Content warning: this story contains statistics and stories about sexual abuse.

Sometimes an individual tragedy results in the outpouring of collective grief, anger and the demand for change. The murder of Sarah Everard, allegedly by a serving member of the Metropolitan Police Force, has been one of these moments, shining an urgent spotlight on male violence, the nature of policing and the failure of the state to protect women.

Women have been sharing their stories of harassment and abuse and questions have been raised on just how we deal with what has been described as ‘another pandemic of violence’[1] against women and the broader culture of misogyny which allows for this violence to happen.

The statistics, now familiar to many, still shock every time you hear them – 1 in 4 women have experienced sexual assault, including attempts, since the age of 16 and 1 in 3 women in the UK will be affected by domestic violence in their lifetime[2]. A recent poll found that 97% of women aged 18-24 had experienced sexual harassment.[3] Every three days in the UK a woman is killed by a partner or ex-partner. Despite the prominence of sexual violence, the conviction rate for rape is just 1.4%.[4] Projects such as Everyone’s Invited have also shown the prevalence of sexual abuse at schools, universities and other institutions.[5]

When COVID-19 hit and the country was forced into lockdown, the message to ‘stay at home’ was a difficult one to take for many women for whom home is not a safe place to be. At the pandemic’s height, there was a rise of 49% in the number of calls to domestic abuse services. The number of deaths has trebled compared to 2019 figures – the highest in at least 11 years.[6] Findings just published last week from Refuge, who run the national domestic abuse helpline, have shown an overall surge of 61% in calls to this helpline.[7]

Gender based violence is systemic, and to end it requires huge reforms across society from education and the judicial system to men needing to challenge sexist and misogynist attitudes. The actions of the police and the shortcomings of the criminal justice system have also led to renewed calls to move away from policing and carceral solutions and a deeper look at the “structures of violence against women in this country” – a key demand of campaign group Sister’s Uncut which were at the forefront of the protests over the last few weeks. [8]

Solutions to end male violence are being debated and institutions questioned but before the events of the past weeks, pre-existing systems of support have faced a decade of funding cuts with spending on domestic violence refuges being cut by 24% since 2010.[9] For too many women there are no safe spaces to turn to with reports of thousands of women being turned away from shelters.

The creation of systems of care and support are vital in ensuring women are able to rebuild their lives and it is often social enterprises, charities and community groups which are on the front-line in helping people escape violence, offering a safe and secure space to heal and recover.

Sophie Arup and Anna Ling set up the social enterprise LUX LUZ in 2017 to do something about the prevalence of domestic violence, using the social enterprise model to help fund services for survivors. LUX LUZ, which means light in Latin and Spanish, donate their profits to support an increasing number of women to access emergency nights in refuges and also longer-term recovery activities, such as art therapy workshops to support survivors of domestic violence to begin to heal from the trauma of abuse.

‘We are passionate about supporting women who have experienced the trauma of domestic violence to rebuild their lives. Whilst we both have experience working with international NGOs, we wanted to do something to support women on our doorstep as domestic violence unfortunately impacts women all over the world. We wanted to make something that women (and men love!) a treat for themselves or a gift to someone that also supports other women and gives back. We love the social enterprise model is as it provides a sustainable funding source, without having to be reliant on donor funding. We also love that we can provide beautiful and sustainable products to our customers’ – Sophie Arup & Anna Ling, Co-Founders

One of the organisations LUX LUZ works with is S.T.O.R.M Empowerment a charity local to both Anna and Sophie, based in Wandsworth in London. S.T.O.R.M was founded in 2004 by Marie Hanson MBE, a survivor of domestic violence who found out that the same perpetrator abused her eldest daughter. Following a long court case, her ex-partner was handed a 10-year prison sentence. Marie’s experiences led to a determination to support and empower single mothers who had experienced similar circumstances and resulted in her forming S.T.O.R.M to address issues around domestic abuse and its wider impact on the family. The charity has now grown extensively in size offering a wide range of support services from employment support to running a nursery.

LUX LUZ workshop image social enterprise uk social enterprise stories
Anna, Sophie and participants at a LUX LUZ workshop

Funding and support from LUX LUZ helps deliver Art Therapy Workshops and Anna and Sophie also host candle-making workshops to service uses at S.T.O.R.M’s Family Centre.

Art therapy has been shown to improve the mental health of people dealing with anxiety, PTSD and trauma with the focus being on the process rather than the final product; helping individuals not only engage their creativity but also to meet other people with shared experiences. One participant at a class saying that:

“Today I learnt that there are a lot of people in the same position as me and we can help each other to overcome our problems and doubts about certain issues.”

To date, LUX LUZ has helped fund four six-week art therapy courses and has also delivered nine candle-making workshops supporting over 90 women. These workshops are designed to allow women to be creative, build their confidence and self-esteem as well as make new friends during what can often be a very isolating time. Through lockdown Anna and Sophie have started to experiment with running virtual online workshops and look to re-start in person sessions later this year.

This year their funding will provide 20 emergency accommodation parcels giving women and their children a safe place to sleep and 22 emergency parcels, providing vital essentials to women and children who urgently need help. They will also be funding two six-week art therapy classes and three more candle-making workshops.

The events of the last few weeks have opened up new possibilities of change, mobilisations, the creation of new networks and a renewed focus to end male violence against women. Questions have been raised as to the extent of what needs to happen next– moving beyond just the failures in the judicial system to look at how we tackle the roots of violence through community, educating men and the provision of basic essentials to empower women and reduce harm.

To Anna and Sophie the role of men in ending violence is crucial:

“The role men play in our society is paramount if we are going to end male violence against women. Men need to see women as their equals and proactively act to make women feel physically, emotionally and psychologically safe by listening to women and their experiences, being empathetic and changing their behaviour based on what they have heard’”

It shouldn’t be the case that social enterprises are needed to fund places in refuges or fill in gaps where the state has failed women but what is certain is that if we are to eliminate gender-based violence then social enterprises have a vital role in creating spaces to support women and helping build communities where women feel safe and misogyny is challenged. LUX LUZ is showing how even a small social enterprise with a team of two can help make a real difference to women’s lives.

You can support LUX LUZ’s work by buying their handmade eco-soy scented candles and reed diffusers via their website – luxluz.co.uk

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[1] https://thewowfoundation.com/events/another-pandemic-male-violence-against-women

[2] https://www.refuge.org.uk/our-work/forms-of-violence-and-abuse/domestic-violence/domestic-violence-the-facts

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/10/almost-all-young-women-in-the-uk-have-been-sexually-harassed-survey-finds

[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-48095118

[5] https://www.everyonesinvited.uk/

[6] https://www.centreforwomensjustice.org.uk/new-blog-1/2020/11/10/covid-19-and-surge-in-domestic-abuse-in-uk

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/mar/23/domestic-abuse-covid-lockdown-women-refuge

[8] https://www.sistersuncut.org/feministo/

[9] https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2017-10-16/a-system-at-breaking-point