Greater Anglia and train companies across the country are extending to the end of March 2021 a scheme that offers free rail travel for survivors of domestic abuse.
‘Rail to Refuge’ is a joint initiative between Women’s Aid and Britain’s train companies. The cost of rail tickets for women, men and children travelling to refuge accommodation are covered by the train companies.
It was first introduced by Southeastern Railway in September 2019 and then Great Western Railway in March 2020. Greater Anglia and other rail operators joined in on 9 April.
The original scheme was to remain in place for approximately 12 weeks or for the duration of lockdown. However, with refuges expecting a spike in demand the scheme has been extended.
Since April, train companies have provided free rail tickets to 836 people, including 210 children. This averages out to four survivors a day.
During the pandemic the number of survivors of domestic abuse asking for help has soared. Women’s Aid reported a 41% increase in users visiting its instant messaging Live Chat site within the first two weeks of lockdown in March; as a result it extended its opening hours to 10am – 4pm daily.
Respect, which runs the Men’s Advice Line, has increased service hours from 46 to 75 hours a week to support male victims, after seeing a huge increase in demand since March.
A recent Women’s Aid survey shows 61% of survivors living with their abuser reported that the abuse worsened from March through June 2020, under tighter coronavirus restrictions.
Many survivors have experienced years of economic abuse, which restricts their practical ability to escape. Free travel can be a lifeline for people fleeing abuse who may not have access to cash. Two-thirds of people that booked a journey through Rail to Refuge said they would not have travelled if the journey had not been paid for.
Nicki Norman, acting Chief Executive of Women’s Aid said:
“Women face huge barriers in leaving an abuser. Not only is it an extremely dangerous time, but many survivors have experienced years of economic abuse, which restricts their practical ability to escape. Women tell us that they simply cannot afford to leave because the perpetrator has controlled their money and they have none of their own. Many women and children escape to a refuge with nothing at all.
Thanks to the rail industry removing the financial barriers of travel, hundreds of women have left abusive relationships and been able to access safety. It is welcome news that this important initiative is being extended, especially as the COVID 19 pandemic continues to severely impact survivors of domestic abuse.”
Jacqueline Starr, Chief Operating Officer at the Rail Delivery Group, said:
“We’re proud to have provided a vital lifeline for almost a thousand people escaping a desperate situation, but there are still too many women, men and children that need help. Our staff are working hard to support the survivors of domestic abuse with free train journeys while keeping the railway running for all the people, communities and local economies that rely on it.”
Survivors of domestic abuse who would like to access the scheme, or need other support, can get in touch with Women’s Aid through their Live Chat service, open Monday – Friday, 10:00am – 4:00pm, Saturday and Sunday 10:00am – 12:00pm: https://chat.womensaid.org.uk
If you would like to contribute to help survivors access the lifesaving support they need and help them reach refuge, please make a donation today: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/rail-to-refuge