Gender-based violence services

Rooted in gender inequality, gender-based violence is mostly inflicted by men on women and girls. We offer support to women who’ve experienced a wide range of gender-based violence.

Supporting survivors of gender-based violence.

All of Refuge’s staff are experts in supporting women in all forms of gender-based violence. However, Refuge also runs services that are specifically aimed at women who have experienced other forms of abuse — including domestic, sexual, so called ‘honour’ based abuse, modern slavery and human trafficking, prostitution, forced marriage, stalking and FGM..

Types of gender-based violence:

Sexual violence includes any form of sexual activity involving physical contact, words, or photographs that takes place without the other person’s full and informed consent.

Research shows that the majority of sexual violence is experienced by women and girls, but men and boys can also be victims. If you are a man who has experienced sexual violence, visit our Support for Men page for more resources.

Sexual violence can include:

  • Pressuring or forcing someone to do something sexual
  • Touching someone sexually without their permission
  • Unwanted sexting – sending sexually explicit texts and images to someone without their consent
  • Unwanted sexual attention – for example ‘wolf-whistling’ and making sexualised comments about women’s bodies
  • Watching a sexual act take place without permission
  • Engaging in sexual acts with someone who is too drunk, or too intoxicated, to give consent
  • Engaging in a sexual act with someone who is asleep or unconscious
  • Having sex with someone who cannot legally consent – for example, a boy or girl under the age of 16, or someone with disability who does not have the capacity to understand the situation
  • Making someone watch or appear in pornography against their will
  • Preventing someone from using contraception

If you have just been raped or sexually assaulted, try to remember that you are not alone and you are not to blame for what has happened. Here are some simple steps you can take to help ensure your safety:

  • Find somewhere you feel safe
  • You might be in shock, so wrap up warm
  • Consider telling someone you trust about what happened. If you don’t feel comfortable telling anyone yet, you can call the 24 hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline for support on 0808 2000 247
  • Call 999 if you require urgent medical attention
  • You might want to consider contacting a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC). SARCs provide support to victims of rape or sexual assault – including providing a confidential space for interviews, examinations and collecting evidence. Some may also offer counselling services. These services are available regardless of whether you feel you want to report to the police. Go to this website to find information on how to access your nearest Sexual Assault Referral Centre.

If you are considering reporting what happened, or simply want more information about your options, visit the NHS Choices website.

Modern technology gives abusers ever-growing ways to stalk, isolate and control women using the tools of everyday life.

Across Refuge’s services, partners and ex-partners are increasingly using technology to facilitate their abuse of the women we support. Abusers can and have gained access to women’s personal and home devices, their online accounts and even children’s toys and devices.

We have found a rise in the number of women whose children’s iPads, Xboxes and PlayStations have been hacked by the perpetrator to gain full access to their accounts, to trace information such as the child’s location, who they are speaking to and what games they are playing.

Signs that you may be experiencing tech abuse:

  • Does your partner/abuser constantly call, text and message you online?
  • Does your partner/abuser publish posts about you online which encourage others to harass and abuse you?
  • Does your partner/abuser constantly call, message and send “friend requests” to your family and friends?
  • Does your partner/abuser harass you, your employer and your clients through business social media pages and work email addresses?
  • Has your partner/abuser threatened to share any information about you online such as confidential information, for example screenshots of messages, photos of you, or information that could cause you embarrassment?
  • Has your partner/abuser threatened to share or shared intimate images of you?
  • Does your partner/abuser seem to know about conversations that you have had without being present?
  • Does your partner/abuser give the children the latest tech gadgets during child contact? Does he play Xbox and PlayStation games with them online outside of his agreed contact time?
  • Does your partner/abuser have access to your banking and social media accounts, and assure you that it’s normal to have access to your partner’s information?
  • Does your partner/abuser know your whereabouts or turn up unexpectedly wherever you go?
  • Does your partner/abuser stalk and harass you via fake social media profiles?
  • Has your partner/abuser installed any apps such as ‘find my iPhone’ onto your device? Did he assure you that it is for your safety in case you lose your phone?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you may be experiencing tech abuse. You are not alone — Refuge is here to support you.

‘Honour’ can be the motivation, excuse or justification behind a range of violent acts against women and girls. The Crown Prosecution Service describes ‘honour-based’ abuse as an incident or crime “which has, or may have, been committed to protect or defend the ‘honour’ of the family and or the community.” You may recognise ‘honour’ as Izzat, Ghairat, Namus or Sharam.

