Closures of refuges for victims of domestic violence are causing a “crisis” that could see them choose between homelessness or living with their abuser, charities have warned.
Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said specialist refuges offered more than alternative measures, while her counterpart at Women’s Aid, Polly Neate, claimed the country faced a return to the 1970s in terms of a lack of provision for abuse victims.
The warning comes after figures compiled by Labour revealed police forces were using community resolutions – a non-criminal form of punishment – to deal with domestic violence cases.
An investigation by the Guardian found refuges in Gloucestershire, Cheshire, Dorset, Devon, Sheffield, Nottingham, Somerset, Leeds, Leicestershire and Coventry were either closed or under threat of closure, citing competitive tendering processes adopted by local authorities for preventive work or housing association accommodation.
“We are at crisis point,” Ms Horley told the paper.
“Without adequate provision, women experiencing domestic violence will be faced with a stark choice: flee to live rough on the streets or remain with their abuser and risk further violence or even worse. ”
Ms Neate added: “There are areas where there aren’t any refuge, other areas are specifying beds must be for local women only and some areas are commissioning so-called refuges which are not refuges.
“We thought we had won the argument that refuges need to be a national network, but we are having arguments of 40 years ago all over again.”
Crime prevention minister Norman Baker said: “Decisions regarding funding are matters for local councils. We are helping local councils by drawing together best practice on commissioning.”
According to data from 15 police forces, there were 3,305 community resolutions in domestic and sexual violence cases last year – up from 1,337 in 2009.
Ms Horley said the figures were “deeply disturbing” and called for a public inquiry into police and state responses to the issue.