Kent Messenger Column - 30-12-16
A few weeks back I attended an important 20th Anniversary event in Maidstone. It was a fundraiser and a celebration for an organisation called Choices; no, not the Estate Agency or the NHS website but the Charity formally known as North Kent Women's Aid.
Choices exists to provide help to all those who are experiencing domestic abuse. Whilst their celebration was a happy reflection of many years of successful service, the fact they remain so important for the people of this area is a sad indictment on society, where domestic abuse continues unabated.
To put some weight behind that statement the Choices helpline received 2,750 calls in the year 2015/16, of which almost 500 were from the Maidstone area. Their stats from last year also confirm the annual spike in referrals in the run up to Christmas, with 32% more in the quarter October-December 2015 than in any other quarter that year.
I make no apology for raising this issue repeatedly at this time of the year, because the problem is persistent and widespread. Two women are killed every week in England and Wales by a current or former partner; one in four women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes, and on average, a woman is assaulted 35 times before her first call to the police.
Choices are there at a time of need. They will listen supportively and non-judgementally; they can set out the options available and facilitate an informed decision; they can advise about refuge accommodation locally and nationally, signpost to other agencies and, vitally, they can reassure survivors that their suffering is not their fault.
The Choices Helpline Freephone is 0800 917 9948. They are open Mondays to Fridays 9.00 am to 4.00 pm, calls are free and will not appear on bills. More at www.choicesdaservice.org.uk (but take care with web browser history).