What if you can’t ‘stay at home’?

‘Home’ is always a powerful concept – the ‘domestic’ in domestic abuse/domestic violence highlights the complexity of what home means.

When Government advice is to ‘stay at home’ – what about women and children for whom home is a very dangerous place because of the abuser who lives with them, or knows where they live?

Services for women and children experiencing domestic abuse, sexual violence and all forms of violence and abuse have issued a statement[1] that they will do everything they can to continue to offer support and a safe place to go if you need to leave home.

And that, they, in turn, need the practical, awareness and financial support to be able to do so.

Keep safe – and know that there is help and support:

England

Northern Ireland

The 24 hr Domestic and Sexual Abuse helpline is open to women and men affected by domestic abuse or violence. This free telephone service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year:

Scotland

Wales

The Live Fear Free helpline provides advice, support and referrals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to anyone affected by violence against women, domestic abuse or sexual violence in Wales. You can contact the Live Fear Free Helpline on:

Elsewhere

Women Against Violence Europe has a search tool for services.

Saahas comprises a directory of support across 196 countries.

http://www.redelephantfoundation.org/p/saahas-gbv-help-map.html

Access Saahas as a web app in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish


[1] https://www.womensaid.org.uk/vawg-sector-statement-on-covid-19/

Displaced by Human Rights violations

Violence against women is recognised internationally as a human rights violation:

“the elimination of violence against women in public and private life is a human rights obligation” – “this form of violence impedes the ability of women and girls to claim, realize and enjoy their human rights on an equal foot with men”[1]

And human rights violations are one of the recognised causes of displacement – whether internationally (leading to refugees) or within countries (leading to Internally Displaced Persons – IDPs).

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs publishes the “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement”, highlighting the distinctive issues around internal displacement:

“Unlike refugees, the internally displaced have not left the country whose citizens they normally are.  As such, they remain entitled to the same rights that all other persons in their country enjoy.  They do, however, have special needs by virtue of their displacement.”[2]

The UNOCHA specifically lists human rights violations as one of the causes of internal displacement:

“The reasons for flight may vary and include armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights, and natural or human-made disasters.”  

So, it is clear that internal displacement due to violence against women is within these definitions.  That forced displacement of women and children due to domestic violence creates internally displaced persons (IDPs).

But, time and again, the focus of data and action on Internal Displacement is only on the other causes – armed conflict, generalised violence, natural or human-made disasters.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre collects and maps data on displacement events – but the categories of the map are only Conflict, Disaster and Development.

The map for the last 30 days only shows events caused by Conflict or Disaster:

https://www.internal-displacement.org/

The map for the last 90 days also shows a few displacements caused by Development:

https://www.internal-displacement.org/

But there is no mapping here of human rights violations causing displacement.

The UK shows some Disaster displacement – and current news reports are full of people being forced from their homes due to flooding.  But there is no mention of the tens of thousands of women and children forced from their homes due to domestic violence – the tens of thousands of domestic violence IDPs in the UK.

[1] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/Pages/VaW.aspx

[2] Handbook for applying the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 1999, p. 5) http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/protection/idps/50f94df59/handbook-applying-guiding-principles-internal-displacement-ocha-november.html

Forced to move ─ Forced to stay

There’s always talk that women and children shouldn’t have to relocate due to abuse:

“Why should she have to move?”

Of course she shouldn’t…

It would be better if we lived in a society where women and children didn’t experience violence in the family ─ if perpetrators were swiftly and effectively permanently stopped from being abusive. 

Abuse can be physical ─ but it can also be emotional, psychological, financial…  In the context of an intimate relationship, there are so many ways that an abuser can control you: can get into your head, as well as your heart.  It can take a long time to recognise this ─ to realise how much you are only doing what he wants you to do: how you have become so used to living in fear.  If anyone asked you about the “latest incident”, it would be impossible to define what an incident is within your constrained life.

Even if the perpetrator disappeared, it could take months and years to rebuild your sense of self; and to help your children learn what healthy relationships look and feel like.

There is a big difference between being just literally safe, and being in a context where you can feel free in your mind and your emotions.

