At our Women’s Centres in Gloucester, Swindon and Bridgwater, we support women who have been arrested and try to help them with the circumstances behind their offending.
That’s how I met Anika*
Anika was in custody for assaulting her partner for the second time in a week. As well as facing more abuse if she returned home, she would have been re-arrested as she would be breaking bail. With council housing not willing to house her, she was homeless, in pain, covered in bruises and had no hope or trust in anything. I needed to ensure her safety.
I wanted to give her a phone so I could stay in touch with her but needed her to come to the Women’s Centre to get it as I was unable to see her in custody before she was released. She walked over an hour to the centre. When I met her, it was clear that there was much more going on. She wanted to leave the relationship. She said that she had been drinking a lot, as a way of coping being with her partner. She was being forced to do things she didn’t want to do, which is why she assaulted him the first time she was arrested.
Her partner was released after a domestic violence charge against her in January and since then, the abuse had got much more physical. He had isolated her and prevented her contacting anyone in her support network. She hadn’t taken any of her medication for months, was no longer in touch with her Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) and even smashed her phone when we tried to contact her previously.
I started by getting in touch with her old CPN who said that they would discuss how best to support Anika in their morning meeting. We then spoke to her GP, who she was very honest with, and she was able to pick up her prescription within 20 minutes.
I then made a referral to a refuge. Whilst waiting to hear back from the refuge I contacted 101 and within 20 minutes a female officer supported Anika to get her belongings from the property and brought her back to the centre. We made her lunch and she then got into the shower.
She felt feelings she had never experienced before from her heart, her head and her body. At this point, you could see her trust in us had grown. She felt safe, heard and that she had a choice. She spoke in more detail about her life and what she wanted.
I received a response from the refuge accepting Anika but when I contacted the refuge to confirm she wanted to go, I found out they could not accept her until the next morning. Anika panicked, but again I remained calm and solution- focused, making sure her safety was the priority. We sat and went through all the safe people she knew, that her partner didn’t.
She had a friend she hadn’t spoken to for years because her partner would not let her. She was worried about going to her friend with all her belongings and being refused. I said I would take her there and wouldn’t leave her until it was sorted. Again, you could see another worry dissolve as she knew she would not be alone.
While sorting out her accommodation, I also looked into the new ‘free rail to refuge’ scheme. It took numerous phone calls to arrange, which identified that the process is not easy for a woman to go through on her own. In Anika’s words, she ‘would have never got this far and would have given up’. Getting Anika to a safe place involved referral writing, a lot of calling and waiting and, most importantly, prioritising her safety at all times.
We collected her train tickets and the friend also took her in for the night. I collected her the next day and sat with her at the train station waiting for her to get onto the train. She was so scared of falling asleep or getting lost because she struggled with buses, let alone trains. I said I would follow her journey online, calling her when she needed to change over and also to make sure she got off at the right station from the second train. We did all this, and she arrived.
When she called the taxi number, it was an automated machine which couldn’t pick up what she was saying due to her accent. She called me in massive panic so I called the taxi for her and they picked her up. I stayed in touch with her over the weekend and I quote what she has said:
“I have been treated like ‘shit’ my whole life, and you have been in my life for 24 hours and have treated me like gold.”
“I thought I had forgotten how to have a conversation, I haven’t had a conversation for so long.”
“I am beyond grateful, and I am so pleased I came that day.”
“There are words you said that have changed my life forever.”
We will continue to support her through the Women’s Centre, to build her up again and ensure she feels safe, supported and cared for. She is now in touch with her CPN, who is supporting her mental health, and she has not drunk any alcohol for three days and has been able to sleep and eat. She is feeling a world of feelings, but I have heard her laugh and giggle for the first time since meeting her.
*Name changed to protect identity.