Dangerous journeys – Safe research

Women make journeys to escape domestic violence – to escape a known abuser.  They can be at highest risk of violence at the point of leaving, when a controlling partner senses or realises that she is breaking away from his control.  Women’s ongoing safety often depends on keeping hidden – the safety of themselves and their children depends on not being tracked down.  They will often travel to the least likely place, and cut contact with friends and family members, so that there is no chance of anyone disclosing where they have gone.


Their dangerous journeys are therefore hidden journeys.


Even when women and children are starting to resettle in a new safe area, they will often still keep very secret the details of where they have come from, and why they moved.


As a result, it is difficult to research these journeys – and vital that any research is carried out safely.


Research using administrative data is one way to carry out detailed research, but research which does not place women and children at risk.  Administrative data are the information that services collect to manage and monitor what they do.  If it is de-identified in terms of individuals (and confidential locations such as women’s refuges) it can be used to provide evidence of women’s relocation to access services.  It can be used to carry out safe research on dangerous journeys.


For details of how such data are used in this project on women’s domestic violence journeys, see Administrative data as a safe way to research hidden domestic violence journeys


And for further details on using administrative data for research see https://adrn.ac.uk/


Pulling up the drawbridge

In housing law in England it has long been recognised that to escape domestic violence you may need to leave home, and travel quite a distance – including across local authority boundaries.  Access to social housing would usually require a ‘local connection’ to that local authority – like a moat created between each council area.  However, an exception exists for individuals who are unable to remain safely in their own local authority – like a drawbridge extended across these moats – creating a route to safety.  So women escaping domestic violence are able to apply to a local authority where they have no ‘local connection’.


But these drawbridges are being pulled up in all kinds of ways – cutting off escape routes for women and children.


Sometimes, a housing officer in a local authority will not tell women that they can apply for social housing.  Other times, they will refer someone in crisis to a refuge in another area, and not explain that this temporary accommodation does not necessarily fix their location in the longer term.  Refuges may be required by funders to prioritise local women, and even keep a room empty rather than provide accommodation to a non-local woman needing to escape abuse.  Sometimes women give up a secure tenancy knowing it will never be safe for them to return… but no-one tells them that they might be able to use that tenancy for a transfer or reciprocal arrangement to another local authority where they would be safe.


As these drawbridges are closed to women who need to relocate to another area, their escape journeys are made more fragmented – more risky, costly and disruptive – by law, policy and practice.  Law, policy and practice which could be changed….


For more details on how women’s domestic violence journeys are made more fragmented by policy and practice see:


Journal of Gender-Based Violence
Segmented journeys, fragmented lives: women’s forced migration to escape domestic violence


which is free to access during August 2017.