Escaping ─ relocating ─ leaving ─ moving…

These are strategies that can be vital for immediate safety (because we are very far from living in a society that holds domestic violence perpetrators accountable and stops them continuing their abuse); but also for women and children to rebuild their sense of self, independence and freedom.  To be in a place and amongst people who help you to make sense of the abuse in all its aspects ─ not just physical incidents ─ and to accept that you are not to blame.

So moving can be a crucial strategy ─ for safety and freedom.  Getting away from the danger ─ but also from the constraints and memories.  Meeting other women who have been through similar experiences.  Clearing your head ─ and getting information and advice for your next move: whether that move is geographical or emotional (or both).

It shouldn’t be for anyone else to force you to move ─ or to force you to stay.

We need a society where all options are really available for women and children experiencing domestic violence.

Women’s Rights are Human Rights?

It shouldn’t be too controversial a statement to highlight that violence against women is not just an individual problem – causing fear, harm, injury – but a human rights violation.  A violation that does not just harm the individual woman, but harms society, community, nation and humanity – every time that abuse is not responded to with justice. 

Violence against women does not just need a response from welfare services to individuals; it needs a response from justice services in the widest sense.  It needs a willingness to tackle the causes as well as the consequences of the abuse.

That is the thinking about linking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25th November) with International Human Rights Day on the 10th December via the internationally-recognised “16 days of activism” each year[1].

At the international level, the United Nations highlights that “violence against women has come to be recognized as a violation of women’s human rights and a form of gender-based discrimination”; and the latest report[2] from the  Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences details the international legal framework on women’s human rights and violence against women.

But you will struggle to find much recognition of women’s rights as human rights in the priorities of the UK Parliament.  During the Second Reading of the Domestic Violence Bill on 2nd October 2019[3] only three MPs mentioned human rights:

  • Conservative MP Theresa May talked about an individual abuser controlling a woman “until that individual’s rights as an individual human being were taken away from them.”
  • SNP MP Angela Crawley highlighted that “should the Bill fail adequately to promote equality, including for those with insecure immigration status, it would risk violating our existing human rights obligations.”
  • Labour MP Debbie Abrahams focused on public services for both men and women stating “That needs to be a human rights approach, and those services need to be adequately funded.”

A human rights approach requires a less piecemeal approach.  It can’t be an afterthought or add-on.  It needs to go beyond a brief statement[4] on the Domestic Violence Bill by the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid that “In my view the provisions of the Domestic Abuse Bill are compatible with the Convention[5] rights.”

As the Special Rapporteur [2] states “At present, at the international normative level, the right of women to be free from violence is recognized as an international human rights standard but, in practice, gender-based violence against women and girls continues to be tolerated and has become normalized in many societies.”


[1] https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/take-action/16-days-of-activism

[2] UN Human Rights Council. 2019. Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Its Causes and Consequences. A/HRC/41/42. UN Human Rights Council. http://undocs.org/A/HRC/41/42

[3] https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2019-10-02/debates/C3488538-CFEC-4670-9299-732672E2BE67/DomesticAbuseBill

[4] https://services.parliament.uk/Bills/2017-19/domesticabuse/documents.html

[5] European Convention on Human Rights. https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf

Who does what to whom?

There are many kinds of evidence and information that help us decide how to respond to domestic violence: how to prevent abuse – and the kinds of services to tackle perpetrators and support and empower survivors.

One important part of the evidence is the data that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports in November each year[1].  It often forms the basis of media articles around this time[2].

And it is around this time of year because of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25th November)[3] – because domestic violence is predominantly gender-based violence – predominantly violence against women by men.

So it is vital in all our responses to domestic violence that we are clear about who does what to whom.

But here the data collection in England and Wales lets us down – Police Forces are still failing to produce the most basic data on whether victims and perpetrators are male or female.

If these are the data being used to make decisions on the seriousness of the issue and what should be done to tackle it, what does it say about priorities that only 28 out of 43 regional Police Forces in England and Wales can report the sex of the victim and the perpetrator[4]?

