Supporting women fleeing domestic abuse

Stonewater opened its Bedfordshire South Asian Women’s refuge (SAWR) in 2008. Since its opening, Shamela Khatun has worked at the refuge – that provides housing to women and children fleeing domestic abuse, honour based violence, forced marriage and modern slavery – as a coach. Here, she reflects on her role at the refuge and the importance of supported housing.

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No domestic abuse survivors’ story is ever the same as another’s. While everyone’s experience is different the concerns and challenges that many of these survivors are faced with, are often the same. A lot of the women that come to the refuge face homelessness or destitution in an already potentially life-threatening situation and have little knowledge about their rights or how to gain independent living.

Day-to-day my role varies, depending on what the women and their families require. A big part of what I do is help all of these women to build up their confidence and self-esteem. To do this we make them aware of the choices that are available to them, with the aim of empowering them to create a life they want and that ultimately keeps them safe, after leaving the refuge.

The reason the support we offer is so important is because many of the women we encounter speak very little English, are no recourse to public funds (NRPF) and face a number of other barriers that presents them from accessing services like housing. However, at SAWR we are fortunate to have the resources and skills to find the right support for the women who turn to us, beginning with breaking any language barriers.

We have colleagues that can speak Bengali, Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu, and are able to find other native speakers when needed. For example, one woman and her son were brought to the refuge by social services because of the danger they faced while at home. She could only speak Farsi and didn’t understand the risk she was faced with or what the implications would be if returned to her perpetuator.

We found a Farsi-speaking immigration solicitor, who was able to explain the situation to her in her own language. Once she understood the seriousness of what was going on, she knew she needed to make a difference and we were able to put together an ongoing support plan and communicate it to her, in her first language.

After this, she enrolled on an ESOL course with our help and within weeks she’d already learned so much and it had instilled her with the confidence and understanding that she was capable of shaping hers and her son’s future.

This is just one account of how our supported services have enabled a family to gain their freedom and live a happier life. I have always aspired to work in a role that helps others and over the last 11 years, we’ve managed to help 225 women – in cases like this – at the refuge. What we do helps change these women’s future for the better and so, I couldn’t be any prouder to be a part of the team or to work in supported housing.