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Supporting survivors of domestic abuse during the ‘shadow’ pandemic

Sitecore-powered website is a lifeline to thousands of abused women and children ‘imprisoned’ during COVID-19

Nonprofit EMEA

Category Winner

Best Digital Experience Transformation


“It isn’t easy to break away from a violent partner. I don’t think I could have done it without Refuge’s support. Refuge saved my life.” These are the words of just one of thousands of women helped by Refuge, a UK charity providing specialist support for women and children experiencing domestic abuse. With help from Sitecore and business partner Wunderman Thompson, Refuge has created a new helpline website to improve access to support – never needed more than during the pandemic lockdown.


COVID-19 exacerbates abuse

The numbers don’t make for good reading. One-in-three women aged between 16 and 59 in England and Wales will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime based on reports from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (2019). The COVID-19 lockdown was the worst time for women and children at risk because they were at the mercy of their perpetrators with nowhere to go. When the pandemic started, there was a dramatic increase in calls and contacts for help.

Almost clairvoyantly, Refuge was prepared to address the surge since the platform launched just ahead of the pandemic, in November 2019. Having several months to test and adjust the site enabled Refuge to preemptively add a live chat feature to give digital silent support to women who were trapped and unable to speak. The challenge was to design and develop an online space that gave survivors further ways to get in touch, as well as clearly present information on domestic abuse for those not yet ready to pick up the phone. The aim was to provide a 24-hour support platform as well as specialized frontline services to support the hundreds and thousands of women and children experiencing domestic abuse across the country.



User-experience drives site build

Refuge worked with Wunderman Thompson on a managed cloud deployment of Sitecore Experience Platform™ (XP) using a Sitecore Helix architecture. The new National Domestic Abuse Helpline website was launched in November 2019, then adapted in 2020 to respond to the pandemic. A 1,300-hour research project with survivors and Refuge domestic abuse experts ensured the site delivered the best experience for abused women and children.

Sitecore enabled Refuge to incorporate several critical features into the new site. These included a quick exit button in case a perpetrator suddenly walks in the room, a live chat service launched at pace during the height of COVID that opens access to more silent immediate support options, and a secure webform to make sure messages to Refuge are untraceable. There is also a tech safety tool chatbot to help users secure computers and mobile devices in case their abuser tries to find out who they have contacted.

An animation on the site provides a quick and simple explanation about the helpline service, and with recent enhancements, Refuge streamlined how individuals with disabilities can access information and services


1.6 M

women experience domestic abuse every year


monthly visits during pandemic


recommend site to others


Sitecore supports growing demand

The new Sitecore-based National Domestic Abuse Helpline site has improved the service that Refuge’s expert Helpline advisers offer, which includes free, confidential emotional and practical support for any women experiencing domestic abuse. During the pandemic, helpline demand increased significantly. Site visits in the first month totaled almost 7,000, but by the height of the pandemic (April – June), it increased ten-fold, to more than 70,000 visits per month on average.

Between May 2020 and the end of the year, Refuge had 3,397 live, website chats with women experiencing domestic abuse. Of that number, 75% said it was the first time they had contacted the Helpline while 77% found the website and service ‘very easy’ to use. But 100% of respondents said they would recommend the service to someone else needing it, providing lifesaving and life-changing support.

Not only is Refuge digitizing its services to help those in need, but it is also streamlining the customer experience so survivors can have the access they need when they need it.

Launch Site

Platinum Solution Partner

Holding Sitectore’s highest possible accreditation, Global Platinum Partner, WPP boasts over a hundred certified Sitecore practitioners and experts with Sitecore Experience Platform™, Sitecore Commerce® and Sitecore Content Hub™. WPP has dedicated business units that also encompass practically every adjunct technology that is part of a client consideration set, including profound partnerships with Microsoft, Salesforce, Google, Amazon, Apple, and many others. Web, native and hybrid mobile applications, IoT, data, and consulting are all part of its toolkits to deliver comprehensive solutions for its clients at scale with a technology production team that numbers of 5000 globally.

Learn more about Wunderman Thompson