Police Forces producing adequate data in 2018 (coloured blue)


Police Forces producing adequate data in 2019 (coloured blue)

At this rate it will still be years until England and Wales has just the very basic evidence of “who does what to whom” in terms of domestic abuse reported to the Police.

[1]https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/domesticabuseinenglandandwalesoverview/november2019

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/nov/25/domestic-abuse-charges-fall-despite-rise-in-recorded-crimes

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7725361/Domestic-abuse-cases-rose-quarter-2018.html

[3] https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/take-action/16-days-of-activism

[4] A rise from 24 in 2018 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/domesticabuseinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2018  – but it is different Police Forces producing adequate data, with some which produced adequate data in 2018 failing to do so in 2019.

The churn of thousands of journeys

Most local authorities have around the same number of women arriving to access services because of domestic violence as the number of women who leave their area due to the abuse[1].  Authorities may not realise this, of course, as women (and their children) leave secretly – to reduce the risk from the abuser, they don’t tell the authorities when they leave, or where they are going.

Local authorities who provide domestic violence services – especially refuges or specialist accommodation services – tend to imagine a flow of women and children into their area from elsewhere.  They know nothing about their local women who escape violence and abuse by crossing boundaries – the women who leave.

It is only because of the service data for the whole of England (up to 2011) that we can see the wider picture[2].  And that is still only the picture of women and children who went to those particular types of housing services.

It is a striking picture – no strong flows between local authorities.  Not even strong flows into major cities, or along key public transport routes.

Animation to focus in on one year of women’s domestic violence journeys to services

It is a pattern of thousands of very individual journeys – including journeys from every single local authority in England.  It is a total churn of displacement – journeys probably far more complex than the straight lines on the map.  But even a flow map of one year of journeys[3] gives a sense of the disruption and upheaval for women and children seeking safety across the country.


[1] Bowstead, Janet C. 2015. “Forced Migration in the United Kingdom: Women’s Journeys to Escape Domestic Violence.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 40 (3): 307–320. doi:10.1111/tran.12085.

[2] Department for Communities and Local Government and University of St Andrews, Centre for Housing Research (2012) Supporting People Client Records and Outcomes, 2003/04-2010/11: Special Licence Access [computer file]. Colchester, Essex, UK Data Archive [distributor]. Available from: <http://dx.doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-7020-1>

[3] https://vimeo.com/369289835

The long and winding road

How many twists and turns do women have to make to escape abusive partners?

Only each woman herself would be able to map the road she has travelled – and often she still won’t know if there are more journeys to make.

Interviews with twenty women about their domestic violence journeys showed complex trajectories which could be over 2, 3, or more years; and involving nine or ten moves[1].  And women and their children could still be in temporary or insecure accommodation and anxious about when they would have to move again.

Analysis of the administrative data in this current research project[2] is revealing complex journeys of moves and stays – accessing different types of services across England.  It is only possible to link the data over a maximum of four years, and what is most striking is that these journeys seem to be just the tip of the iceberg. 

For example, a 22 year old woman, with no children, is recorded as having ten stays either in services or between accessing services; travelling over 600 miles within England in under 3 years.  But the first service record is in a women’s refuge – so she was already on the move due to domestic violence before this administrative record begins. 

A 39 year old woman, with a 3 year old daughter and a 1 year old son, was in a local authority tenancy at the start of the administrative record.  But over 800 miles later, in under year, she and her children had 7 stays in different types of accommodation, and the final recorded move is to stay with friends.  Even such complex trajectories are clearly only part of longer journeys away from abuse.

The administrative data only record what happened – we need to listen to women at every stage to understand which journeys are necessary, and which are more about a failure to provide the right support at that point in the road.


[1] Bowstead, Janet C. 2016. “Women on the Move: Theorising the Geographies of Domestic Violence Journeys in England.” Gender, Place and Culture 24 (1): 108–121. doi:10.1080/0966369X.2016.1251396.

[2] EUGEO. 2019. Re-Imagining Europe’s Future Society and Landscapes: EUGEO Congress 2019 Book of Abstracts. Galway, Ireland [Page 205] “Keep on running: women’s multiple moves in seeking security from domestic violence”. https://www.eugeo2019.eu/conference-schedule.

