Specialist housing - a lifeline for survivors of abuse

Monday, 25 November 2019 - 2:03pm

Deputy Chief Executive of Commenweal Housing, Amy Doyle, tells us about The Amari project, run by Solace Women’s Aid and Commonweal Housing.

A safe and secure home can be a lifeline for women who have faced violence and abuse. For women fleeing sexual exploitation and trafficking, a home can provide not just safety, but also the independence they need to rebuild their lives and recover from trauma.

Today is the first day of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, which begins with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and ends with Human Rights Day on 10th December. Across the world organisations and individuals will be coming together to raise awareness, amplify the voices of survivors, and campaign to bring an end to gender based violence.

With evidence of a link between housing and violence against women and girls (VAWG) more clear than ever, it is an important time for organisations across housing and homelessness to play their part in addressing the needs of survivors.

Housing for survivors of VAWG is not just about the vital safety provided by a home in the first instance – whether that’s one that keeps them off the streets or enables them to leave an abusive partner.

Many women exiting prostitution or trafficking have multiple and complex needs, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use issues and contact with the criminal justice system. Recovery is rarely a quick or linear process, and support is often required well beyond the initial service provided by emergency accommodation.

However, evidence shows that after emergency accommodation there is a lack of housing and support available to women who are fleeing sexual exploitation. 87% of women leave refuges for continued temporary accommodation according to research by Solace Women’s Aid.

Without the provision of second stage housing for victims of sexual exploitation, there is a risk that many of these women will fall into homelessness or be forced to return to the lives they left behind.

The Amari project, run by Solace Women’s Aid and Commonweal Housing, sets out to address this gap in provision. It assists women who have faced sexual exploitation or trafficking following their departure from refuges or other emergency accommodation, helping them to build resilience and recover from trauma through a staged approach. 

Since its inception in 2016, the Amari project has helped 20 women who have been victims of sexual exploitation to rebuild their lives and move on to independence.

In April 2019, an independent evaluation of the project found that women who have access to good quality housing and the right support feel safe and secure in their homes and within time, are able to move on from trauma they have experienced.   

Amari is the only service of its kind in the UK to give women who have been sexually exploited through trafficking or prostitution the opportunity to live alone, supported by a caseworker.

This independence has a vital impact, as one woman said: “I was pleased that I could live on my own because living in shared accommodation was very stressful for me. The women I used to live with in the previous house had their own problems and it had negative effect on my emotional and mental well-being.”

At Commonweal, we use charitable resources to enable our project partners to test out innovative housing solutions to social injustice. We’re delighted that the independent evaluation has identified the success of the project – but now we want to make sure that other organisations and providers can benefit from this learning.

The successful combination of suitable housing and tailored trauma-informed support are key elements of this project, which could be replicated in other areas.  

The gap in current provision can’t be filled by one project alone, and similar services will be necessary across the country to ensure survivors fleeing sexual exploitation are able to move on from emergency accommodation and into independence.

16 Days of Activism should be a reminder to us all of the part we need to play in tackling violence against women and girls. But without the right housing at every stage of recovery, our ability to support some of the most marginalised survivors will always be limited.

We know from the Amari project the kinds of interventions that can have a really powerful impact. Now it’s time to take that learning across the country, so that every survivor can be supported to rebuild their lives.

If you are interested in hearing more about the Amari project, or want to discuss how you might be able to adopt a similar model in your area, please get in touch: info@commonweal.org.uk.