Pioneering refuge for domestic abuse victims set to open

Women who have had their underarms slashed or part of their lips bitten off.

Wednesday, 7th June 2017, 3:02 pm
Updated Thursday, 8th June 2017, 3:30 pm
Louise Gisbey, Sarah Farr and Sam Walker from the Safe in Sussex domestic abuse charity outside the Amber House women's refuge in New Road, Littlehampton. Picture: Stephen Goodger

Women who have had their heads shaved by jealous partners that did not want other men to look at them.

Women who have been so psychologically damaged by their boyfriends and husbands that they cannot look strangers in the eye.

This is the shocking reality for victims of domestic abuse, according to staff at Safe in Sussex.

Some travel hundreds of miles to stay at the two hidden refuges run by the charity, which among other things helps women – and men – to leave abusive relationships and forge a new life for themselves, and in some cases for their children.

Through the charity’s community work, it became clear that many women did not want to leave the area they were from due to family ties and school commitments.

So now, it is opening a pioneering refuge in Littlehampton which is designed to reduce the stigma of domestic abuse.

Charity trustee Sam Walker said: “I’m very excited this is happening.

“There is clearly an unmet need in Littlehampton because there are no refuges, but the town has the most police reports of domestic abuse in the whole county.”

Based on a Dutch model of refuge, what will make Amber House in New Road, Littlehampton, different from others run by Safe in Sussex is that it is not hidden in the community. It will be aimed at helping those affected by the earlier stages of domestic abuse before it becomes life-threatening.

Sarah Farr is the manager of the new refuge. She said: “Seeing the journey of these women and the change for them and their whole family inspires me to do what I do.

“The earlier we can work with these families and their children, the bigger difference we can make and the more we can combat long-lasting damage.”

When the house is completed later next month, it will have five bedrooms, an office with pull-down beds for staff and a lounge area with sofa beds for emergency cases brought there by police.

It will be staffed 24-hours a day and fitted with security features like CCTV cameras and police panic buttons.

Separate from the house, there will be a drop-in centre which will be staffed five days a week and allow people to get advice about domestic abuse.

Louise Gisbey, fundraising manager for Safe in Sussex, said: “Even in our society today, domestic abuse is still such a taboo subject. People don’t talk about it; people still don’t want to acknowledge it.

“We want people to know if they have any concerns, there is now a place that they can come and talk about it.”