So called ‘Honour based’ abuse includes:

  • Forced marriage
  • Domestic violence (physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse)
  • Sexual harassment and sexual violence (rape and sexual assault or threat of rape and sexual assault)
  • Threats to kill
  • Social ostracism or rejection and emotional pressure
  • Denial of access to children
  • Pressure to go or move abroad
  • House arrest and excessive restrictions of freedom
  • Denial of access to the telephone, internet, or passport/key documentation
  • Isolation from friends and own family

You could be experiencing so called ‘honour’-based abuse if you feel threatened or are abused when you try to:

  • Separate or divorce
  • Start a new relationship
  • Talk to or interact freely with men
  • Become pregnant or give birth outside of marriage
  • Have interfaith relationships or marry outside a specified religion
  • Have sex before marriage
  • Marry a person of your own choice
  • Access higher education without approval of your family

If you are experiencing ‘honour’-based abuse or forced marriage please contact the freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247 or contact the Forced Marriage Unit on +44 (0) 20 7008 0151 or email them using this email address.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a collective term for a range of procedures which involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is sometimes referred to as female circumcision, or female genital cutting. FGM is a global issue and happens all over the world. Practising communities tend to originate from parts of the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

FGM is a crime in the UK and many other countries and is recognised internationally as a gross violation of the human rights of girls and women. It is also illegal to take a British national or permanent resident abroad for FGM or to help someone trying to do this. The maximum sentence for carrying out FGM or helping it to take place is 14 years in prison.

Here are some facts about FGM that you should know:

  • FGM is usually carried out on girls between the ages of 1 and 15, but younger babies, older girls and women can be victims too.
  • Multiple reasons and excuses are given for the continuation of FGM, including to control sexuality, hygiene, and as a form of initiating a girl into adulthood.
  • Although some claim FGM is carried out for religious reasons, FGM actually predates Islam, Christianity and Judaism and is not a requirement of any religion. Many religious leaders and organisations (including the Muslim Council of Britain and leaders from Pentecostal and Evangelical churches) have publicly condemned the practice.

If you feel you may be at risk of, or have experienced, FGM, we are here to support you. There are also other ways to access help:

  • If you or someone you know is at immediate risk of harm dial 999 immediately
  • If you are abroad and require help or advice, or you are worried about being taken abroad, call the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on +44 (0) 20 7008 1500
  • If you need to access support or need a safe place to stay call the Freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247
  • If you believe a child is at risk please contact your local Children’s Social Care service or the police
  • To report a FGM crime anonymously contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111
  • If you need information or support: NSPCC FGM helpline 0800 028 3550 or email; Forward +44 (0)20 8960 4000 or email; Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation +44 (0)207 920 6460
  • If you have experienced FGM and require medical attention speak to your GP or local NHS specialist FGM clinic directly
  • You can find the contact details for the NHS specialist clinics on this website.

A forced marriage is where one or both people do not consent to the marriage and where duress is used to enforce the marriage. ‘Duress’ includes psychological, sexual, financial or emotional pressure and physical violence.

Forcing someone to marry without their consent is a criminal offence. The maximum penalty is seven years imprisonment. It is also illegal to take someone overseas to force them to marry (whether or not the forced marriage takes place) or to marry someone who lacks the mental capacity to consent to the marriage (whether they are pressured to or not).

You could be a victim of forced marriage if:

  • You did not say ‘yes’ to getting married
  • You were not consulted or aware that you were getting married
  • Your family or extended family used emotional pressure and/or physical violence to make you agree to a marriage
  • You have been forced to stay in confinement and have not been allowed to discuss your marriage with anyone

You could be at risk of forced marriage if:

  • Your family is arranging your marriage without your approval
  • Your official papers or passport have been taken away
  • You are being taken abroad and you are not sure why
  • You have been told you must leave education against your will

If you are experiencing so-called ‘honour’ based abuse or forced marriage please contact the freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247 or the Forced Marriage Unit on 44 (0) 20 7008 0151 or email the Forced Marriage Unit.

Economic abuse involves an abuser restricting a person’s ability to acquire, use and maintain money or other economic resources. It includes:

  • Controlling your money or other financial assets
  • Spending your money
  • Damaging your possessions or property
  • Putting debt in your name
  • Preventing you from accessing education or work
  • Withholding child maintenance payments

It can be difficult to know whether you’ve been experiencing economic abuse. Refuge has created a list of questions that might help you recognise it.

Does (or did) your partner:

  • Prevent you from working, or stop you from going to work?
  • Prevent you from going to college or university?
  • Ask you to account for every penny you spend?
  • Check your receipts or bank statements so they can monitor how much you are spending?
  • Keep the log-in details, bank cards or PIN numbers for your joint account so that you cannot access the account?
  • Spend money allocated to bills for other things?
  • Steal, damage or destroy your possessions?
  • Spend whatever they want, but prevent you from spending any money?
  • Insist on control of all financial matters?
  • Insist that all the bills and loans are in your name?
  • Make you ask permission before making any purchase, no matter how small?
  • Make significant financial decisions without you (e.g. buying a new home, car)?
  • Place debts in your name?
    Steal money from you, or use your bank card without permission?
    Withhold child maintenance payments?
    Initiate expensive post-separation legal battles knowing you cannot afford to fight, or will bankrupt you?

If any of these situations feel familiar, you may be experiencing economic abuse. You are not alone: research undertaken in 2020 by Refuge and The Co-operative found that 16% of adults in the UK have experienced economic abuse – and that 60% of survivors are women.

For more information, take a look at our economic abuse page.