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This is where victims of abuse or women afraid of assault can get help

Since the heartbreaking story of Sarah Everard's death, women's safety in public has dominated conversations.

Whether it's fears of walking home alone, unwanted behaviour from men in public or being abused by their own loved ones, the stories across Kent have been numerous and heartbreaking.

Sarah Everard
Sarah Everard

Jo Lemaux bravely shared her story of domestic abuse after her partner broke into her house and threatened her with a knife.

The Everyone's Invited testimonial website has recently unveiled allegations of sexual abuse and harassment from former pupils at Tonbridge School which the head teacher called 'extremely upsetting'.

But it's not just women who are in need of help - with 544 more reports of domestic abuse suffered by men during lockdown including Steve, not his real name, described being in a 'war zone'.

But there are services that can help. We've compiled a list of some of the safest ways you can reach out for help.

All of the services below can be used by both women and men.

Where can I seek help as a victim of domestic abuse?

If you are a victim of domestic abuse and need to get somewhere safe, the first point of contact is a refuge.

They can help with housing, legal issues, finances, child services and other domestic abuse services.

There are a range of domestic abuse services across Kent - including Oasis in East Kent, Rising Sun in East Kent, DAVSS in West Kent and Look Ahead - or call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline (0808 2000 247) for advice.

Sadie (not her real name), Team Leader for KDAS, escaped an abusive relationship
Sadie (not her real name), Team Leader for KDAS, escaped an abusive relationship

Sadie, not her real name, fled to a refuge after 10 years with her abuser.

Of her experience after leaving, she said: "I was happier being a mum, I was happy being me. I started to feel this fire in my belly and thought 'actually, I want to stay like that.'"

She later became a Domestic Abuse Service team leader at Look Ahead. Sadie's advice for people leaving is to seek out help from charities and abuse services, give a leaving pack of important items to a trusted person and to take care of your own mental health first.

She added: "Choice and control is very important because you are stripped of it all, it doesn't matter what kind of abuse it was. We need to reverse that. Victims need to tell us what they want out of life and we just help them to get there."

My partner controls the finances - what can I do?

If you are a victim of domestic abuse, you can travel for free using the 'rail to refuge' scheme run with Southeastern.

All you need to do is speak to someone from an associated charity - such as Women's Aid or Respect, Men's Advice Line - and they will cover the cost of a ticket to safety.

Southeastern reported this year that the scheme has helped 1,348 people since April 2020 - including 48 women and 13 children in Kent.

Darren O’Brien, station manager at Southeastern, thought up the idea for the scheme after watching a documentary about domestic abuse.

He explained: "There was one part where a lady was offered a place for her three children to go in a safe refuge and rebuild a life. But her place hung in the balance because she couldn't afford a train ticket. It just resonated with me. I thought, how can that happen? It's just so unfair.

"Thankfully, my company were very supportive of the idea and a lot of work went on behind the scenes. I was just blown away by all the support this idea has given to people, just from small idea.

"The beauty of this scheme is that people remain anonymous and travel like ordinary members of the public. They don't stick out. Those people don't come directly to Southeastern, they go to somebody like Women's Aid.

"If they can offer somebody a safe place, they will make those arrangements to get people tickets so they can have a better life for them and their children."

The rail to refuge scheme has helped over 1,300 people in a year
The rail to refuge scheme has helped over 1,300 people in a year

What can I do if I feel threatened on the trains?

You can text the British Transport Police on 61016, report a crime online, or call 0800 40 50 40 - they will decide how to deal with the situation after being sent details.

If you want to report a crime after contacting BTP this way, you can speak to them anywhere you like rather than going to a police station.

Darren O’Brien, station manager at Southeastern, added: "We've also got access to the British Transport Police.

"We've got an internal monitoring system where staff can get in touch and we can potentially deploy railway enforcement officers. We can have a train stopped for police to attend as well. Our trains and stations have CCTV, so any images that may be captured can be used as evidence against individuals.

"So people shouldn't feel that they can't approach anybody. If they feel that their life in any way has been threatened or in danger, contact a member of staff immediately. So our stations are very safe and secure."

Pubs and bars display this poster as part of the 'Ask for Angela' initiative
Pubs and bars display this poster as part of the 'Ask for Angela' initiative

What if I feel unsafe on a night out?

If you ever feel unsafe while you're on a night out or on a date which has gone dangerously sour - go to a member of staff and ask for Angela.

Police forces across the country have encouraged venues to recognise this as a discreet code word for 'I need help' and will either escort you to a safe place or call you a taxi home.

Victims Commissioner Dame Vera Baird has called for the codeword to be taught to supermarket and pharmacy staff to help victims of domestic abuse.

She said: “You could have a very similar system, easily training local workers in supermarkets, to just respond. If people are able to come in and talk about what’s happening, fine, but maybe that’s not so straightforward and you wouldn’t know what to say to a cashier, so an option to have a codeword so that you say ‘Ask Vera’, and the person says ‘that means this to me’.”

If you click the lock button on the side of your iPhone it will give you the option to discreetly call the police
If you click the lock button on the side of your iPhone it will give you the option to discreetly call the police

If you can't get to a local venue to ask for help, there are other tips that you can employ for yourself.

For example, if you click the lock button on an iPhone five times or dial 55 it will allow you to discreetly call 999.

If the line remains silent, the operator will assume it's an emergency and ask you to cough or make some kind of noise so they know it is not an accidental call.

With cases of drink spiking on the rise over the last few years, you can also prepare with drink testing kits from brands like SipChips and SABRE which are available online.

To get the latest updates in ongoing cases, police appeals and criminals put behind bars, click here

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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