By Kyra Bond
Womankind is an established local charity and offers culturally sensitive and accessible support services to women in Bristol and the surrounding area. Our objective is to provide for the relief of mental distress and the resulting suffering and isolation experienced by women and girls by the provision of information, advice and assistance.
Womankind provides tailored support to women who are experiencing a range of issues including depression, relationship difficulties, anxiety, rape, sexual exploitation, sexual assault, domestic abuse and enduring problems arising from past physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Our aims are to help women to:
Current services include:
Womankind are a women-only organisation with 100% female staff and provide support to around 500 women per year who receive a face to face service with the helpline handling approximately 4,500 calls per year.
Please note that some details have been changed in order to protect confidentiality
Ngosi was trafficked from her home in Nigeria. Ngosi comes from a poor family and when an older man offered to bring her to the UK so that she could study she accepted the offer. She was brought to England at just 16 years old. On the way to the airport she was raped by the man. On arrival in England she was told she owed £40,000. She told her counsellor at Womankind how terrified she was and that she had no idea of how to get help. She lived in a house with 3 other young trafficked women. They were taken out each evening into the centre of Manchester to work as prostitutes. She tells us she was beaten if she did not earn enough money. A family living next to the house that Ngosi was living in were clearly concerned about the situation of the young women living next door and raised the alarm to the Police. Ngosi was eventually brought to Bristol and was referred to Womankind. She is frightened, disorientated and traumatised by her experiences and we are helping her to make sense and recover from her terrible ordeal.
Diane is 63 years old and was first involved with mental health services as a teenager where she received ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). She also hears voices. She was very lonely and grieving after the death of her main support and friend. She felt she needed the support of a befriender to help bring some order and control back into her life. Diane was matched with a volunteer befriender who met with her every week for 2-3 hours for a year. Diane wanted to get out and about and to have new experiences. The befriending visits became a focal part of her week and she always feels a sense of achievement as she often has to fight her anxious feelings about leaving her home. One time, she was particularly proud of arranging and getting the train by herself despite having major anxieties about the journey. Since the befriending started, she has grown in confidence and has enrolled in weekly art and yoga classes by herself. Her flat was very messy and her befriender helped her to clear it and this made her feel much more in control of her home and life. Diane’s voices and anxiety attacks have continued throughout the befriending year, her befriender stays with her quietly whilst they are happening, providing safety and remaining non-judgemental. Diane feels accepted by her befriender and since being befriended she is having less episodes. She is able to talk about the abuse she suffered as a child, the grief she is going through and the loss of the therapeutic group she was in as her befriender provides her with listening and emotional support to help her manage her feelings. As a result of the befriending she says she feels really positive regarding her main aim of managing to achieve a ‘normal life’ even when she is struggling with her issues. She is feeling more independent as she now knows that even if she is anxious about going somewhere she can face her fears and do it.
A caller rang sounding extremely desperate, saying that she couldn’t face going on anymore. She had been given an appointment for a Personal Independence Payment assessment and felt that as well as being unable to physically get there as she was in a wheelchair, she was unable to face the psychological trauma of the assessment as she had previous bad experiences with them. She said that she was looking at her medication and thinking of taking an overdose as it was all too much. She felt isolated and unsupported. She was able to express her sadness and anger at being in so much physical and emotional pain continually as a result of extreme abuse she experienced both as a child and adult. The helpline allowed her to explore alternatives to overdosing and who else might be able to offer her support that she could trust. Following the conversation regarding her previous experiences the caller identified a specific nurse practitioner at her GP’s surgery that she felt understood her situation and was able to contact her following the call.
Womankind signed the Bristol Zero Tolerance pledge to speak out on behalf of the hundreds of traumatised women we have been supporting over many years. To help raise awareness of the impact of abuse and violence as it destroys lives and causes mental distress and suffering. We need to keep enforcing the message that change is needed if we want to prevent the cycle of abuse and violence.
For me a Zero Tolerance City means a place where violence and abuse against women and girls is not accepted or tolerated. A collective response to end violence and hold perpetrators to account for their actions. My vision for Bristol to become a Zero Tolerance City would be a forward thinking city that will take action to prevent more women and girls becoming victims of abuse; to ensure there are sufficient resources and support to enable individuals to recover from their experiences; and to end the suffering. Bristol Zero Tolerance can only be viewed as a positive initiative. The issue can no longer be ignored as we know what the consequences are, especially in light of the high profile sexual abuse scandals in Bristol. It shows that abuse is totally unacceptable in a civilised society.
Being part of the Bristol Zero Tolerance initiative is really important to us as an organisation. Womankind’s primary aim is to support women to recover from their experiences and we want to continue to give a voice to survivors and raise awareness of the issue as it costs lives and needs to stop.
We are already doing a lot of work within the city in terms of helping women, providing vital services and working strategically with our partner organisations. We are active members of Bristol Sexual Violence Reference Group. We have strong partnerships with other domestic violence/sexual violence agencies to deliver effective services for survivors and are part of the Bristol Sexual Violence and Abuse Partnership. We have been involved in campaigns and have helped develop resources (leaflets and online) as a guide to Bristol Specialist Violence and Sexual Abuse Support Services and the Survivor Pathway. We have also set up specialist support services for vulnerable groups of women including Deaf, trafficked, and refugee and asylum seeking women as part of our Safer Women’s Project.