although support workers haven’t been able to be at the Safe Space like they usually would, we’re still able to get in touch by phone and so it’s really reassuring to know you’re not alone. Despite not communicating in person, being able to have some kind of normality and conduct the sessions in this way has still been incredibly beneficial and I feel like I’ve made lots of progress with overcoming my own internal struggles, as well as working towards living independently once again.

Since the start of the year, I feel like I’ve been faced with one obstacle after another. I’ve had to make decisions and walk away from people I never thought I would have to and although I was scared of being completely alone, where I’m at in my journey now has proved that it was all worth it.

I’ve benefitted from being surrounded by people who are in a similar position to me at the Safe Space. While everyone’s story at the Safe Space is different, we all share a common goal and that’s to live without fear of being abused for who we are and together, we’re working towards achieving exactly that.