News

It’s not just about the moving

This research focuses on the journeys women and children are forced to make because of domestic violence.  But it’s not just about the moving itself.

It’s not that either moving or not moving is the solution – it’s about the force and control over any movement.

An abuser will often try and control a woman’s mobility – where she goes, what she does – and expect her to account for her every movement.

Anna was constantly questioned by her partner about her journeys to and from work:

“It was – where have you been…  Because from my work it was possible for me to walk or to go by bus […]  It was – oh, why did you prefer to walk?  Did you meet someone?  I just feel like I want to walk.  No – why are you fifteen minutes late?

In an abusive relationship, a woman can feel imprisoned by such surveillance – and it can be really effective in ensuring that she cannot go anywhere on her own – or seek any help.

But it can also be that an abuser uses moving around as another way to imprison and isolate.  During the course of her marriage, Violet’s husband insisted on them moving house to somewhere she didn’t want to go:

I was moved furthest – furthest away from my parents, my friends – so really really remote spot.  If he’d take my car then there was nowhere even to go to a shop in walking distance – it was too far.  So I felt really isolated.”

So it’s not just about moving or not moving – it’s about who initiates the moves, and who is in control.

As far as you need – as near as you can

How far do women need to go to escape domestic violence?

Well, the question is not about the woman…  it’s about the abuser.

For a life that is free from abuse – for a life where you can be yourself – women shouldn’t have to go anywhere at all.  They should be able to stay put.

However, this is often not possible – if the abuser doesn’t change his behaviour, and if nothing is done to make him change.  So tens of thousands of women and children have to relocate to escape abuse.

A new start in a new area can be really positive.  But it can also be really difficult.

So it’s an important principle that women should be able to go as far as they need – but not be forced any further – and stay as near as they can – but not live in fear.

Evidence[1] about women and children who go to services shows that just under half relocate within their local authority.

But just over half go further.

So, rather than thinking just about local authorities providing services, we need to widen our thinking – to a regional approach.

Over 80% of women stay within their region – around 90% for some regions of England.

So let’s think more about regions in planning and providing services.

[1] Analysis of data from Supporting People Programme of housing-related support services.  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>

 

 

What about the men?

Domestic violence and abuse is often very hidden, and people frequently ask for more evidence on the needs of women and children – and the needs of men.

Men do experience domestic abuse, but we have evidence of very different rates of abuse for men and women – and that men have different needs.

Administrative data collected by housing-related support services[1] show:

  • Men seek support on a wide range of issues at an equal rate to women.  But where domestic violence is the issue, men are a tiny minority – only 3.1%:
All support needs – men and women

 

 

 

 

 

Domestic violence support needs – men and women

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Men are equally likely as women to self-refer to services – to seek help themselves when they experience domestic abuse – but more likely than women to be referred by statutory agencies such as Housing and Criminal Justice.  In contrast, women are more likely to be referred by voluntary agencies.

 

  • Needs are also different, with men less likely to have children with them, and more likely to have stayed put or stayed local when they seek help.
Accompanied by children – men and women
Relocation and distance travelled – men and women

This kind of evidence can help people make the best decisions about support services – that the vast majority of domestic violence services should be provided for women – often accompanied by children – and that men’s needs are different as they are more likely to be staying put and staying local when they seek support.

[1] 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>

 

What about housing associations?

The Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill received Royal Assent on 10th May 2018, and so is now an Act of Parliament.  Politicians of all parties welcomed the new law, saying it will “protect lifetime tenants who have to flee their home” (Heather Wheeler, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government) and “do a large amount of good for many domestic abuse victims across the country” (Melanie Onn, Great Grimsby, Labour).  The debate in Parliament talked about removing a key barrier that prevents domestic abuse victims from leaving their perpetrator[1].

If so, that is to be welcomed.

But it is also important to know that various details and concerns have been left until the guidance is published.

One significant amendment that was not passed was about new housing association tenancies.  Many women experiencing domestic abuse will move to a housing association property – including in areas where all the social housing is housing association and not council housing.

However, the Government limited the Act to local authorities, and said “housing associations will continue to have the freedom, which they have now, to offer lifetime tenancies wherever they consider it appropriate” (Heather Wheeler).

Some housing associations are developing good practice.  For example, Gentoo, a housing association that provides over 29,000 homes in North East England, has recently produced a report showing how good practice by housing associations on domestic abuse makes financial as well as moral sense[2].  But others are not so good.

