Domestic Abuse Charities May Not Cope At Xmas

Isabel Webster, West of England Correspondent

Cuts to domestic abuse charities are "putting victims at risk" as organisations warn they are expecting more cases than ever during the festive period.

The Association of Chief Police Officers reports a much higher volume of 999 calls from women over the Christmas holiday.

Gwent Police Chief Constable Carmel Napier said: "Normal life is not going on. The children aren't at school. People aren't at work.

"The expectation of a good time adds pressure and alcohol can be an aggravating factor.

"This combination of factors seems to cause a combustion of tensions that are already there."

According to the charity Refuge , one in four women in England and Wales experience domestic abuse in their lifetime and two women a week die.

Carol, a mother-of-four from Bristol, managed to escape her abusive relationship with the help of the grassroots charity, Survive .

Over several years her partner physically and mentally abused her, sometimes in front of her young children.

"The first night anything happened he just took his belt off and started whipping me. I was so shocked as I'd never seen him violent before," Carol said.

"He hit me with his mobile phone, so hard it left an imprint on my chest. He said he was going to kill me and threatened to throw me out the window - picking me up by my throat. He said he was going to rip my head off.

"But the worst part was the mental abuse. I had to walk behind him, I was timed if I went out to pick up the kids and had to ask permission to leave the room to go to the loo.

"I thought if I just did what I was told, if I was better, I could make it right for everyone, but I was never going to win."

Carol is now safe and rebuilding her life, but the effect on her and her children remains.

Breaking down in tears, she sobbed: "If I'd known what I know now - what a bad effect it would have on my kids I would have got out sooner.

"I tried to protect them physically but you can't protect someone mentally from what they hear, what they see."

Carol maintains that Survive is the one good thing that came out of her ordeal.

But the charity, which supports women in South Gloucestershire and Bristol, is under growing pressure.

It has seen a 76% increase in high risk cases in the last year.

Over the Christmas period it estimates it will have to turn away 15% of the women and their families who need emergency refuge.

Chief Executive Anna Smith said: "We've been cut, yet we're seeing more women and children than ever.

"I am seriously concerned about it. Vulnerable people won't necessarily be able to get access to the help that they need this Christmas."