The 32-year-old is living in a South London refuge, after fleeing an abusive relationship, in which the young mum had acid thrown at her and was beaten and left unconscious in the street.
In support of The Sun On Sunday’s Save Our Shelters campaign, Sun Online visited the centre with Christmas presents, gifts and a Christmas lunch.
The women who attended bravely told us their stories.
'He kicked me as my baby daughter slept'
Proudly watching Anna, who has tragically lived most of her life in a refuge, Sophie says: “I came here last October. I didn’t have anything to eat, or nappies for my daughter. All I had was the clothes on my back.
For women trapped in abusive relationships, it’s difficult enough to find the courage to escape a violent home – but Christmas especially is one of the hardest challenges, with many women too scared to uproot their lives and their children at what should be one of the happiest times of the year.
Tragically, for many children, Christmas in a refuge is the best they’ve ever had compared to the horrific reality of living in fear of an abusive parent.
Last year, 139 women were murdered by men – 64 of which were killed by their partner or ex, and one in four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime.
For Sophie, this will be her second Christmas in a refuge, after leaving her abusive partner in October 2017.
She says: “From 18 I was in an abusive relationship for six years. I lost all my confidence – I was obedient and would just do what was asked of me.
“He’d hurl furniture at me, punch and strangle me, and one time he tried to throw acid at me.
“I wasn’t allowed to go to work, or have any friends. If I bought myself anything it would have been from a charity shop.
"One time he attacked me after his work party, elbowing me in my nose and the police were called and he was told to stay away from me.
"For a long time, I felt like I’d done something wrong, or I deserved it. He made it seem like it was my fault.”
Sophie is convinced that because her confidence was so low after this relationship, she fell into another violent relationship, this time with her daughter’s father – which lasted five years until she sought safety at the refuge.
She says: “He was controlling. He liked things doing his own way and he expected me to be at his beck and call.
"I’d have to make his coffee a certain way, and get his clothes ready for him every morning and if I didn’t he’d call me names.
Left unconscious in the street
“One time just after my daughter was born, I fell asleep on the bed while she was napping in her cot and he came in and kicked me, and shook me awake.”
It was after one particularly shocking attack, Sophie knew she had to get out, for the sake of her daughter.
She adds: “Shortly after having my daughter, we went out for a meal and a few drinks. On the way home he kicked off, attacked me and knocked me out, kicking me in the back of my head and my stomach and punched me while I lay on the floor, before leaving me unconscious on the street.”
Coming round, Sophie tried to stumble home, and was picked up by the police and taken to hospital.
She says: “Miraculously I just suffered bruising, but I’d thought he was the love of my life. It was devastating."
After admitting to nursing staff that she felt unsafe with her partner, she was taken to the refuge by a social worker in October 2017 with nothing but the clothes she was wearing.
“The support from the workers here was brilliant – they helped me forget all my worries for that one day.
“It’s a hard time of year, but they decorated a Christmas tree, and we were given new toys for the children. The fact the kids got presents because I didn’t have any money at the time meant so much.
"We had everything, they took a whole weight of my shoulders. It’s horrible thinking about coming here at the festive period and being on your own, but they made it better for us.”
'I didn't think I'd make it to Christmas’
Watching her four-year-old son Aryaan* excitedly unwrap presents and play with his new PAW Patrol rescue Marshall fire truck in front of the Christmas tree, emotion overcomes mum Naila*, 39.
The mum of one has been living in the refuge for 11 months with Aryaan after fleeing her abusive partner in January, after an unbearable Christmas.
She suffered verbal and physical abuse during her three year relationship with Aryaan’s dad, who no longer has contact with his son.
She breaks down and admits tearfully: “The refuge workers are amazing, but to be honest it’s hard to see the Christmas tree up – I didn’t expect to still be here at this time of year.
“It’s a time for family, and mine all live abroad. Knowing I won’t be living under my own roof and we’ll be on our own is difficult.
“Last Christmas was when I decided I had to leave my ex.
"I just left one morning with absolutely nothing. We had to give up everything – Aryaan left his school, I had to leave my job.
“This time of year always brings up bad memories for me. Last year my ex came home on Christmas Day before we’d even had dinner, and was abusive both physically and emotionally – he always made Christmas hell.
“I want my son to have a better life – I dressed up and made an effort for the party today but he’s the only reason I make an effort for Christmas. I have to be strong for him.”
'You have to rebuild your whole life'
Director of Operations Lucy Pleass, 48, has worked for Bromley and Croydon Women’s Aid for 12 years. She was initially a volunteer, after staying at one of their refuges for two years herself after fleeing a four-year abusive relationship in 2001.
She says: “I had to flee when my daughter was two months old. I came into the refuge just after Christmas, so I understand what it’s like.
“To be fair, the Christmas in a refuge was a breath of fresh air because the staff ensured we didn’t feel left out. We had support, and I had a lovely Christmas. The help I got saved mine and my daughter’s life.
“When women arrive at the refuge it’s very traumatic. They’ve left everything they know and don’t know what to expect. Often women will arrive with nothing other than what they’re standing in so it’s overwhelming.
“We provide bedding, toiletries, toys, food parcels – everything they need. To come into a refuge at Christmas especially, children have to leave their friends behind and can’t have visitors – it’s a massive step.
“You have to rebuild your whole life, and at Christmas you doubt if you’ve made the right decision.
“A special event like this party, it just makes them realise that they’ve made the right decision, that they’re not alone, they’re not isolated and they are being thought about at this time when it is supposed to be festive.”
To donate to Bromley and Croydon’s Women’s Aid, please visit their Virgin Money Giving page.
● Children’s toys, including PAW Patrol, Boxer Robot, Hatchimals and Luvabella were donated by Spin Master as part of their £25,000 Advent Calendar toy donation campaign featured at Kidzania London supporting 24 children’s charities this Christmas.● Mattel also provided a range of toys, including Barbie, Hot Wheels and Fisher Price.● EatFirst – the UK's finest gourmet takeaway company – provided a selection of their Christmas menu for the party.● Christmas tree and decorations courtesy of Hayes Garden World.● Each woman received skincare products from Pure Potions, natural body washes from Faith In Nature and a handbag donated by former designer and health coach Fran Mac.
*All names have been changed.
Source: Read Full Article