So, what about housing associations?  – we’ll have to wait and see…  The Government has left it that “We expect housing associations to take very seriously their responsibilities for people fleeing domestic violence and abuse” (Heather Wheeler).

[1] https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/securetenanciesvictimsofdomesticabuse.html

[2] Safe Lives and Gentoo (2018) Safe at Home: The case for a response to domestic abuse by housing providers. Available from: http://www.safelives.org.uk/Safe_at_Home

 

Secure tenancies – a real possibility?

Women who have to leave home because of domestic violence face many losses.  Whether they move locally, or across the country, they often lose possessions – both practical things like furniture, cooker, washing machine, and personal things like photographs, favourite clothes, children’s drawings and toys.

They also lose their rights to services.  Sometimes because of different service provision around the country, other times because they have to start again at the bottom of waiting lists, or they have missed a crucial enrolment date in the new area.  Sometimes because they cannot find their way around the bureaucracy.

They may lose their housing rights.  If they have a secure housing tenancy that they have to leave, there is a real risk that they will end up with far less housing security in the new area.  They will have had to choose personal security over housing security.

They shouldn’t have to choose.

A Government Bill currently going through Parliament may start to address this problem.  The Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill had its latest committee debate on the 27th of March[1].  The Minister stated:

“Under the Bill, any local authority in England that has somebody presenting with domestic abuse issues must take on a secure tenancy if that person had a secure tenancy before. It cannot be plainer than that.”

Heather Wheeler (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government)

In the debate, other MPs highlighted the difficulties and implications of relocating:

“Still too often, we require the victim to put the pieces of her escape route together.”

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)

“People do not necessarily leave a secure tenancy; sometimes they go to stay with a friend, sometimes they go to a refuge and sometimes they go to stay with their parents. In most housing law, that diminishes their rights.”

Sir Robert Syms (Poole) (Con)

“We are talking mostly about women who have spent months, years, sometimes decades making mental lists over and again about their route out.  Our main responsibility today is to remove all the barriers on that route out.”

Rosie Duffield (Canterbury) (Lab)

To follow the progress of this Bill, see https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/securetenanciesvictimsofdomesticabuse.html

[1] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmpublic/SecureTenancies/PBC_Combined_1-2_27_03_2018.pdf

Good news on London moves

The scheme in London that enables people at high risk of harm to relocate without losing security of housing tenure has been running for a year.  It’s a positive beginning to ensuring that – at a time of many other losses – women and children can gain their safety without losing their housing security.

Requests were made from almost every London Borough, and the majority of moves supported individuals and families fleeing domestic abuse.  Some received greater security of tenure than they had before, and almost all received the same security of tenure.  Safer London – which is funded by the London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime to run the scheme – is committed to make sure that no-one feels under pressure to take a shorter or less secure tenancy, and will not take anyone off the list for refusing an unsuitable property.  Despite the pressures on social housing in London, the moves so far have taken an average of only 2 months to arrange.

This is good news.  As a Housing Professional quoted in the report says:

“Due to the reciprocal I was able to support the client to address her safety which was her priority. It was important that the client felt in control of where she wanted to relocate to which was in the area she was placed as she felt that her family, friends and network in the area would help her to move forward, free of further abuses.”

In terms of the project on this website – Women on the move: the journeyscapes of domestic violence – it is interesting to note that the scheme recognises the problems of administrative boundaries: constraining and confusing the journeys women and children need to make.  These boundaries often become barriers, so that women cannot make the journeys that work for them, and are forced to move further or nearer than they need; or to a place that is less suitable for them and their children to start again[1].

 

[1] To quote from the report: “One of the common themes that the team have found is that applicants, and the professionals supporting them, do not visualise London by borough. This has resulted in many people wishing to be moved to specific areas of a borough, or not having full knowledge of the areas that they have included in their request.” Page 15, Safer London. 2018. Pan London Housing Reciprocal Year 1 Report (Feb 2017 – Jan 2018). https://saferlondon.org.uk/pan-london-housing-reciprocal/.

Poverty and escaping violence

You often hear and read stereotypes and assumptions about the connections between poverty and domestic abuse.  Actual connections are harder to untangle…

 

Some of the (sometimes contradictory) claims made are that:

  • Women with fewer economic resources are more likely to be abused
  • Men with fewer economic resources are more likely to be violent
  • The difference in economic resources within the household is more important than actual resources – but this could work both ways:
    • greater equality between men and women means less violence
    • increasing equality for women leads to a backlash and more violence

 

Whatever the connections between poverty and experiencing abuse, there is the clearer claim that women need economic resources to be able to escape abuse and re-build a new life free from violence.

