For many women enduring domestic violence, the biggest fear is the unknown.
However unbearable the physical and mental abuse might be, sometimes the hardest thing is to make the decision to leave.
So what happens in the first 24 hours after escaping an abusive partner?
We asked Suman Vyas, service delivery manager for accommodation at The Haven refuge in Wolverhampton, what women can expect in those crucial first hours.
Obviously every individual case is different and the timings aren’t exact but it gives you an idea of the measures that are in place to get a woman and her children to safety as quickly as possible.
If you need help, call the Haven’s confidential 24 hour helpline on 08000 194 400 or visit the website
12pm: Initial call to The Haven
This could be via the Haven’s 24 hour helpline, which is 08000 194 400 - either from a call from the woman herself or a friend or relative.
A woman could also be referred by a health visitor, GP, teacher, social worker or police.
Either way, the information is acted upon immediately.
The woman involved will be given a risk assessment over the phone and guidance as to how to reach the most suitable refuge for her, where she’ll be invited to go as soon as possible.
This will be a confidential location and she will be asked not to disclose the address to anyone or, if absolutely necessary, just one trusted family member.
If she is not ready to leave home, that’s fine too. She will be given access to lots of support she can use whilst staying in the family home.
1pm: Arrival at the refuge
The priority is for the woman and her children to be made to feel safe and secure.
If she’s arrived with just the clothes on her back, staff will get her some clothing and toiletries and help her to settle into her room, which generally has a lounge area, one or two bedrooms depending on the size of the family, a bathroom and a fridge.
There are different set-ups at different refuges.
“We want her to feel she’s made the right decision and that it’s a positive move forward,” said Suman.
2pm: Introduction to the refuge
Staff will make the family feel welcome, introducing them to other women and children staying in the refuge and showing them all the facilities, which include play areas and activity rooms for the children, communal lounge and kitchen areas that are very child-friendly, homework hubs for kids and treatment rooms for counselling too.
“The women who live at the refuges are generally very welcoming because they know how it feels themselves. They’ve sometimes been known to cook a meal for a new woman who has just arrived.”
3pm: Settle the children
There tends to be a lot of children in the refuges, and they can often help break the ice for the mums going through such a difficult time.
“Children often settle a lot more quickly and make friends,” she said.
“Some children may struggle with everything that’s going on so we do everything we can to help them settle.”
4pm: One to one session with a key worker
This will start the process of an empowering journey where the woman is in control of how she is supported and helped. It may be that she needs urgent medical support and this will be addressed immediately.
She will be registered with a GP if she has moved out of the area but this can take 24 hours so she will have been advised to bring any long term medication she needs with her.
“It’s takes us 24 hours to register a woman with a new GP so if she can bring her medication that’s a big help,” said Suman.
“Obviously we’re aware that she can only carry as much as is comfortable.”
This is a holistic session where arrangements can be made to help improve her economic wellbeing through a review of her current welfare benefits.
She can also be put in touch with legal services and police although it is not necessary for her to pursue a case against her perpetrator if she is not ready to do so.
“We try not to overwhelm the woman as we know she’s already answered lots of questions by this point. This is all about empowering women for independent living. You are in charge of your plan and you are equally responsible for it.”
5pm: Settle in for the evening
There are some emergency supplies and dry provisions available for women who arrive with no food or money. Some food comes from local food banks.
Sometimes there’s a community atmosphere with all the women pooling their resources and cooking a big meal together. Otherwise they each have a cupboard for their supplies.
There are highchairs for the kids and baby bowls and cutlery plus safety gates around the hot appliances.
Then women are encouraged to socialise in the communal lounge but they are perfectly welcome to retreat to their own room too.
“The communal settings are very important. Many of the women become good friends and stay in touch after they leave.”
10pm: The first night
There is no set bedtimes or wake up calls here, although the managers do like to have everything locked up and secure for the night so women are asked not to stay out late.
Each refuge is manned 24 hours and has CCTV and a buzzer system to ensure no-one can access it without authorisation.
There’s also a 24-hour helpline she can call for support.
7am: The first morning
It tends to be best for children to stay in their current schools where possible but if a mum is concerned that the perpetrator might try to interfere then arrangements will be made for the child to transfer.
It might be that the child has a couple of days off school, in which case a member of staff can help to contact the school and explain what is happening.
It’s best to try to keep children in a regular routine so women staying at the refuge are encouraged to take their children to and from school every day. Some travel quite a distance to ensure their kids can remain in their current schools.
Women staying at the refuge are expected to manage their own household.
If a woman is new to the area or worried about going out alone, a member of staff, or sometimes a fellow service user, will go out with her to help pick up provisions.
10am: Key worker support
Following the key worker discussion, there are lots of workshops, courses and training programmes available.
If the woman has money worries, she can be put in touch with a debt support worker or advised on how to take out a loan.
“Some of the women who arrive have never managed a bank account before,” said Suman.
“Others may have been forced into debt by their partners.”
People can do anything from economic empowerment workshops to reiki, English as a second language or educational courses to help with employability.
She will also start the Freedom Programme, a 12 week course that helps victims of domestic violence try to make sense of what has happened to them and to move forward.
Women are encouraged to keep busy, borrowing a book from the library shelf, talking to a counsellor or playing with their children in the activity room.
“It’s not an institution so there are no rules but there are guidelines to help everyone live together in harmony.”
This includes ideas for bedtimes for children and a rota of chores to help keep the kitchen clean.
Most women tend to stay in a refuge for around four months but every case is different.
Some will leave after a few weeks whilst others remain there for a couple of years.
“Women take as long as they need but we don’t want them to form a dependence on the service so we encourage independent living as much as possible,” she said.
“And when they come to leave, there’s a community team there to help resettle them too.
“It’s amazing to watch the transformation from when a woman arrives to when she leaves.
“I’ve seen women arrive with no confidence and then two weeks later they have so much more confidence because they no longer feel alone and lost. Their self esteem improves significantly. That’s so rewarding to see.
“Even just being able to sit and relax on the sofa for an hour or so in the evening can make a difference as that might have been something she had been unable to do before.
“It’s often things like this that everyone else takes for granted.”