An infrastructure for women’s human rights

Imagine a world where there were enough refuge spaces for women and children escaping domestic violence.  Where these refuges were situated all around the country – in all types of places – so that women could go to the right type of place for their needs.

  • Not too close – first and foremost you need safety
  • Not too familiar – the abuser might try and track you down
  • Not too far – so that you don’t feel that you have been forced into exile
  • Not too strange – the kind of place where you can start again

Imagine a world where you could escape if you needed to – and therefore also knew that you could try and stay put (using legal protection and services’ support if necessary) if you wanted to…. because there would always be a safety net if that didn’t work.

Imagine a support system that gave top priority to your rights and needs – that was there to serve you.

A basic infrastructure that you have a fundamental right to access – when and where you need it.

Not the current fragmentation – where local areas can decide whether or not to provide services – and restrict the services they provide to local women and children.  Where you have to keep on proving that you really need help, and prove where you have come from – as if you are asking for some special favour rather than simply your rights…

If we really believe that “violence against women constitutes a violation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of women and impairs or nullifies their enjoyment of those rights and freedoms[1] then every state should ensure that women can easily access their right to escape violence.  Every state should provide a comprehensive, fully-functioning infrastructure for women’s human rights.




[1] UN General Assembly. 1993. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women: General Assembly resolution 48/104 of 20 December 1993. United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland. Available at: http://www.un-documents.net/a48r104.htm

Still waiting for security

The Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Act 2018 became law in May last year – but there is no sign of it actually coming into force.

The Act had support in all political parties – believing that no-one should have to prioritise their personal security in escaping abuse, over their longer-term housing security.

It should mean that anybody in England who leaves a secure social housing tenancy due to domestic abuse should receive the same security of tenure when they apply to a new local authority.

So what’s happened?

Well, it seems to be waiting for the Secretary of State to fill in the detail – to provide the regulations[1].

In the past year, since it became law, thousands of women will have left permanent housing tenancies to escape domestic abuse.

Did they lose those tenancies?  Did they keep the security of a permanent tenancy?

The simple answer is, we don’t know.

There is now a new Secretary of State[2] – the second since the Bill was first introduced – and we’re still waiting…


[1] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2018/11/section/2/enacted

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/ministers/secretary-of-state-for-housing-communities-and-local-government

Is it ‘some’ or ‘many’?

The Government’s consultation[1] about the accommodation needs of domestic abuse survivors provides a welcome focus on women’s and children’s needs in terms of support and refuge.  But in its proposal to place a statutory duty on only local (rather than national) government, it appears confused about the scale of the issue of relocation due to domestic abuse.

In the main part of the consultation document there is some acknowledgement of the needs of those who move across borders to access support:

“We recognise that in some cases, an appropriate response to supporting a victim and their children will be to help them move to another local area to access services and rebuild their lives.” [p22]

And the suggested Statutory Duty on local authorities would require them to:

“Assess the need and demand for accommodation-based support for all victims and their children, including those who require cross-border support.” [p17]

But this reminder has disappeared by the overview summary two pages later, which only says:

“Assess the need and demand for accommodation-based support for all victims and their children” [p19]

This makes the needs and rights of tens of thousands of women and children who cross local authority boundaries appear a bit of an afterthought.

And yet, in the Annex of “Priorities for Domestic Abuse Services” there is repeated recognition that:

“many victims of domestic abuse need to flee from their local area to access services and stay safe.” [p42]

And that local authorities are expected to commission services that:

 “Meet the needs of victims from within and outside the local area, recognising that many victims move from their local area to be safe.” [p43]

So – is it a marginal issue affecting some individuals; or does it affect many?

Of course, it affects many – tens of thousands – and this consultation (which ends on 2nd August 2019) is an important opportunity to wake up to that fact; and ensure that women and children who relocate across boundaries due to domestic abuse do not continue to disappear through the gaps in policy, service provision and rights.


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/support-for-victims-of-domestic-abuse-in-safe-accommodation