culturally specific bannerCulturally specific services

Refuge recognises that all survivors have different needs, some of which may relate to their ethnic background or identity. All forms of gender-based violence including domestic violence, sexual violence. forced marriage, ‘honour’ based violence, FGM and human trafficking and modern slavery cross the boundaries of race, culture, language and religious and ethnic background. It can happen to anyone.

Women from minority ethnic backgrounds may face additional barriers when seeking support following gender-based violence. Refuge recognises that many survivors from Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee (BAMER) backgrounds can face cultural and community pressures that may make it more difficult for some women to escape the abuser.

Others may have been trafficked into the UK or forced into marriage. It can also be extremely difficult for a woman to access mainstream services in which staff do not speak her language. Some women may prefer to access support – in a refuge setting, for example – with women from the same ethnic background, believing the other women may better understand their specific needs and experiences.

Refuge continuously adapts and improves all its services to ensure equality of access for all survivors. It also runs a range of culturally-specific refuge and community-based outreach and advocacy services, run by multi-lingual expert practitioners.

Click here to find out more about the different forms of gender-based violence and abuse.

Refuge’s specialist Vietnamese service operates across three London boroughs. Many of the women (and men) it supports have experienced – or are at risk of – multiple types of gender-based violence, including human trafficking and modern slavery. A large number of women we support also have insecure immigration status or have no recourse to public funds – something their abusers frequently use to control them. Refuge’s specialist Vietnamese workers can support women in their own language to:

  • Understand their rights and feel empowered
  • Review access to public funds
  • Keep themselves and their children safe
  • Access immigration solicitors and apply for immigration status in the UK
  • Report abuse to the police and access the criminal justice system
  • Access ‘first-responder’ organisations for support services within the National Referral Mechanism following human trafficking or modern slavery
  • Attend English classes and reduce their isolation

Vietnamese service thumb

“One of my clients had been trafficked into forced labour ten years ago. The traffickers regularly subjected her to physical, financial and psychological abuse. She had insecure immigration status and her traffickers ensured she would not seek help by regularly threatening deportation.


“My client was deeply traumatised – she was very tearful and suffered nightmares every night. She told me she found it difficult to look in the mirror because all she could see was a very old and grey person looking back in the reflection. She worried constantly about her health deteriorating and feared that nobody would be able to identify her if she died or had an accident. “No-one will know who I belong to”, she told me.


“At regular key work sessions, communicating in Vietnamese and at her own pace, I helped her explore the abuse she experienced and accept that it was not her fault. Slowly, she became more confident, and felt able to share more about her experiences and how they were affecting her on a daily basis. I was able to refer her to specialist counselling and organised several emergency appointments with an immigration lawyer. We also obtained temporary accommodation for her and helped her to access a weekly personal allowance. Now, my client tells me she feels there is hope for the future. She can smile again.”


Member of Refuge’s specialist Vietnamese community outreach team

Accessing support from a Refuge independent domestic, sexual or gender-based violence advocate who understands a woman’s culture and speaks her language is invaluable. Refuge runs a specialist advocacy service, staffed by multi-lingual expert practitioners, for Eastern European women and children.

  • Understand her rights and feel empowered
  • Access safe accommodation
  • Navigate the criminal justice system
  • Access financial support and employment opportunities
  • Communicate safely with friends and family
  • Benefit from safe use of technology
  • Access support from other agencies, such as mental health services
  • Overcome language barriers
  • Keep herself and her children safe

Eastern European service thumb“It was very good for me to receive this support. This project helped me so much. If it wasn’t for this project I would have gone back to him and I would have been killed. I want this service to continue – there are plenty of other women in my situation.


“I was lost, to be honest, when this happened. I didn’t know my own name. She [the Advocate] offered me support and advice. My son needed support, he was very scared. I had support, he had support – I felt released.


“If this service didn’t exist I would still be with my husband. I wouldn’t have shared my pain, my hurt. But now I have a better future; my kids can have safe lives. I know I will manage every kind of situation. I know I’m independent. I can sleep calmly, knowing that when I wake I will still be alive.”


Magda*, who used Refuge’s specialist Eastern European service

*Names have been changed to protect anonymity

specialist refuges asian

Refuge runs a number of refuges specifically for women of African and Caribbean descent, and for women of Asian descent. Nine out of ten women in these refuges have said they preferred living in a specialist refuge.

Staff in our specialist refuges understand the specific pressures and challenges facing the women they support. Women in these refuges often speak of their relief at knowing they will not be judged by their experiences, immigration status, religion or traditions. They know they will not encounter prejudice or racism.

Many of the women we support in our Asian refuges do not speak English as a first language, and this may have contributed to their isolation. Our refuge workers speak a range of languages, including Urdu, Punjabi, Mirpuri, Hindi and Sylheti.

Here are some of the ways Refuge’s culturally specific refuges are adapted to suit the women they serve:

  • Language support
  • Support around immigration, asylum and modern slavery
  • Support to access the criminal justice system
  • Support relating to forced marriage, ‘honour’-based violence and FGM
  • Support following potential or actual child kidnap (including overseas)
  • Staff accompany women to appointments, to support and empower them and challenge prejudices and racism
  • Staff work with women to connect, safely, with local cultural and faith groups
  • Support to access safe technology
  • Providing separate pots, cutlery and utensils to cater for any dietary requirements

For more information about the support available in refuges, and how to access them, click here.