Hit and beaten with sticks, treated more like an animal than a human, Sarah was the first woman we ever worked with at A Way Out, the charity I founded in my 20s.

Sarah was 7 stone, if that, skin and bones, very little hair and the biggest personality you’d ever come across. We first met her when she hitched a lift with us, to get away from her abusive partner and pimp. Over the coming months, I was shocked to learn the level of abuse she would go through on a daily basis. The reason she had so little hair was because of how often she’d be dragged about by it. One day she’d been attacked with a sweeping brush.

Her life was a living hell and until meeting us, she had nowhere to turn. We realised straight away that we had to get her out. We arranged for a safe house, and helped her prepare, creating a secret bag with some basic possessions and then arranged a set time in the day to be outside with our car to drive her to safety. The first time we got a call from her, safe, alive and free, I was overwhelmed and when we got a photograph of her, plump faced and smiling, I think I cried.

Sarah eventually got her life back. She never returned to the abuse and was able to start again; but it always stayed with me. What would have happened if we hadn’t been there? If women’s centres and domestic violence services weren’t there? Honestly, I know Sarah would have become a statistic. She would not be alive any more. The same is true for scores of other women we worked with over the years.

This is why we started A Way Out. I had met a fifteen year old girl who was selling her body on the streets of Stockton, coerced by a 35 year old drug pusher and gangster. We began by helping girls and young people, providing informal community based PSHE sessions based upon my undergraduate dissertation project. We also opened a drop-in centre for women, which is where Sarah would come for support.

Over the years we helped thousands of people yet it is these vital women’s services that have been hit through government cuts. Since 2010 spending on domestic violence refuges has been cut by nearly a quarter. Some services locally have been struggling to survive, made to compete for funding, jump through hoops or simply have funding pulled. But violence against women is getting worse. In 2018, 173 women were killed due to domestic violence. Three people a week are killed by a partner, ex-partner or family member.

Today (25th November) marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and although this year we can’t meet together in person to celebrate, let us use our voices online to say we must fight on. Better, safer, more equal work for women is possible. Let us stand together to support our local women’s and domestic violence services. All them need our support.

Where to get help

Here are the top ten women’s services and projects in the Tees we know about that you may want to support today. And are there for you, should you need support.

1) A Way Out https://www.awayout.co.uk
A Way Out is an outreach and prevention charity which aims to engage, empower and equip vulnerable and excluded women, families and young people to live lives free from addiction, harm, abuse and exploitation and to reduce life limiting choices and behaviour.

2) ARCH North East https://www.archnortheast.org/
Providing counselling, help and support to those who have suffered rape, sexual abuse, sexual assault, or childhood sexual abuse.

3) Eva Women’s Aid https://evawomensaid.org.uk
EVA Women’s Aid was established in 1987 to support women and children in Redcar and Cleveland fleeing domestic abuse and sexual violence.

4) Family Help Darlington http://familyhelp.org.uk/
Family Help offer specialist domestic abuse support for women and women with children fleeing domestic abuse. They can provide safe temporary accommodation for those that need it, in their purpose built refuge with eight units.

5) Halo Project https://www.haloproject.org.uk/
This is a national project that will support victims of honour-based violence, forced marriages and FGM by providing appropriate advice and support to victims.

6) Harbour https://www.myharbour.org.uk/
Harbour works with families and individuals who are affected by abuse from a partner, former partner or other family member in County Durham, Hartlepool, Stockton, Middlesbrough, Darlington and North Tyneside.

7) My Sisters Place https://www.mysistersplace.org.uk
My Sisters Place is an independent specialist ‘One Stop Shop’ for women aged 16 or over and have experienced or are experiencing domestic violence in Middlesbrough.

8) Nur Fitness http://nurfitness.testyellowbox.co.uk/
This is an award winning community organisation dedicated to helping BAME women and children become healthier, both physically and mentally along with improving self esteem and confidence.

9) SARC Teesside https://www.sarcteesside.co.uk/
SARC provide a 24/7 service for anyone who has experienced rape, sexual assault or other sexual abuse. This service is still available despite the measures in place for Covid-19.

10) Tees Valley Women’s Centre https://www.tvwc.org.uk/
A voluntary grass roots venture providing a one stop shop for women in a non threatening safe environment, helping to support the well being of local women, improve their quality of life by supplying one to one support, advice and guidance, training and education, and employment opportunities.


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