Domestic violence against women was, and still is, widespread. An average of two women a week are killed by violent partners. The Women’s Aid movement was an integral part of the women’s movement from the early 1970s and campaigned to help women to escape from domestic violence.
Portsmouth’s first women’s refuge for battered women and their children opened in the autumn of 1983 after six years of hard work and lobbying by Portsmouth Women’s Aid to gain council approval for a refuge. Carol Lupton was a key activist in persuading the council to fund a refuge.
Eleven different houses were considered for the first women’s refuge, but neighbours were not happy to have this service nearby and three unsuccessful planning permissions were undertaken at considerable cost and unpaid work from women involved before a place was secured.
Rose Storkey, refuge worker, opened the door to the first woman and her child in the Portsmouth women’s refuge:
The Portsmouth women’s refuge had 76 women and 140 children using their service that first year. As this was essentially a first line service each one needed follow up work with housing and social services for resettlement. That first refuge moved to various different premises, eventually feeding into the current STOP DOMESTIC ABUSE organisation which conducts outreach and refuge services in Portsmouth today.
Sexual Violence. Diana Warren-Holland founded the first Rape Crisis Line in Portsmouth after becoming aware of a number of rapes around the student campus in Portsmouth in the late 1970s. In 1981 the Portsmouth rape crisis line was launched. It began as a telephone helpline, from volunteers’ homes.
The organization grew, meeting an obvious need, and after several temporary homes eventually secured funding from Portsmouth City council and its own permanent home which was named ‘Diana’s House’ in honour of its founder who has sadly now died.
Today, the organisation has a wider brief, undertaking activities such as training in trauma counselling. Alongside older activists there is now a new generation of women activists who are working in the community against gender-based domestic and sexual violence.
In a multi-cultural community these campaigns have to be culturally relevant. The campaign against female genital mutilation is a case in point.
CAROLYN EXLEY was born in Kenya with her father serving in the military. A syndrome that led eventually to the loss of her sight brought her family back to England and to Portsmouth where, as a young woman, she trained in Preliminary Residential Care – working with children with learning disabilities, as well as the elderly.
As her sight continued to deteriorate, she was considered unfit for further education and worked on a psycho-geriatric ward in a local hospital.
After her experiences as a volunteer at the Portsmouth Abuse and Rape Counselling Service (PARCS), Carolyn returned as a mature-age student to get a Degree in Psychology, a Masters in Transpersonal Arts in Practice and a Diploma in Counselling as well as further training in Counselling.
She is a mother and grandmother. As well as volunteering and later working as a supervisor at the Portsmouth Abuse and Rape Counselling Service since its beginning, Carolyn set up Portsmouth’s first transgender support group and now is on the Board of Trustees at PARCS:
“I got involved with PARCS 32 years ago.
…I wasn’t actually ‘sposed to come to PARCS, I came along with a neighbour who wanted to come along to the training evening… and that night I was totally converted….
And so I started on the crisis lines coming in on a Wednesday and Friday evening…
Just jumping back a bit, when I started at PARCS there were 8 of us volunteers, and 2 staff, and we’d all sit on beanbags and sometimes at the end of the night sing goddess chants and we were all kind of very radical and wore dungarees and Doc Martins, and that’s the kind of stuff we did! Which was special at the time.
We went on some night vigils at the Guildhall Square with candles, and I personally marched under the militant banner for the miner’s strike, and then I was one of the volunteers who stood outside [W.H.] Smiths and took all the pornography off the top shelf and dumped it at the manager’s feet.
I think we did that several times over a day and got petitions signed outside, and that was in the papers…. I set up a project in Portsmouth for the Trans-gender community. I spent about three years doing that.”
CAROL LUPTON wasa key activist in persuading Portsmouth council to fund a refuge for women escaping domestic violence.
“I do remember the early struggle. It was a group of like-minded women who decided that…we needed this facility. It took us some considerable time to convince anybody with any position of power, and certainly with any resources to hand, that they should release some of those resources to help us find a place. Those times…it wasn’t an easy discussion; the issue was not on the agenda…There was a view that they’ve obviously done something wrong these women… And there was a degree of…men have some kind of rights to treat women…if they were their wives…So it was that kind of context which is difficult to imagine now.”
Carol remembers that not only were men in power suspicious that such a place existed, they were also suspicious that women could really be trusted to take something like this forward.
“We didn’t want men’s help. So the church wasn’t helpful, the city council wasn’t particularly unhelpful, but it was, none of it, an easy context in which to get moving and we found we…this is always the case with activism, I suspect. You do need to make allegiances,… we worked really hard… trying to talk with… people and say, look, why this is needed and why we can work together and why we should be left to do it ourselves, but they could help, you know, not take it over”
JANE REED was the first full-time child care worker in the new Portsmouth women’s refuge. She joined the Portsmouth group of Women’s Aid in 1972 and later, inspired by her time with the women at the refuge, trained as a Social Worker at Portsmouth Polytechnic. She remembers hours of volunteer meetings of all-women groups, in the early years of establishing the women’s refuge:
“The support group was made up of women in the community who were looking to set up an all-woman refuge in the community. To do that they needed a property, they needed funding, they needed all of that, so there had to be other agencies involved…
…The first refuge wasn’t in a very good state, but we opened up and we took women and children in and got organised. We ran it and sometimes it was ok and sometimes it was better than others.
…. We insisted it was going to be an all women group, that was when the other agencies were involved and that was quite a struggle, but we managed it…
One of the things that struck me from very early on, was about the emotional stuff, not the physical stuff – most of the women said, ‘Yeah well you get hit’.
It was the emotional stuff, the mind games that all of them spoke to said that was what did it in the end that they couldn’t cope with, that was taking over their lives….
Examples of the things they did were they would change the kitchen clocks in the house, and then say ‘You’re late you’ve made the children late’And you start thinking what’s going on here… And the women used to talk about when they got their money through, because most of them were on benefits, some of them couldn’t believe what is was like to go out and make a decision about how it was spent because many of them had never had any money, and never been able to go and spend it on what they needed…so it was the mind-games always that they used to talk about.”
KIM HOSIER was born in Emsworth in 1960. After contracting a life-threatening illness as a young girl and being exposed to sexism at home and at school, she trained as a social worker and later a psychotherapist.
She began volunteering with PARCS and remembers that she risked her pension, a company car, and a career path in the statutory sector to take a job with PARCS while it was still a fledgling activist organisation, because she had to do something ‘her heart was in’. Today she is the Chief Executive at PARCS:
“…when I was born my dad was a postman and my mum worked in a factory, and my mum was quite an influence.
She said to me, ‘Don’t become factory fodder.’
And I don’t think she was putting herself down in that, but she aspired for something more for me, and she said it particularly to me.
And she used to call my dad, Governor, Guv for short, and I used to think, why is he called the Governor? And it used to feel like the world revolved around my dad. You know, when he came in my mum would scurry around tidying up, and things like that, even though she’d worked all day, and I used to think, why?
So, it feels like all of these threads have come together in the work and now my outrage is mostly around funding that I just get so angry about, and… the voluntary and community …I think some of the most inspiring work, some of the most inspired people come from this sector, the community sector, and we were a grassroots organisation, and I don’t want PARCS to lose its radical heart, but it’s hard to keep that sometimes in the current climate…”