One minute he could be nice...

ONE in four women in Suffolk will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetime.Many will face years of aggression and abuse before finding the strength to leave their husbands or partners.

ONE in four women in Suffolk will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetime.

Many will face years of aggression and abuse before finding the strength to leave their husbands or partners.

Today, as Ipswich Women's Aid in celebrates its 30th birthday, KATE GOODING looks at what support the charity offers to those who find themselves in violent relationships.

THIS week two women in England will die at the hands of their violent husband or partner.

Many will have endured years of physical and emotional abuse, sometimes witnessed by their children.

The average victim will be attacked 35 times before they search for a way out and many will have been hospitalised, imprisoned in their own homes and sexually assaulted.

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For 30-years Women's Aid in Ipswich has been trying to help victim's escape the horrors of violent relationships by offering advice, refuges and support for them and their children.

This week the charity celebrated the 30th anniversary of the opening of its first refuge, with a breakfast party attended by dignitaries, supporters and members of the organisation.

Hilary Cadman, the charity's director, has worked for Women's Aid in Ipswich since the first refuge opened on November 13, 1976 and has helped re-house and support thousands of women.

She said: “In those days we used to go out and pick up women, perhaps with a police escort and bring them in.

“We had to deal with attitudes such as 'there, there dear' and we were told 'this is just a domestic' but the police have come a long way since then and their attitudes have changed and there is far better understanding around the complex issues around domestic violence than there were.”

The movement was started in Ipswich by a group of women from the St John's ward of the Labour party who wanted to commemorate international women's year in 1974.

Some hostels were set up in England in the same year but many were not born until the Domestic Violence Act of 1976 which recognised victims as homeless and gave them improved access to local authority housing.

The first Ipswich refuge was created and opened that year and served as an office, shelter and advice centre for dozens of women.

Ms Cadman added: “Our very first office was a conservatory which measured about 3ft by 6ft - it baked in the summer and froze in the winter.

“Previous to that we had one pay phone in the hall of the hostel and when we were doing volunteering we would bring a big bag of ten pence coins and would have to call DHSS, as it was then, and Ipswich Borough Council from that phone.

“We now have a huge suite of offices and a headquarters. In 2000 we completed and opened our purpose-built refuge with 15 bedrooms, which is wonderful. It has three offices and a huge playroom. We have 23 families at anyone time and we are mostly full.”

Ms Cadman is quick to point out that the organisation does not persuade women to leave or force them to part with their abusers.

Instead it creates choice for its users and tries to help them gain the strength to take action.

She added: “I feel it is so important that women are able to help other women out of what appears to be a situation that has no options. The nature of domestic violence is it isolates you from your friends and family and removes your ability to make decisions by the continuous degradation and abuse to the point where you can't think for yourself, or believe in yourself and therefore can't make any choices.

“It is a complex problem and it (Women's Aid) is about giving women the helping hand to step out of that situation and to then support them in building their self-confidence.”

Women can be referred to the refuges by police, social workers or other agencies, or can make their own contact with the organisation via its helpline.

They are then supported through legal processes, the benefits system and sometimes counselling, before Women's Aid works to rehouse them.

The organisation is now hoping to expand its services by opening a drop-in centre in central Ipswich and providing art therapy sessions and monthly legal advice surgeries.

It is already running a 12-week course for female victims of domestic abuse, known as The Freedom Programme.

Ms Cadman said: “It is about looking at the issues about why perpetrators carry out their behaviour, what is behind it and what motivates them.

The programme is available to women still at home with their partners, as well as those in the refuge, and aims to help women develop ways to protect themselves and their children.

“If she leaves in early stages of his behaviour there is a far greater chance of him addressing his behaviour and stopping. Unfortunately the statistics say it takes seven years to leave and a victim suffers 35 times before she does anything.” Ms Cadman added.

For some, living in a refuge can be the only safe choice and in 2005/06, 69 women and 83 children made refuges in Ipswich their home.

Most stayed from three to six months but others stayed less than a week and some for more than a year. There is no limit on the length of time anyone can stay but about 40 per cent of users do end up being moved into independent housing.

Ms Cadman added: “Our biggest achievements are still housing women. The facilities we offer are now much more up-to-date and the expansion in having a drop-in centre is fantastic. I hope we can continue to grow over the next 30 years.”

Nicole, 35, spent eight years making excuses for her violent and aggressive husband before leaving him in November 2005.

She suffered black eyes, cracked ribs and bruises to her face and body and was assaulted on a regular basis, both in public and in private.

For the last 12 months she has struggled to get her life back on track but, with the help of Women's Aid, she now has a new home and a new life.

Despite years of abuse Nicole found it hard to leave her partner because they had a family and home together.

She added: “One minute he could be really nice and the next minute he might not want spaghetti bolognaise for dinner because he had it on Wednesday last week and he would go into a rage and smash the house up and if I got in the way I got it as well.

“He didn't like me going out and seeing my family and having friends and I still maintain that he loved me so much he smothered me. He wanted complete control over everything, even the children.

“It is not easy to leave when you have got a home and children. I had been ringing Women's Aid over the years and getting advice but putting it into practise is difficult.

Today, Nicole is divorced and her ex-husband is behind bars for the abuse he inflicted.

She is beginning to rebuild her life and urged others to use Women's Aid to do the same.

She added: “If you don't have the courage to leave look at your children. They only have one childhood and I think they deserve to be happy.

“When I look back and think how awful the year has been and what I have achieved, I think I have done really well. I still have a confidence problem but I am beginning to believe in myself again. I don't feel ashamed anymore to talk about it and I don't want to hide it.”

Anyone needing support from Women's Aid can call their 24-hour helpline on 01473 745111.

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