Former Wandsworth councillor who fled domestic violence experience calls on government to provide hotel rooms for survivors

By Sian Bayley

A former Wandsworth councillor who fled domestic abuse from her ex-partner and now works with vulnerable women and their families, is calling on the Government to provide 20,000 hotel rooms as safe refuge spaces for survivors during the second lockdown.

Marie Hanson MBE, 55, founded the Battersea-based charity S.T.O.R.M in 2004 to help empower other women going through domestic violence.

“I’m quite a strong woman, but I went through a horrible case of domestic violence, where my ex-partner tried to throw my little baby out the window.” Ms Hanson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

“It was going on for a while. Do you know what it is? It was gradual. I didn’t even know I was going through domestic violence, it was gradual and it got worse and it got worse. I got more scared and I got more in towards myself.”

She said the last straw was when her baby’s life was threatened.

“Enough’s enough, I had to go. And I just went and I slept in my car for three days.”

Ms Hanson said it was difficult to find refuge when she fled her home while pregnant with five young children.

It meant she had to wait for accommodation to become available and ended up sleeping on someone’s floor.

“That’s why it’s really important for us to do this campaign and for many  people to sign the petition, because a lot of women who want to flee domestic violence, sometimes it’s very impossible for them to do that, because there’s nowhere for them to go.”

She said it was important for women to know there is a room available for them to go to, alongside services such as caseworkers and counsellors, especially during lockdown when victims are ‘locked up’ with their abusers.

This autumn Ms Hanson has worked with a number of high-profile men to help ‘stop the silence’ around domestic violence, including star of The Revenant and Midsommer, actor, Will Poulter.

Poulter, 27, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that he first met Marie when researching a short film, before they were brought together again by director Bexy Cameron, who produced a series of six short films about real stories of domestic abuse for the S.T.O.R.M campaign.

He said: “I knew that Marie herself, among other things, was a survivor of domestic abuse, and her story was really quite incredible.

“I was really moved by the stories that she shared with me. And, you know, when she outlined the details of the campaign and and spoke to me about the concept, along with, you know, Bexy’s creative vision, I just really wanted to be involved.”

He said it was important for men to be involved to “encourage ally-ship with women.”

He added: “I think that the strength of the campaign, broadly speaking, is that it helps to break down the stigma and the silence around domestic abuse and domestic violence, whoever the whoever the victim may be.”

The ONS estimates in the year to March 2019, 2.4 million adults were affected by domestic abuse, including 1.6 million women and 786,000 men.

“I think that those numbers really speak to a very real, very dangerous issue,” said Poulter.

“And of course, I think this campaign was particularly timely, because we were heading into a second lockdown, where we’ve seen the the figures only worsen regarding the people affected by domestic abuse.”

The Metropolitan Police reported 4,093 domestic abuse arrests in London in the first six weeks of the pandemic in March and April.

S.T.O.R.M is now calling on the Government to take notice of the surge in cases of domestic violence over the first lockdown and demands the Government provide 20,000 hotel rooms as safe refuge spaces for victims of abuse during the second lockdown.

The petition can be found here: chng.it/2w4zM7Tyqj

Watch the six short films, reading out the real stories of survivors of domestic violence, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryoTaqK4Fzw

Pictured: Marie Hanson MBE


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