In recent years there has been a growing intolerance in Britain of the abuse by men of their wives, girlfriends, partners and ex-partners. This can be measured by increased media coverage as well as by changes in policing policy to recognise much of the abuse as criminal behaviour, a rise in the number of domestic violence inter-agency forums intended to co-ordinate practical responses, and belated Government attention—though, at the present time, the latter has yet to be backed up by serious resourcing or legislative change.
These developments have been surprisingly slow to come, as a result of which, although Britain began to originate a nationwide refuge movement as early as 1972 (Dobash and Dobash, 1992, pp.63-7), we currently lag behind parts of the USA, Canada and Australia in giving women and children real hope for safety through adequate public funding of services. The intentions and philosophy of the early feminist campaigners have held firm (pp.87-90), despite public neglect, and the results are there to be turned to: by women experiencing abuse for life-saving assistance, and by statutory professionals for guidance and example. The four Women’s Aid federations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland hold the nation’s expertise on men’s abuse of women. They are well-established voluntary organisations which undertake campaigning and offer support to independent, collectively run local refuges 1 and related services which conceptualise their committed work for women’s safety within broader goals of personal and social empowerment. There are no bureaucratised refuges run by or employing professional social workers or psychologists in this network as one finds in North America; women living in Women’s Aid refuges make their own decisions, continue to look after their own families, and are supported by workers, still normally in collective structures, who have often been through similar experiences themselves. This keeps UK refuges highly woman-centred.
Women’s organisations in Britain, in a second wave of feminism with roots in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, have fought for over twenty years for a national funding base for refuges, for effective rehousing