Looking back at her 42 years helping domestic abuse survivors, the now-retired former CEO of Refuge, Sandra Horley says: “Domestic abuse has never been higher on the political or public agenda.”
She began working in women’s refuges in the English Midlands in 1978. “Back then, it was generally accepted by society that a man had a right to hit his partner and a woman just had to put up with it.
“Abused women, or ‘battered wives’ as they were labelled then, had no money, nowhere to go, and no one to turn to for support. Refuge, and others, led the march – step-by-step, towards change,” she said in an opinion piece on Refuge’s website.
“At the start of my journey I was a lone voice, and the police simply did not want to know about domestic violence. They dismissed it as a ‘domestic’, a private matter, to be kept behind closed doors.
“There was no government funding and no adequate homelessness legislation to give survivors a right to housing. Back then, women leaving violent men were told they had made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ and therefore not entitled to accommodation or they had to provide proof of violence before they could access emergency accommodation.
“Now, domestic abuse is rightly seen as a crime, and it has been pushed up the political agenda. The Domestic Abuse Bill is soon to return to the House of Lords, following its passage through the Commons …
“As policies and legislation have changed, Refuge’s message has remained clear. Domestic abuse is a crime, women and children have a right to live safely and without fear.”
Horley ended her duties as CEO after 37 years in the role at the end of July, but officially retired at the end of October after planned leave.