Saranya* was bashed every week by her husband. He strangled her so tightly she couldn't swallow food, once he broke her arm.

It is only thanks to Shakti - a women's refuge for people from the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the Pacific - that she can care for her two children without fear.

Saranya is one of 500 women who have been helped by the Wellington Shakti refuge, but there are fears it could close without government funding.

The centre is one of five but is the only one not to receive government funding. It was started in 2014 after two migrant women Sarwan Lata Singh and Mei Fan were murdered by their estranged husbands.

Advertisement

Saranya was 19 when she moved to New Zealand with her husband, who she had met once, from a small Pacific nation.

"When you're newly married it's everything you have dreamed about, heaven. It was one of those Disney fairy tales. He was nice, handsome and young."

But her version of heaven turned to hell when six months in he began drinking heavily. She got her first punch to the face when she confronted him.

With a black eye and a heavy heart Saranya prayed things would get better. But the violence escalated. He would drink every weekend, sometimes disappearing for days. When he came back he would beat Saranya.

"The first time he hit me I did not complain. So he did it over and over again.

"The children would watch. They would cry. It was like a horror movie."

He had total control of their bank accounts even though Saranya worked.

"I don't even know where my money was coming in. I had to make a shopping list, then he would swipe his card at the end. If you missed something then you would wait for next week."

Advertisement

Saranya contemplated suicide and would ring the Shakti crisis line in tears. But it was only when her husband threw her clothes out of the house and told her to leave that she called his bluff and did so.

She stayed at Shakti's safe house for four months. They opened bank accounts for her, helped her to access a benefit, got her into counselling and found a school and place to live.

"That was the first time I knew an ATM could give you money out.

"Thank God I met Shakti and made the decision to be a mother first than to be an isolated wife that wasn't valued.

"I would have been dead."

The Wellington refuge that turned Saranya's life around is asking for $50,000 a year from the Government. It costs about $120,000 a year for the refuge to provide services to women from as far north as New Plymouth. They are now sustained by private donations.

"We are in a very bad situation at the moment. But closing the refuge is not an option," national advocacy co-ordinator Wendy Vyas told the Herald.

"Our backs are broken basically."

Shakti national advocacy coordinator Wendy Vyas. Photo / Dean Purcell
Shakti national advocacy coordinator Wendy Vyas. Photo / Dean Purcell

New Zealand First has backed Shakti's cries. Women's Affairs Spokesperson Tracey Martin said the lack of funding was a symptom of neglect.

"The funding refusal flies in the face of this Government's reassurances that they are addressing family violence in New Zealand.

"New Zealand First calls on the National Government to immediately provide sustainable funding for Shakti Wellington."

The Ministry of Social Development revealed they had funded the national Shakti organisation with $631,000 in 2013/14. This has been cut to $511,000 for 2016/17.

Shakti uses this funding to manage four refuges, a 24/7 national helpline, a crisis pick-up service, outreach services, community-based services, life-skills support and a Children Witnessing Violence programme. Vyas said managing a fifth refuge within the same budget was "stretching our shoestrings to breaking point".

Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki, regional manager Iria Pene said there had never been any direct funding for the Shakti refuge in Upper Hutt.

"In 2015 the ministry prepared a Refuge Services Project report [with input from Shakti], which concluded that mainstream refuge services are able to meet the needs of refugee and migrant women."

Vyas disagreed that a mainstream refuge could service their communities. Their clients needed a deeper cultural understanding and language skills they could only get with Shakti.

"The demand is there. The refuge is at full capacity. It's been full since it opened.

"Vulnerable children and women deserve to have a choice. You're taking that away."

In the year to June 2016, the ministry funded national refuge services $7.34 million for those affected by family or sexual violence, along with funding for other services offered by refuge groups.

A petition to save the refuge was launched this month and now has more than 2500 signatures. Shakti has also started a Givealittle page.

*Name has been changed.

If you're in danger now:

• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people.
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.
• Take the children with you.
• Don't stop to get anything else.
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay

Where to go for help or more information:

• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and middle eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• Ministry of Justice: www.justice.govt.nz/family-justice/domestic-violence
• National Network of Stopping Violence: www.nnsvs.org.nz
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent. www.whiteribbon.org.nz