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Women fleeing domestic abuse can now apply for free train travel to refuge accommodation thanks to a new scheme.
The 'rail to refuge' project comes from grassroots domestic abuse federation Women's Aid and is supported by Southeastern and Great Western Railway.
Typically, women escaping situations of domestic abuse are advised to seek out refuge services that are far away from their perpetrator.
With British rail fares rising year-on-year, the challenge of finding the funds for a train ticket can leave many women stranded in potentially life-threatening situations.
Women's Aid stress that this is especially true for women experiencing economic abuse, who may have no access to cash at all.
To tackle the problem, the domestic abuse charity has partnered with Southeastern and Great Western Railway to offer free train travel for women seeking refuge services.
Under the new scheme, women using the member services of charities Women's Aid, Imkaan and Welsh Women's Aid will be able to obtain free tickets through custom-made booking services.
The bespoke ticketing systems will offer journeys within the Southeastern and Great Western Railway networks, which includes South Wales, Kent and London.
'Rail to refuge' was first proposed by station manager Darren O'Brien after he watched a Dispatches documentary about Reigate and Banstead Women's Aid.
The scheme was then introduced by Southeastern in 2019 and has already helped a number of women escape domestic abuse.
Happily, the addition of Great Western Railway marks a significant expansion - here's hoping other networks follow suit.
The context of power and control that goes hand in hand with domestic abuse makes gathering reliable data on the subject difficult.
According to statistics from Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW), an estimated 7.9 per cent (1.3 million) of women experienced some form of domestic abuse in the year ending March 2018.
It's important to note, though, that these statistics don't indicate domestic abuse cases that went unreported, or important context and impact information, such as repeat victims.
The gendered nature of domestic abuse is well documented. Between April 2014 to March 2017, 73 per cent of victims of domestic homicides (homicides by an ex/partner or family member) were women.
Services like 'refuge to rail' are a necessity, providing domestic abuse victims with a vital escape route to a place of safety.
Adina Claire, Acting co-Chief Executive of Women's Aid, said: "Access to cash is a major barrier for women escaping an abusive partner, and free train travel will be one less thing for these women to worry about at a time of acute crisis.
"I'd like to thank Great Western Railway and Southeastern for supporting this initiative, and encourage other rail companies to contact Women's Aid if they'd like to join the scheme and help us support women fleeing domestic abuse."
Southeastern Station Manager, Darren O'Brien said: "I was extremely moved by the Dispatches documentary and asked whether we at Southeastern could do anything to help.
"When we introduced the 'rail to refuge' scheme last year, we knew that it was only a small thing for us but would make an enormous difference to women escaping domestic abuse.
"It's fantastic that other train operators are following in our footsteps."
If you need information and support on domestic abuse, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 or email Women's Aid at [email protected]
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