The Manager of Jersey Women's Refuge has sounded the alarm that some families may be left "trapped" in abusive situations after being dealt a financial blow by the pandemic.
Marine Oliveira, Service Manager at Jersey Women’s Refuge, fears that some women may feel “obliged” to stay with an abusive partner if they do not have the financial means to support themselves and/or their children.
Her comments come as demand for the charity’s services is slowing down after spiking in recent months with the number of new admissions doubling during the second quarter.
“There has been a higher number of families needing to stay with us, but they have also required longer stays than normal, which is up to eight weeks,” Ms Oliveira explained.
Pictured: The Government provided a property for the Refuge to use as a second safe house.
With only seven bedrooms in the Refuge’s safe house, the charity can only house a maximum of seven families. But thanks to the efforts of the Government and the Jersey Funders Group, the Refuge had access to a second property, enabling it to cope with the increased demand.
“For the month of April, we had anticipated a spike,” the Service Manager explained. “It did not come in April, it was quite quiet because families were compliant with ‘stay at home’ order.
“We worked hard to make sure as much of the community knew we were remaining open and that they were options if it was not safe at home.
“As lockdown started to relax, there was a really high demand for our services, we were glad to have a second property. We were full on a number of occasions.
“We would not have been able to do it without the Government and the Funders Group.”
Pictured: The Jersey Women's Refuge's helpline has been busy in recent months.
Funding has been provided for the second house up until the end of August and Ms Oliveira does not expect it to be needed after that. While the charity’s helpline is still taking a large number of calls, admission numbers are now slowing down, and Ms Oliveira believes the Refuge should be able to cope with one safe house.
She is however concerned that cases of domestic abuse might rise again as the economic and financial concerns brought by the pandemic are going to grow over the next 12 months, having an indirect impact on the people the charity supports.
“We think it’s going to carry on for the months to come as we start to regain our normal routines,” she explained.
“Pressures around finances and employment are still going to be felt, it’s going to impact on any family and exacerbate difficulties.
“My concern is that families are going to feel trapped. It’s not unusual for survivors to rely on partner, they need the joint income to afford rent, childcare and food. If one of them loses their employment, they could feel more obliged than ever to stay together.”
Pictured: “If you are feeling trapped and like there is no option, there are options out there," Ms Oliveira said.
The Service Manager wants women to know they are not trapped and encourages them to take the first steps to engage with the specialist services.
“Contact the helpline to touch base if something is not quite right at home, whether that is checking what’s available or weighing up the options,” she suggested.
“If you are feeling trapped and like there is no option, there are options out there.
“We work quite closely with a range of services, income support, Back To Work, Citizens Advice Bureau and all the charities, to support families who are vulnerable, including children’s services, Variety and a myriad of other services.
“We encourage them to get in touch and find out about the options and then it’s really up to them what they want to do but at least they do not have to feel trapped.”
Pictured: “The support from the community has been incredible, phenomenal!"
She also wished to remind islanders that the charity provides a range of services in addition to the safe house and that it is not necessary to move in to access them.
“What no one can exclude is whether or not there will be another spike - that I cannot tell."
While there might a new spike in demand, Ms Oliveira is confident the charity will be able to cope, thanks to the support of the Government but also of islanders as a whole. Over the last few weeks, many donations have been received in response to the charity’s appeals on social media.
“I would like to say that when it was really tough, the Government and other organisations answered the call and I have no doubt that if we had to appeal to them, they would answer again,” she said.
“The support from the community has been incredible, phenomenal! It’s been absolutely heart-warming and that’s what is keeping us going.
“One week it will be someone getting in touch saying, ‘I want to sponsor a take away night.’ How special is that? We have had face masks for our residents, someone has sponsored Jersey Zoo parcels and for a Disney Plus subscription for the children. You cannot imagine, our residents feel so cared for. It’s been absolutely fantastic!"
“We encourage people who want to support us to get on our website and donate,” she added. “There are other things that are not material we need help for. We still have an electric bill to pay and a helpline to keep running, donations are making that happen.”
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