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Domestic abuse survivors offered free train travel to refuges

The ‘Rail to Refuge’ scheme covers travel costs once a refuge place is secured.

Domestic abuse survivors in Britain can get free train tickets to a refuge until March 2021 after the “Rail to Refuge” scheme was extended because of a surge in demand.

Rail operators and charity Women’s Aid first teamed up to cover travel costs for survivors of domestic abuse in April, initially planning to keep it in place for 12 weeks. 

But with domestic abuse survivors trapped at home with their partner in lockdown, many charities have reported an increase for demand in their services and expect even more to flee their homes once pandemic restrictions loosen.

Train operators have provided free tickets to more than 800 people, including 200 children, since the scheme started in April, according to Women’s Aid. Two thirds of people who have so far 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 many survivors of domestic abuse also faced years of economic abuse, such as not being allowed to carry money or control their own finances, which limits their 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,” Norman said, adding that “hundreds of women have left abusive relationships” thanks to the scheme.

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Survivors — including men — can get help finding a space in a refuge through a service in the Women’s Aid support network. Once a space is confirmed the relevant rail operator will pay for the ticket to the shelter, which they can collect from the station.

A survey by Women’s Aid showed 61 per cent of survivors living with their abuser reported that abuse had worsened from March to June 2020, under tighter coronavirus restrictions.

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.” 

If you would like to talk to someone about any issue around domestic abuse, help is you can call the free 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247.

Online help is available from services such as the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, Refuge or Women’s Aid.

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