With an estimated one in four women experiencing domestic abuse, our new charity of the year, Edinburgh Women’s Aid, tells us how it supports women and children across the capital.
Edinburgh Women’s Aid’s first refuge was set up in 1973 to support women and children experiencing domestic abuse. Fast forward 46 years and sadly the demand for their services has continued to grow: “It’s estimated that one in four women will experience domestic abuse. We work with roughly 1700 women a year. Around 600 of the women who used our service last year hadn’t used it before,” explains Linda Rodgers, CEO of Edinburgh Women’s Aid.
The charity works with women and children who have been impacted by domestic abuse. This is persistent and controlling behaviour by a partner or ex-partner which causes physical, sexual and/or emotional harm. The abuse may be historic, or it might be current, and it often gets worse over time. The women may have left their partner, or they might not want to leave the relationship.
“People often can’t understand why women stay in an abusive relationship, resulting in blame. This is one of the most challenging stigmas that women accessing our services face,” says Linda. “Ultimately, it’s a person they love who is doing this and those feelings can’t simply be put to one side. The level of manipulation that perpetrators use can make it very difficult for women to leave and unfortunately, women often feel responsible for the behaviours they have experienced. Unless you stand in that woman’s shoes and look at it from her perspective, it can be hard to make sense of it but due to the controlling nature of domestic abuse, the option to leave is never straightforward.”
Edinburgh Women’s Aid provides a number of services to ensure women and children stay as safe as possible, as Linda explains: “We have a crisis service where women can come and visit or get in touch with us, by telephone or webchat. We provide practical and emotional support, depending on what each person needs.” This might be as simple as a piece of information or it could be ongoing support. Additionally, women are able to access group services which allow them to meet others in similar circumstances whilst focusing on specific areas such as CV building or mindfulness. “We also have a court advocacy service for women when there has been an arrest of the perpetrator where we submit recommendations to help enhance her safety,” adds Linda.
Furthermore, the charity works closely with children focusing on how they are feeling and the outcomes they would like. “Quite often children will be in contact with the perpetrator and have strong feelings for them, so we aim to help them understand it’s not their fault and help them come to terms with their feelings,” says Linda. The charity also supports a project that concentrates on children and their mothers recovering together, enabling women to find the tools to talk to their children about abuse.
For women leaving a relationship, housing can be a barrier. To help combat this, Edinburgh Women’s Aid guides women through the council homelessness service, supporting them to get the best outcome. To further assist in this area, the charity runs its own refuge service. “We have 29 spaces in Edinburgh for women and children who are looking to flee domestic abuse. They are safe houses meaning that the addresses aren’t disclosed and offer women a safe place to stay until they get offered permanent accommodation from the local authority or move into private rented accommodation,” summarises Linda.
When it comes to fulfilling their mission to work towards a society that is free from abuse, access to mainstream services is a huge challenge for the charity. Linda tells us more: “When a woman comes to us we are trained in skills to help women recover from domestic abuse by providing emotional support and addressing the needs of the individual. Unfortunately, a lot of these needs such as access to benefits are out with our control. Due to the Edinburgh housing crisis, a woman in our refuge might only need four months of support in our accommodation but there is nowhere for them to move on to. This means we may have been able to support more women, but because we are one link in a chain with other services, we can’t.”
The charity was voted for by Baillie Gifford staff to become the firm’s new charity of the year. By working together – alongside raising much needed funds – we hope we will be able to support the charity in areas such as technology and learning and development too. As Linda explains, this is a unique opportunity: “For us, having a partner by our side that is not only fundraising but offering other support too is fantastic and will make such a difference to us, especially in the challenging climate we are now facing as a result of coronavirus.”
Edinburgh Women’s Aid is currently focusing on the development of their digital services, a move which has become more significant due to the Covid-19 crisis. This will give them further opportunities to help the Edinburgh community, as they continue to be a fundamental part of the ongoing struggle to eliminate violence against women and children.