No one should live in fear of abuse at home

It is a frightening statistic that just over two million people in Britain will suffer some form of domestic violence or abuse at the hands of the partner in their lives.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the majority of the victims are women, amounting to some 8.5 per cent of the population, although 700,000 men also report that they have been abused.

We must not lose sight of what happens on our own doorsteps and, in particular, the dilemma of the many thousands of women and children living day in and day out in the shadow of abusive and violent partners.

Alarmingly, the agencies involved with domestic abuse or violence report that at any one time around 100,000 women are at serious risk of being murdered or seriously injured.

The facts those agencies compile show that, tragically, as many as seven women are killed every month by a current or previous partner.

Equally worryingly, 130,000 children live in a home where they are exposed to a high risk of domestic abuse or violence.

A huge amount of work is done to protect both women and men, to prevent attacks on them and also to provide safe havens where those at risk of abuse can feel safe and secure as they attempt to rebuild their lives away from the clutches of their abusers.

Recently, I had the opportunity of visiting a refuge in Northumberland offering such facilities as part of events to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, or White Ribbon Day as it was dubbed. For obvious reasons its exact location cannot be revealed.

The service provides several self-contained properties capable of accommodating women and their children needing to escape from a violent or abusive relationship.

In the 12 years that the refuge has been open, it has taken in more than 450 women, and that figure does not include any children they had with them.

The refuge can offer sanctuary to single women or a mother and her children until they are in a position to move on to safe, independent housing.

The refuge is one of only a handful around the North East and the only one of its kind in Northumberland.

What makes it different from many others is that those staying there have their own self-contained accommodation without the need to share, for instance, communal kitchen or bathroom facilities.

During the time the refuge has been open, it has housed women and children from all over the country.

Those staying at the Northumberland refuge have either referred themselves or have been referred by various agencies as being in urgent need of safety and support.

While at the refuge, the women are given help to find school places for their children and offered social and emotional well-being support. They are also given assistance to access appropriate benefits, as well as being referred to health and social workers or housing department staff to discuss re-housing them on a more permanent basis.

The Northumberland refuge is staffed by four professional support staff who work with the women and their children.

Sadly, in many ways, there are rarely any vacancies at the refuge, and often staff have to take the difficult and sometimes-painful decisions to prioritise which women and their children can be offered accommodation.

I came away from the refuge feeling heartened and encouraged by what I had seen and learned.

There has been much talk — and quite rightly so — about the plight of refugees fleeing from their war-torn homelands and how they can be integrated into communities right across Europe, including here in the UK.

But visiting the refuge also left me with the overriding impression that we must not lose sight of what happens on our own doorsteps and, in particular, the dilemma of the many thousands of women and children living day in and day out in the shadow of abusive and violent partners.

As an MP, visiting the refuge gave me a valuable insight into the wonderful work places such as this are doing in our communities and the services they are providing, often on restricted budgets.

No one should have to suffer at the hands of an abuser in our modern society.