Today the Evening News launches its annual Christmas fundraising appeal – this year to benefit Edinburgh Women’s Aid.
Around 5500 women in Edinburgh every year report domestic abuse to police – although research has shown that many more don’t even bother to call 999.
In total, in the year 2012-13, a shocking 10,703 incidents of domestic abuse were reported in the Lothian and Borders area – 80 per cent of them involving a female victim.
Today, the Evening News joins the growing campaign calling for an end to violence against women.
Edinburgh Women’s Aid, which is celebrating its 40th year, runs a shared refuge service offering 21 spaces to women, children and young people escaping violence and abuse, a 24/7 refuge with eight flats, a support service for children affected by domestic abuse, and an outreach service and resettlement support for women and families moving back to their own or new homes.
Survivor of domestic abuse tells how Edinburgh Women’s Aid changed her life
As she lay on the floor, gasping for breath, blood oozing from her lips and nose, the boot which had just kicked her in the ribs hovered over her.
“I thought, if he kicks me again I’m going to die.” But Nicki’s hopes rose as she saw someone else step over her, until a male voice said: “Wait til she’s got her breath back.”
So her partner of three years waited. Then he kicked.
The kicks came after he’d demanded she hand over her phone and keys, locked the door, swung her by her hair and punched her in the face until she collapsed. Then he made her sit in a chair in the corner of the living room and threw “anything he could get his hands on, I was target practice”.
Then came the boiling coffee.
“I knew what he was going to do, I just knew it, so I was able to pull my housecoat over my face, but it scalded my head . . .”
That was the last time Nicki’s partner attacked her. He left the house, and so did she, to call the police at the nearest phone box. He was arrested and by the time he was let out she had gone – fled to a refuge run by Edinburgh Women’s Aid, where women like her, and sometimes their children, are able to escape the horror of domestic abuse.
“It was the day after my birthday, and I knew what mood he was in as soon as he got up, but he had a friend staying with us so I thought there was no way he’d hit me,” she recalls as we meet in her refuge flat. “I was wrong. And his friend didn’t try and stop him. When I was on the floor after he’d kicked me, he stepped across me and I thought, finally he’s going to stop him . . . but he didn’t. It was the most scared I’d been. I really thought I was going to die that day.”
That was December last year. Next month Nicki celebrates a year in refuge and her 40th – the same birthday as the charitable organisation which is getting her life back on track.
Back in 1973, Edinburgh Women’s Aid was a ground-breaking idea. Equal pay was law, sexual discrimination was soon to become illegal but the idea that women being battered by their husbands should be helped out of that situation was seen as radical. Yet 40 years on and the statistics are still shocking: in the Lothian and Borders area 10,703 incidents of domestic abuse were recorded in 2012-13; 5500 a year are in Edinburgh alone and it’s believed the real figure could be far higher as many incidents are not reported. While not all abuse is physical violence, it has been suggested that as many as one in four women experiences domestic abuse at some point. Nicki is well above average then. Her first partner began attacking her when she was 17, her second soon after they married, and her third – and last – once he moved into her home.
While she speaks with the slow, slightly slurred voice of a woman who is coping with life through a methadone prescription, her recollections of the violence she suffered at the hands of the men who professed to love her, who claimed they were so sorry and would “never do it again” are clear.
“I was with my oldest two kids’ dad for 15 years. I met him when he was 15 and he treated me like a princess, but when I went from being mistress to girlfriend it was entirely different. That’s when his true colours showed – some of the kickings, the leatherings I took from him . . .
“The first time was because I’d been talking to his cousin. He was jealous. Then there was the time I was eight months pregnant. We hadn’t been arguing, I was in the bath and he just came in and grabbed me by the hair and pulled me out and leathered me. I still don’t know why. He got into my head. He made me think it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t said this or done that. I felt that I deserved to be treated like that.”
Nicki left when she had her baby and returned to stay with her mum. “He kept coming round, then he threatened her and other people in my family and I felt I had no choice but to go back. Then my mum died from cancer and I felt totally isolated.”
It was at this point Nicki first turned to drugs. She became pregnant again. “I cleaned up and I think he felt threatened by that because the violence got worse. I did phone the police but he was always let out again, and to be honest I was scared to press charges. But I went to social work for help and my children went into foster care – I didn’t want them to grow up seeing what was happening. Then he went to jail for something else, which helped me get away.”
But Nicki’s problems with drugs resurfaced with her next relationship and that time she was married. “It was a bit of a whirlwind and we married quickly. But then one day we were arguing in the kitchen and he slapped me across the face. That was it, it all started over again.”
Nicki had another baby. “I would turn up at the nursery with black eyes. Social services told me to move out or he’d be taken off me. My baby was adopted, that was the hardest thing . . .” her eyes are wet with tears.
