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Remembering Denise Marshall

Denise Marshall, the former chief executive of Eaves and nia (previously Hackney Women’s Aid), sadly died last week.

Denise exhibited many of the qualities of the great leaders of the charity sector.

She was a champion of the underrepresented. Director of Eaves since 2000, Denise set up the Poppy project, the country’s first refuge for women trafficked into sexual exploitation, and she helped bring their lives to the attention of government and the public. Eaves provides trafficked women with safety, advocacy and care for years until they are able to return to normality—no small task when their irregular immigration status means that these women are even less popular as a cause than victims of domestic or sexual violence.

My first piece of work for NPC was writing Hard knock life, our violence against women report, and I starkly remember how passionately Denise spoke about what these women had suffered, and how that sort of rape and torture cannot be overcome quickly. Denise was also an innovator, setting up not only trafficked women’s services, but also a peer-to-peer service for survivors of sexual violence.

It is people like Denise that show the need for an independent charity sector. Despite the fact that Eaves was reliant on government funding, Denise was never frightened of being a thorn in the sides of ministers and officials. In 2013, she sent back her OBE in protest at the cuts to women’s charities. She had previously criticised the Supporting People funding as being like women’s designer underwear: designed by men for men, and really uncomfortable if you are a woman.

In a charity sector that increasingly feels stifled, Denise never stopped speaking up for, and with, those who didn’t have a voice. Under her leadership, Eaves developed a commitment to campaigning and research. It has campaigned for women in prostitution and women trafficked into the sex trade here.

Violence against women has never been a popular sector for public donations, but reduced funding from government has meant that over 30 refuges have closed since 2010.

More than ever we need champions like Denise to let us know what life is like for victims, and to make the case for proper funding for them.