Refuges, also known as shelters, are a place where women and their children can find safety if they are at risk of, or experiencing, domestic abuse. PARAGON’s refuges offer a safe space for women and children while they process their situation. This safe space allows them to cope with the impacts of abuse and to work on building a new future.
We spoke with Tammy*, who shared her experiences so that others might not be afraid to seek help.
There are over 500 refuge and support services in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
I was 23 when I lived at a refuge after fleeing parental abuse. Growing up, the abuse at home was really bad from my stepdad. And my mum didn’t protect me due to her own family history of abuse.
When I was five years old my mum introduced the family to her new boyfriend, who quickly became my stepdad. He controlled everything at home. What we watched, what we ate. He constantly changed the rules. So, whatever I was doing, was wrong.
My mum was always very compliant and did what she was told. He controlled the house, mum and the children. Mum gave up work, her friends and family. I remember the first few years as being OK, but this changed as I got older. For a long time believed that I was responsible for the abuse due to my behaviour as I was a “problem child”.
My younger sister was born when I was 11 and I was made to look after her from a young age. I cared for her and took on the parental role. I believed this to be normal for a family. While living at home I went to uni. During this time, my mental health declined, and my self-esteem was poor. I had pressures at home with supporting my mum and my sister and I fell behind in my studies.
I dropped out of uni after my second year as I was not coping very well. However, I started working in a nightclub, which I loved. This gave me an escape from home, and I would work every shift possible. My mum and stepdad would take wages off me saying it was for rent. But mum had a gambling addiction and was spending the money on games. The daily abuse continued with me never being good enough or knowing what the expectations were of me.
There was always a threat of violence present in the house. And I believed my stepdad would kill me if I did not do as I was told. He used this threat of violence to keep professionals, friends and family away. Tensions were high in the house for a few months before I left. I felt there must be somewhere I could go to get away from my situation.
A new beginning
One day I came across a mental health support centre. I went in and asked for help. This moment changed my life and I started to understand what had been happening to me.
I stayed in link-house accommodation where I fully disclosed my relationship with my stepdad. This led to my referral into a refuge in Somerset. When I first came to the refuge, it was scary. I didn’t know what to expect but really wanted to make the most of the opportunity.
I started a recovery programme fairly quickly, which was really useful to understanding the abuse. I was determined to break the cycle for when I have my own family in the future. The refuge has many different families in the building, which can be difficult. But I found positive relationships with clients; some I am still in contact with.
I moved in just before Christmas and was in for five months. After this I ended up moving into further supported accommodation. I’m now ready to move on with my life and be more independent.
Thank you so much Tammy’s for sharing your story and we wish you all the best.
Refuges support a new beginning to many who need it. It’s often with support we are able to find the means to move on. If you need help, please contact us.
*Tammy is not our client’s real name