“It’s been best for them all to grow up away from all the violence and drugs, and I’ve got a good relationship with my eldest two now, but I’ve never seen my baby again.”
Nicki escaped that relationship again through her husband going to jail. Her third and last relationship only ended when Edinburgh Women’s Aid stepped in. “I only got together with him because I knew him from the past and hadn’t heard anything bad about him. I thought he was different, but he was just the same.”
The address of the refuge where she and eight other women live is secret. It’s not, as you might imagine, a large house divided up with communal kitchen and sitting room, a place of chaos and weeping.
Each woman has her own modern one-bedroomed flat while on the ground floor Edinburgh Women’s Aid staff are there 24 hours a day, seven days a week to offer support.
“Without Women’s Aid I’d be dead,” says Nicki matter-of-factly. “He’d already spent ten months in jail for attacking me and I still went back for more. So either he would have killed me or I’d have done it myself. Getting the call to come here was scary but it was the best thing I ever did.
“Now I’m looking for a new flat, I’m on a course to build my self-confidence and after that it would be great to get a job. None of that would have happened if I wasn’t here. People should give what they can to Women’s Aid. It could save someone’s life.”
Michele Corcoran, manager of Edinburgh Women’s Aid
FORTY years ago, a group of women in Edinburgh decided to follow the lead of Erin Pizzy in London and dare to raise the issue of domestic violence in Scotland, offer somewhere for women to get information and support and also – where necessary – provide temporary safe accommodation for them and their children to escape abuse and violent partners.
These brave women were called ‘home wreckers’, ‘man haters’ and lots of other, unprintable names, but in fact they offered hope, comfort and confirmation that to be afraid or hurt in your own home was wrong and should not be accepted as normal behaviour. Edinburgh Women’s Aid was born.
While the local authority provided two flats and some financial support, it took many years and lots of campaigning from the founder members and the women they had helped before police, politicians, statutory services, media, and the NHS took domestic abuse seriously and recognised that something should and could be done about it.
Fast-forward 40 years to 2013: the issue is now called domestic abuse to reflect that it is more than just violence, it is recognised in wider political and social contexts and the services – originally just refuge, support and information – have grown to include support for children and young people, resettlement to support women, children and young people when they are permanently rehoused, purpose-built refuge for women with additional needs, outreach services into schools and for other women not in refuge.
The developments were enabled mainly through funding from City of Edinburgh Council and the Scottish Government, and Edinburgh Women’s Aid has grown from having no paid staff to 30 paid staff.
Edinburgh Women’s Aid has always been innovative and quick to identify and fill gaps in service provision and today is no different.
The most recent development has been the Edinburgh Domestic Abuse Court Support Service and, working in partnership, establishing the multi- agency risk assessment committee process for cases identified as high risk.
At the moment this is restricted to one area of Edinburgh, so a postcode lottery determines who receives the additional safety input. However, the benefits have been recognised by all partners and funding to provide this across the city is being looked into.
Domestic abuse is firmly on the political agenda, and statutory services are reviewing and developing services to ensure it is recognised and addressed.
The emphasis is moving towards making the perpetrator accountable, something which is long overdue, and the message moving forward is “he needs to stop doing this” as opposed to “why doesn’t she leave?”
Change doesn’t happen overnight and it has taken more than 40 years to get to this stage, so it’s important that services for women, children and young people remain in place and are adequately resourced.
Edinburgh Women’s Aid’s funding is being constantly reduced but the demands for the services continue to increase. In the last six months, nearly 600 women have contacted our services and we need your help to ensure that when they contact us, we can provide a service. Please donate and help women and children and young people escape domestic abuse.
How you can help
FORTY years ago Edinburgh Women’s Aid was launched to help women and their children experiencing domestic abuse leave their homes and get help and support. Still today one in four women will experience some form of domestic abuse. To help EWA help them please donate this Christmas – as little as £5 can be put to good use.
Cheques should be sent to EWA, 4 Cheyne Street, Edinburgh, EH4 1JB or donate online at www.justgiving.com/edinburghwomensaid/donate
What can your donations do?
£5 provides duvet covers for a woman or child/young person
£10 provides a duvet for a woman or child/young person
£50 gives children/young people an outing to the cinema/ten-pin bowling/zoo
£1000 gives 12 weeks (5 hours per week) awareness raising/prevention work in schools
£15 covers fuel/lighting costs for a week’s refuge space
£20 provides 45 minutes of one-to-one support for a woman or child/young person
£25 provides 60 minutes of one-to-one support in the community
£25,000 provides an additional advocacy worker for 35 hours per week
£100 buys new locks to keep someone safe in their home
£15,000 provides an additional support worker to women or children and young people for one year (21 hours per week)
£5000 funds a parenting course to increase parenting skills and build for the future
£2500 enables a lifestyle management course to build confidence and self-esteem