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Domestic abuse charity for women forced to add more staff over festive season

Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

By Abbianca Makoni, PA

A domestic abuse charity is being forced to bring in more staff and volunteers over the festive season to keep up with soaring helpline calls - with more than 600 call-ins predicted this Christmas.

Last year, calls to domestic abuse organisation Solace Women's Aid increased by 77% over the festive season - from 245 calls in December 2018 to 433 in January 2019.

According to the charity, victims stay in abusive relationships for an average of more than six years before they leave.

When they arrive at refuges, Solace said women often have just one set of clothes.

Talking first-hand about her experience, a Solace service user known only as Farida, who came to the UK from Pakistan, said she felt "so lost" when she was with her partner.

"I didn't know the laws in the UK so kept quiet about everything. He (her partner) became so rude and careless. He would force me to have sex and treated me like nothing; I felt I wasn't considered to be a human.

"I was not allowed out and if I asked to, he would hit me on the mouth. When I didn't do what he wanted, he always hit me. I was his servant and sex machine."

After calling the police, Farida was given a translator and sent to a refuge.

Upon arrival, she said the refuge workers ensured she had food, toiletries and everything she needed.

Farida is still living in the refuge but said the support from Solace has been "so much more than enough".

Speaking to PA news agency, Asalet Tulaz, advice line manager for Solace, said the charity will still be operating as normal this festive period to respond to emergency and crisis calls but has geared up "additional support" for the Christmas and New Year rota.

She said there would be more people than usual on the line "as we recognise the importance of services being available for survivors when everything else is shut".

A 2019 report funded by the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (Mopac) showed that domestic abuse offences in London increased by 63% between 2011 and 2018.

The report, Beneath The Numbers, also highlighted that three-quarters of victims were female and were more likely to live in deprived areas.

Through a new film and campaign called #WomenWithNothing, Solace hopes to raise awareness on the struggles female victims face during the holiday season.

The charity also wants to raise enough money to provide a "box of fundamentals" for a first night's stay in a refuge, containing items including shampoo, soap and sanitary products and other "essentials".

Emily, a domestic abuse survivor who lived in the refuge for over a year, said: "The film made me cry if I'm honest, because I've been that woman who has come from a home - to an initially strange and unfamiliar place and not have all my essentials or familiar things, or not know the area well to get things or have the funds."

The film is available to view on the Solace website where £10 donations can be made.