 

However, one of the difficulties is that leaving abuse is often so private that you are not going to be answering surveys about your income at the time.  And all the main social surveys – such as the Crime Survey of England and Wales – do not survey anyone in temporary accommodation: so women in refuges, Bed & Breakfast or staying with friends or family will not be surveyed.

 

And then there is the fact that women will usually have to give up their jobs, and their studies, to escape – and pay out money for travel, to replace clothes and possessions; and pay over the odds for all kinds of expenses in a new unfamiliar area.

 

So your economic situation before you leave is not the same as your economic situation on the move, or settling in a new area.

 

All in all, it’s difficult to untangle women’s experiences of poverty and domestic abuse – however, research by Jude Towers is working on this, and highlighting how crucial it is that women have access to their own money to be able to leave – and to be able to start again.

Changing journeys into journeyscapes

All too often, beyond the original escape, women’s domestic violence journeys continue to be fragmented and disorientating over both time and space.  Women have little control over their mobility – where they go, how long they stay in temporary accommodation, whether they have to keep on moving.

This can be contrasted with the concept of a functional scale for domestic violence journeys – “journeyscapes” – whereby women and children travel as far as they need to escape the abuse, but are not forced any further due to administrative boundaries or services.  A society which thinks and responds more coherently in terms of policy, services and rights could journeyscape women’s experiences and help them re-establish control over their sense and reality of home.

See:   Changing journeys into journeyscapes

Going back?

In the isolation of an abusive relationship, it can be impossible to know what your options are.  Often you need to leave to access the support and information from specialist services so that you can decide what you want to do.

Even if women ‘go back’ – in some sense – they are actually going forward with greater information.  If they have received support and information on their rights, they will be going with greater confidence in themselves and their options.

I’m really glad I came here [refuge] and did it – even if I’m going to be going back…  It’s been good for me, good for the kids – good for my husband.  He came to his senses.  And I came to appreciate myself now – and what I can do for myself….  I’m still the same self – I’m just little more wiser.  Yes – I’m wiser now. [Faith]

It was only because of contacting a refuge that Faith found out about different options for her and her children.

I know when something’s going wrong – I know what to do when something’s going wrong.  I know to say something – to say what’s happening; to say when I don’t like it – when it’s not right.  And I know to go somewhere to get a solution.

Her husband participated in a Respect-accredited perpetrator programme and she was reassured that he was changing his attitudes and behaviour.  She also knew that the programme workers would pass on any concerns.

They’ll let me know if there’s anything I need to know …  It will just be his progress, or if there was anything that needed to be said – anything bad or negative – they would have to let me know.

So, though she talked about ‘going back’ she really felt that it was a new start, and that her family would support her if she needed to leave again.

If it went bad again, that would be it – that would be final.  It would show to me that he would not change; and then I would have to face reality – you cannot live in denial.  If it happens again then that would be final.

And it’s good that the family is involved so that they know that I gave him another opportunity – they know that I tried, but he didn’t change.  I believe that my family would support me in that.

She felt that she was now in much more control.

It’s almost like we’re dating again – I’m seeing what he’s like.  I don’t want to go back in just like that.  I want to get to know him again – I’m studying him…  I want to see if he had really changed – and good changes.

Staying Put

It is commonly said that women and children experiencing domestic violence should be able to ‘stay put’.  That it should be the perpetrators of abuse who have their lives disrupted – that it should be them who have to move out or be held to account.  That it should be the perpetrators who have to make the journeys.

That may be true.

However, that would be all the more reason that – as a society – we need women’s refuges all around the country for women and their children to escape to.

Why?

Because an option to stay put is only an option if there would be the possibility to escape.  It is only a choice to stay put if there is somewhere to go to if you need to escape – in the short or long term.  If there is nowhere safe, non-judgemental and supportive to escape to, then you are not ‘staying put’, you are stuck.  You are not choosing to stay put – you are imprisoned in the location of the abuse.

There needs to be both options – staying put and leaving – so that women know that they can get all kinds of help.

“I wish I had the voice to cry out to the world – do not keep quiet; if you fear something is not right with your partner – or whoever is abusing you; if you feel the signs of abuse – talk to somebody.”                    Gloria