The Great Western Railway (GWR) ‘Rail to Refuge’ scheme has helped more than 150 adults and 70 children flee domestic abuse by providing free rail travel. ‘Rail to Refuge’ provides free train travel across the GWR network and nationally for women or men and their families who need to get to a place of safety.
GWR joined forces with the domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid to launch the scheme in March 2020. It was adopted nationally through the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) in April 2020 and has since helped more than 1,300 adults and children across the UK.
The RDG has announced the continuation of ‘Rail to Refuge’ nationally, with figures showing four survivors a day, on average, have been using the lifesaving scheme to access free train travel.
Referrals to domestic abuse charities and support services have soared during the pandemic and risks to those trapped in an abusive relationship have increased during lockdown. Those who have used the service are travelling because either their perpetrator has discovered their location, they need to leave the local area where their perpetrator is or because of a lack of refuge space in their community.
Free travel can be a lifeline for people fleeing abuse who may not have access to cash. Almost two-thirds (62%) of people who used ‘Rail to Refuge’ said they would not have travelled if their journey had not been paid for.
GWR Business Assurance Director, Joe Graham, said: “When we launched Rail to Refuge in March 2020 we knew how important this scheme would be in helping victims get to a place of safety. The extension of the national scheme, added to our own permanent scheme, means we can continue to help get those who need help to a place of safety anywhere in the country.”
Women's Aid chief executive, Farah Nazeer, said: "Women face huge barriers to escaping an abuser. Leaving your home because you and your children are not safe is a huge undertaking. Additionally, leaving the abuser is a dangerous time with a huge rise in the likelihood of violence after separation, so it needs to be done as safely as possible, with support from expert refuge services. Many women and children have to travel long distances to escape their abuser. There remains a serious shortage of refuge spaces, so it is vital that women are not prevented access to safety in a refuge by the cost of travel.
“In addition, many survivors have experienced years of economic abuse and will not have access to a bank, credit card or even cash. Women tell us that they cannot afford to leave because the perpetrator has controlled their money and they have none of their own. We are delighted that train companies have worked with us to remove a significant barrier to people escaping abuse. The ‘Rail to Refuge’ scheme will continue to be lifesaving for hundreds of women and children, and it is incredibly welcome news that it has been extended.”
Swindon Domestic Abuse Support Service chief executive, Emma Rawlings, said: “We have used the scheme extensively since it was launched and know first-hand the difference it is making. The determination of a perpetrator to try to seek out their victims should never be underestimated. In the last 12 months we have helped victims flee their abusive relationships or have moved them due to their location being compromised. ‘Rail to Refuge’ has removed an obstacle within that process and without doubt has saved lives.”
Train operators provided 1,348 free train tickets as part of the Rail to Refuge scheme between 9 April 2020 and 14 March 2021. Survivors can access the tickets through the member services of Women’s Aid Federation of England (including Respect, which runs the Men's Advice line), Welsh Women’s Aid, Scottish Women’s Aid, and Imkaan, once they have received an offer of a refuge place.
In answer to the question: ‘Would the person have travelled if the journey wasn’t paid for?’ which was asked for all 965 Rail to Refuge bookings, responses were: Yes – 24%, No – 62%, Not sure – 8%, Didn’t answer – 6%
Two-thirds of survivors identifying as currently experiencing abuse (66.7%, 46 out of 69 answering the question) told Women’s Aid that their abuser had started using lockdown restrictions or the Covid-19 virus and its consequences as part of the abuse. (Women’s Aid June 2020 Survivor Survey, reported in A Perfect Storm)
Nearly a third (31.9%) of survivors surveyed in 2018 said their access to money during the relationship was controlled by the perpetrator. (The Domestic Abuse Report 2019: The Economics of Abuse). In addition a 2015 report found that 52% of women surveyed who were living with an abuser couldn't afford to leave because they had no money of their own. (Unequal, Trapped & Controlled, Women's Aid and TUC).
In 2019-20 Women’s Aid estimates that refuge services in England supported 10,592 women and 12,710 children and community-based services supported 103,969 women and 124,762 children. Demand is still higher than the provision available, with 57.2% of refuge referrals declined during the year – 18.1% of all referrals were turned down due to lack of capacity in the refuge. (The Domestic Abuse Report2021 : The Annual Audit)
Women’s Aid reporteda 41% increase in users visiting its instant messaging Live Chat site within the first two weeks of lockdown in March 2020 and as a result extended its opening hours to 10am – 4pm daily. Respect, which runs the Men’s Advice Line, has increased service hours from 46 to 75 hours weekly to support male victims, after seeing a huge increase in demand since March 2020.
Any story about domestic abuse should refer to appropriate sources of help and support, including Helplines.
In England: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support/
In Scotland: Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline, available 24/7 on 0800 027 1234 or via email and web chat at www.sdafmh.org.uk
In Wales:Live Fear Free helpline available 24/7 0808 80 10 800 https://www.welshwomensaid.org.uk/
Respect: Male victims of domestic abuse can call the Respect Men’s Advice Line on 0808 8010327 or visit: www.mensadviceline.org.uk
· Imkaan: https://www.imkaan.org.uk/