Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall Remembers When Domestic Abuse Was a 'Taboo Subject' in Powerful Speech

Supporting women affected by domestic abuse and sexual violence has been a key cause in Camilla's royal work

camilla duchess of cornwall
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Photo: Victoria Jones - WPA Pool/Getty Images

In a speech on Tuesday, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall recalled how just decades ago, things were very different for women who were victims of abuse.

The royal hosted guests from Refuge at Clarence House, the London home she shares with Prince Charles, on Tuesday to honor the organization's 50th anniversary. The charity has become the country's largest single provider of specialist domestic abuse services, a key cause in Camilla's royal work since the world's first women's refuge opened in 1971 in Chiswick.

"Many of you were not even born then, but those of us who were around (in those far-off days) remember how different life was for women and, above all, for women living with abuse," Camilla, 74, said in a speech. "They were, effectively, prisoners in their own homes; held captive by the one person they should have been able to trust."

"Fifty years ago, there was almost no support available: no helplines, no counseling, nowhere to go, no specialist laws, and, perhaps most painfully, very little public understanding of the issue. It was a taboo subject: what happened at home stayed at home," she continued. "But suddenly, with the creation of the first refuge, domestic abuse began to come into the national consciousness. People were, at last, hearing the message that it was wrong to use violence against your partner and that, if the victim chose to leave, she would be helped every step of the way."

camilla duchess of cornwall
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Victoria Jones - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Camilla acknowledged that although there have been enormous strides made in the field, 25% of women in England and Wales will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives and the charity's work "sadly, is as necessary as ever."

She said, "Today, then, we are marking rather than celebrating your 50th anniversary. Let us use it as a milestone to galvanize and inspire us all towards a world where women and children can live in safety, free from fear."

camilla duchess of cornwall
Zara McDermott and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Victoria Jones - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Guests gathered at Clarence House included Home Secretary Priti Patel, Baroness Helena Kennedy and Zara McDermott. Camilla also met with survivor Erica Osakwe, who recently campaigned with Refuge to change the law by extending the time period survivors of domestic abuse had to report common assault.

Earlier in the day, the Duchess of Cornwall met with women who recently fled their abusive partners at an emergency accommodation refuge, giving her the chance to hear directly from survivors of domestic abuse about their experiences.

Camilla made it a key initiative in her royal work to help raise awareness of women caught in violent relationships or who have been abused. As she made her first steps into the sphere, she met Yvonne Traynor of Rape Crisis in South London.

"If you've got somebody in the royal family who is talking about it and actually doing something about it, it makes it okay to talk about and that's what we want for our clients," Traynor told PEOPLE in 2017 of the impact Camilla is having. "You have to break the silence. There's no shame in what's happened to you — the shame should be on the perpetrators not on you — and we want more people to come forward and get the help that they deserve."

"If someone of that standing is talking about it, it must make it okay for people to come out and talk about it."

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