AS Jewish Women's Aid makes headway in heightening awareness of domestic abuse in the community, growing numbers of women are turning to the charity for support. Yet as demand for its services rises, its resources have become severely stretched.
"We are very keen on educating people and increasing their awareness of domestic abuse," says JWA campaign manager Gay Waldman. "But with more people hearing about us, we are getting more and more referrals."
The charity helps and supports women and their children encountering abuse at home, be it physical, emotional or money-related.
Its services include Europe's only kosher and Shabbat-observant women's refuge, which can accommodate eight women and 14 children.
"The refuge is always full," Ms Waldman reports. "Sometimes we have more women needing somewhere to stay than we have places, so we put them up in bed-and-breakfasts."
Women remain at the refuge for anywhere between a week and 18 months. JWA then helps them to find new accommodation, and employment where necessary, and works with them to sort out their finances. It also pays for things such as a child's birthday party or a school uniform. However, JWA desperately needs more funding to maintain or enhance its work. It has to raise at least £500,000 of its current £650,000 budget.
"We have good resettlement programmes," Ms Waldman says. "But we would like to be able to provide more secondary sheltered housing as an in-between stage for women who leave the hostel. We also want to hire more professionals in the north of the country."
Another service is a freephone helpline (0800 591203). It further offers counselling and support to women who feel unable to leave their homes.
JWA also funds a training programme for lawyers who will work for women suffering domestic abuse. A new self-support group, Nashim, has weekly meetings. The charity tries to involve all its clients in celebrating the Yomtovim, including the distribution of parcels of essentials at Rosh Hashanah and Pesach.And Ms Waldman stresses the importance of its educational activities.
"People tend to think domestic abuse doesn't happen in the Jewish community because of the sanctity of the Jewish home. But it does not make women any less liable."
To emphasise the point, she reveals that over 150 women have called JWA's helpline over the last month. Ms Waldman expects even more to ring after the festivals, citing domestic problems exacerbated by the credit crunch and the greater time families spend in close proximity over Yomtov.
Lisa (not her real name) was 16 when she and her mother fled her abusive father.
"It had gone on throughout my childhood," she recalls. "My father had tried to break my wrists and would shake my sister and tear up my mum's clothes. My mum was his servant. It was frightening. I used to always feel I was walking into a black bubble when I walked into the house."
Things came to a head two years ago when her father lashed out in rage. "He went to hit me and was screaming." Lisa ran out of the house, at which point her father phoned her sister "and said he was going to break my bones if he saw me again, and he tore my face out of a family photograph".
Lisa called the police, who took her father away for questioning for a few hours. On his return, Lisa and her mother escaped through the back door. "We knew we had to leave as things had got too bad. We were terrified."
For the next four months, Lisa slept on friends' floors until one of her sisters heard about Jewish Women's Aid. "Within a couple of days we had met up with them and had been given a room in the refuge."
Despite this sanctuary, Lisa became depressed and found it hard to cope. "I was having panic attacks and wanting to hurt myself. But JWA were amazing. They gave my mum counselling and paid for me to go to a counsellor. They continued paying for me long after I left the refuge. They also helped my mum with finances and gave her money to get her started again. I wouldn't have been able to get through it without JWA. It's thanks to them that I'm still here."
Lisa and her mother could also continue celebrating the festivals while in the refuge - "it was so important to us".
Lisa is now at college studying for her A levels. Her father committed suicide last year.
UNIVERSITY JEWISH CHAPLAINCY
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