The Queen has visited a specialist Violence Against Women and Girls hub in London working to end gender-based violence and support survivors.
Camilla carried out the secret, previously unannounced visit to Refuge’s Gaia Centre in Lambeth, south London, on Tuesday.
During the official engagement, the Queen praised survivors for speaking out, saying: “I particularly salute all the survivors who are able to get out there, to talk to me, talk to everybody, and tell other people about what they’ve been through, because they are going to save lives by getting others to come forward.”
She also spoke of her realisation of how little she knew about abuse and how “terrible it was and how deep it was” when she first met with Refuge chair Hetti Barkworth-Nanton eight years ago.
“I can’t believe it was eight years ago I sat and listened to you telling this terrible story about your friend, and I was so horrified by it,” the Queen told Ms Barkworth-Nanton.
“I think like a lot of people in this country, and all over the world, I certainly didn’t know very much about this abuse. I’d literally scratched the surface.”
She added: “It’s only when I sat down and listened to these really heartbreaking stories that I realised how terrible it was and how deep it was.”
Ms Barkworth-Nanton’s best friend Joanna Simpson was beaten to death with a claw hammer by her estranged husband, British Airways captain Robert Brown, in 2010, as their two young children cowered in a playroom.
Camilla’s visit came as the King prepares to undergo treatment in hospital for an enlarged prostate at some stage this week.
The centre, which opened in 2012, was one of the first services in the UK to offer a single point of access for those experiencing violence and abuse.
Buckingham Palace said Camilla met privately with survivors of domestic abuse, who shared their personal stories and their experience of being supported by Refuge.
The Queen also visited a children’s playroom and heard from Refuge’s specialist staff about how children who have experienced domestic abuse, and other forms of gender-based violence, including child sexual exploitation, are supported by the centre.
The visit took place a day after Camilla, a long-standing campaigner on domestic violence, travelled to meet residents at the Swindon Domestic Abuse Support Service (SDASS).
She spoke at the Gaia Centre about her efforts to raise awareness.
“I do remember saying at the time that I’d like to do anything I could to help and I’m not sure I’ve done a lot,” the Queen said.
“But I’ve been trying to get out there and talk about it and make it a normal subject that people can talk about and stop it being a taboo subject, which it’s been for years.”
The Gaia Centre provides confidential, non-judgmental support to more than 1,500 adults and 2,000 children each year in Lambeth.
It provides care for survivors of domestic abuse including physical, sexual, financial, emotional, economic, psychological and tech-facilitated abuse, rape and sexual assault and stalking and harassment.
It also helps those who have faced sexual exploitation including child sexual exploitation and prostitution, modern slavery/human trafficking, female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage and so-called “honour”-based abuse.