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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 December 2007, 04:52 GMT
A place of safety for Christmas
By Sallie George
BBC News, Bradford

Domestic violence, generic
Police across England will target known offenders over Christmas

Last Christmas was a terrifying time for Rebecca.

When her husband of five years found that she had not cooked him peas for his Christmas dinner, he threw his food at her and then spat in her face.

She grabbed their two young children, bundled them into the car and drove to the next city and back, just to get out of the house.

Seven months later she plucked up the courage to leave, and has been living in hiding with her two children at Bradford Women's Aid refuge ever since.

"Christmas was about getting off his face on drugs and drink, it wasn't anything to do with the kids", she said.

"Most of the Christmas period he would sit on the sofa smoking cannabis and getting drunk.

"It would get worse at Christmas because there was no money for drugs. He would even take the money out of the children's money boxes."

'We are safe'

The days leading up to Christmas were always a particularly bad time for violence, Rebecca said.

Last year, after her next door neighbour called round on Christmas Eve to drop off a card and some chocolates, her husband accused her of having an affair with him and beat her up in the kitchen.

Christmas tree at the women's refuge
Rebecca and her two children have decorated the shelter's tree

During five years of marriage, her husband left her covered in cuts and bruises.

He also stamped on her feet, breaking her toes, kicked her in the stomach while she was pregnant and grabbed their son by the throat in a drunken rage.

This year, Rebecca is looking forward to Christmas without her husband, and helped her children decorate the refuge's Christmas tree. She is determined to make it as special as possible for them.

"I can't wait", she said.

"You would think I was crazy, looking forward to Christmas, stuck in a refuge. But we're safe. I don't have to walk on eggshells.

"There's no arguing, no fighting. It's peaceful. I want to make it a magical Christmas for my kids."

'Stressful time'

Only one room out of six at the refuge in Bradford is currently vacant. This is unusual the refuge has been full since April and staff there say they receive up to 35 referrals every month, most of which have to be turned down.

The majority of the women who seek refuge there have children; the youngest currently living at the shelter is just five months old and the eldest is 11.

The refuge - which is a charity and relies entirely on donations and grants for its funding - has organised trips for the children to visit Santa and to see the local pantomimes.

Toy at women's refuge
Children aged between five months and eleven years live at the refuge

Each family will also receive a hamper of non-perishable foods and other goods, donated all-year round by the Mothers' Union, other charitable organisations and by private individuals.

Though police say Christmas is a time when incidents of domestic violence increase, staff say it is a time when there is less demand on the refuge.

Mary West, refuge team leader, said: "Women don't like to uproot at this time of year, it's very difficult. But there is a lot of alcohol around at Christmas and it's a very stressful time.

"We usually find we get busy in the new year."

Across England and Wales over Christmas, police will target known perpetrators of domestic violence and sufferers both men and women are being encouraged to report the crimes.

Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said: "Christmas for most is a time of fun and family.

"However, for some the emotional strain of the season can contribute to a rise in domestic violence.

"Police tell us there is about a third more incidents of domestic violence-related assault recorded on Christmas Day compared to the daily average."

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