'Safe Nights' for women

“I had no other option, no financial resources, no friends or family in Hawke’s Bay. I packed a bag of clothes for myself and my two-year-old and knew then I was not coming back.”

Emily (name changed) is just one of many women and families who have taken refuge in a safe house to protect themselves and their whanau from harm and used the Women’s Refuge services.

“I got into the car and drove to my advocate. But then I chickened out, I wanted to run, go back. It took her half an hour to talk me down. I owe my life to her.”

Through the month of July, Women’s Refuge ran the ‘Safe Nights’ campaign to help provide 17,680 Safe Nights for those experiencing family violence, like Emily.

Susan Barker, Communications, Marketing and Fundraising Manager for Women’s Refuge said the average number of women and children needing help in any given month in Hawke’s Bay was 975.

“This can vary, depending on the month we often see a spike around Christmas time,” Barker said.

“Some clients will stay in the safe house (on average 26 nights), some of them may be able to stay in their homes (we can upgrade their security and give them personal alarms) while working with them on a protection order, legal advice and anything else they need. Either way they will be supported completely by us no matter where the safe night takes place.”  

Family VIP Services (Family Violence Intervention & Prevention Charitable Trust) business manager Julie Hart said the number of families seeking help had increased year on year, with the year going from July 1 to June 30.

For the period ending June 2022, the number of families who sought safe house services were 54 in Napier and 37 in Hastings. For the period ending June 2023, there were 69 families in Napier and 65 in Hastings who sought help.

The average stay in a safe house for families in the year ending 2022 was 54 nights, and for the year ending 2023, the average stay for families was 25 nights.

“We have better ability to get sustainable housing for these women,” Hart said.

Hart said there had been an increase in the number of people, primarily women, in Hawke’s Bay, seeking help from the National Home Safety Service – Whānau Protect. 

“Whānau Protect empowers women to stay in their own homes. It’s an option for people who do not want to, or cannot, leave their own homes.

“It’s for people at a high risk, needing protection from their partner, and they need to be committed to ending the relationship.”

She added that with the likes of the Safe Nights campaign, local women’s refuge were in a better position to help women like Emily.

“The campaign can subsidise women who cannot pay the nominal fee for a safe house.”

Emily, who was in a safe house for five weeks, described her safe house experience as “safe” and “peaceful”, perhaps the first time she felt that way since being with her former partner for eight years.

She remembered the first few instances of the moment which propelled her into seeking out the help of Women’s Refuge. The rest is a haze.

“I had a big physical altercation with him,” she said.

“He dragged me down the road, slammed me on the ground, covered my mouth and tried to suffocate me.”

She remembers using tweezers to take out the gravel embedded in her arms, feet and legs, and bruises up and down her arms and the rest of her body.

She also had scratches where he tried to hold her down. She didn’t recall the rest but does remember calling her Mum.

“I called my Mum; she told me to call Women’s Refuge.”

Emily, in her 30s, said she called an advocate at Women’s Refuge who was with her every step of the way.

She said she had no other option – no friends or family in the region, no financial resources because she was a full-time Mum, and had only recently moved to the region.

Her advocate helped her get the benefit, which meant she had her own funds for the first time which was a relief, and she was referred to MSD for transitional housing.

“If you have nowhere to go, no financial resources or friends or family, the safe house was somewhere safe for me and my child to be,” she said.

“They can help you, advise you on how to be on the benefit, help you with knowing your rights – what you can and can’t do.

“The work the advocates do is amazing. It was my absolute toughest year and they helped me get through it.”

As of August 3, the overall nights raised nationally by Women’s Refuge was 15,244 Safe Nights.

The Safe Nights campaign set out to raise 17,680 days – the number of collective Safe Nights that will be required for the many women and children who are too unsafe to stay at home this month.

Dr Ang Jury ONZM, Chief Executive of Women’s Refuge, said in any given month hundreds of women needed the help of Women’s Refuge in finding somewhere safe for them and their children to begin building lives free from violence.

It was vital, Jury noted, to “remember that a Safe Night is just the beginning for our clients – a crucial start to a long process that involves numerous nights of with us and is so much more than just a safe place to sleep. When a woman and her children enter our service, we support them in whatever they need to begin their healing journey.”

Nationwide around 50,000 women and children were referred to Women’s Refuge last year.

In the last 12 months, 60,821 bed nights were provided to women and children experiencing family violence.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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