Hundreds of men and women will take to the capital's streets to raise awareness of one of the biggest killers of women around the world: domestic violence. One in three women worldwide are subjected to abuse behind closed doors at the hands of a male partner, and two women in England and Wales are killed every week, but despite these shocking statistics, the problem remains hidden.
On Sunday 27 September, the domestic violence charity Refuge will host the first Walk4 across four iconic bridges in London. Among those walking for justice are survivors of abuse, families who have lost loved ones, and their supporters.They aim to highlight the fact that one in four women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. The 10km walk will begin in Wapping Gardens Park and cross Millennium Bridge, Westminster Bridge, Southwark Park, and Tower Bridge.
Over 300 walkers will be taking part, including Melony Slack, sister-in-law of Rachael Slack, who was stabbed in 2010 by her ex-partner Andrew Cairns. At the time, Rachael was 15 weeks pregnant, and her 23-month-old son, Auden, was also killed.
"Hayden's sister, Rachael, was unaware of Refuge's services and all the different ways the charity supports women and children," Slack says. "Had Rachael been able to access such support, she could have taken steps to protect her life, the life of her unborn baby and her toddler son, Auden. We are delighted to be able to take part in Walk4 to raise awareness of Refuge's work and support other women, just like Rachael, to keep safe and rebuild their lives free from the threat of violence and fear."
Another walker, Nav Jagpal, will take part in memory of his sister Gurda Dhaliwal. She committed suicide after suffering years of violent abuse at the hands of her husband. "There is never enough you feel you could have done after you experience a tragedy," Jagpal says. "My sister, Gurda, endured over 25 years of mental and physical abuse by her husband before she killed herself."
"Even now, 10 years on, I wish I had known about Refuge and its fantastic work – not only supporting victims of domestic violence, but helping them rebuild their lives. Participating in an event like Walk4 gives me an opportunity to raise awareness of this vital charity and raise funds for its incredible life-saving services, as well as help fund Refuge's campaigns to change laws and challenge policies."
Funding cuts have severely hindered the ability for charities such as Refuge to help women who are experiencing domestic violence, or at risk of abuse. In the last four years, Refuge has experienced a reduction in funding across 80% of its service contracts.
Domestic violence refuges are essential in safeguarding the lives of women and children against abuse. A quarter of children in the UK have been exposed to domestic abuse, according to the NSPCC, and in 62% of households where domestic violence is happening they are also harmed. Yet as refuges close one by one because of local funding cuts, the network of support is under terrible strain – setting support for the most vulnerable back by decades.
Women who have been refused spaces in refuges are often housed in B&Bs and hostels, but although it provides a roof, non-specialist accommodations do not have the services vital to victims – such as mental health advice, support for children and advice on housing and benefits. Refuges are also in anonymous locations, where women are safe from being found by a violent partner.
Refuge hopes the Walk4 event will raise funds for its essential services. Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, says: "I am very excited to be taking part in Refuge's first Walk4 event. This is a brilliant opportunity to raise vital awareness of domestic violence – a crime that affects one in four women at some time in their lives.
"Despite this shocking statistic, domestic violence remains a taboo subject, so it is great to see so many people taking to the streets to bring the issue out of the shadows. I am especially grateful to all of our walkers for their fabulous fundraising – in this austere financial climate we need funding more than ever. Together we will be Walking4 a world without domestic violence."