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Are you local?

Because specialist services on domestic abuse, and housing rights and provision, are devolved by the UK Government, there is no consistent response across the country.  There are different responses between the UK nations, and between local authorities – even within the same region.

On top of everything else you have to face if you relocate to escape a violence partner, you have to find out what it means to have left your local area and journeyed somewhere else.

Statutory services in your new area will ask – Are you local?

– and, if you are not, then you may find yourself or your children at the back of the queue for services – or even not eligible at all.

This is particularly the case if you need homelessness help – if you want to try and go to social housing.  By law, local authorities have to determine if you have a “Local Connection”, and – if not – whether you have a good enough reason for now being in their area and seeking help.

Tens of thousands of women and children are forced to relocate due to domestic abuse – and many cross local authority boundaries and seek help in an unknown place.  But this means that they often have no “Local Connection” – the lack of connection is often vital for them to feel and be safe.  However, the research in this project has shown that most local authorities have a similar number of women and children leaving as the number who arrive to seek help[1] – so the authorities are not unfairly affected.  They are only helping women and children to the same extent as their women and children are being helped elsewhere.

So it’s good to see the Scottish Government consulting[2] on easing the “Local Connection” legislation, recognising that “Choice may lead to better outcomes than a strict interpretation of the legislative test.”  They see the importance for resettlement if people who have been forced to move from their local area are able to go to their kind of place to start again: that “People experiencing homelessness are best placed to make the judgement as to the geographical area which best meets these needs.”


[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] https://www.gov.scot/publications/consultation-local-connection-intentionality-provisions-homelessness-legislation/

A picture can tell…

a thousand words!

A recent exhibition for International Women’s Day (8th March) featured images from the participatory groupwork of this research project.

Whilst women themselves may not be safe enough to speak at public events about their experiences and their hard-won wisdom – their images and captions can speak volumes:

  • Cheers to new beginnings – New friends, New life, New start
  • You can’t walk over us no more. We’re in power because 3 Beats 1
  • What could be more important in life than your children? – my absolute everything!
  • From Fear to Hope – How quickly life changes from black and white to colour!
  • There is always a way ahead
  • We are powerful!
  • Different pieces can complete a puzzle. Everyone has a space somewhere
  • Just wanted to share how I feel… and it’s freedom!


More than just safety

Women’s refuges were first developed in the 1970s as part of a wider feminist movement.  They were set up to help women and children by providing a roof over their heads when they needed to escape male violence.  So, a safe place to stay was central over forty years ago – and is still vital today[1].

But women’s refuges provide more than just safety.  The refuge movement also had the goals of challenging male violence and changing women’s position in society; as well as helping individual women.  It’s important to remember these roots, and a project on the early history of refuges in the East of England and in East London has been interviewing the pioneers of the 1970s to provide an oral history archive of women’s experiences[2]

Refuges in the UK have developed and changed over the decades, and refuges on a range of different models have been set up around the world.  There have been positive and negative changes; such as improvements in the quality of accommodation, but also constraints on length of stay.  Many refuges in the UK were originally run by volunteers – often women who themselves had experienced domestic abuse in the past – and have seen increases and decreases in funding for paid workers over the years.  A feminist ethos of mutual self-help has sometimes been replaced by a more social service ethos of professional staff helping ‘service users’. 

So there are many different ways of running a refuge, and a recent article as part of this journeyscapes research highlights how the practices of workers and residents help create a dynamic space for so much more than safety[3].

It is important both to remember the history, and to take the insights forward to face the current threats to women’s refuges.


[1] To find a place in a refuge call the free: National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 2000 247 (24 hours)

[2] https://www.youcantbeatawoman.co.uk/

[3] Janet C. Bowstead (2019): Spaces of safety and more-than-safety in women’s refuges in England, Gender, Place & Culture, https://doi.org/10.1080/0966369X.2018.1541871

Who smelt it dealt it

You wouldn’t be very impressed if an arsonist now said they were going to be a firefighter.  Would you really believe that someone wanted to put out fires – solve problems – when they had been causing the problems in the first place?

So, there should be some hard questions asked about the Government’s announcement of their commitment that domestic abuse perpetrators will no longer be able to directly cross-examine their victims in family courts.

It is one of 9 key measures in the draft Domestic Abuse Bill which has finally been published[1].  Leaving aside points about timing and distraction tactics, we also need to remember that this is only a draft Bill.  There is a long way to go before even the positive aspects of proposals could or might be enacted.

The intention is to stop abuse perpetrators – only those who have been charged, cautioned or convicted of a “specified offence” – from cross-examining their victims directly in the family courts. 

Of course, this is a serious problem – with perpetrators being able to continue their abuse in the courtroom – as has been highlighted in numerous reports in the past few years[2].

However, it only became such an issue because of the cuts in ‘Legal Aid’ – where previously individuals had legal representatives in such cases.  So this high profile proposal that appears to commit to protecting women from ongoing abuse in the family courts, fails to mention that the problem was caused by the Government in the first place[3].

Deep in the detail of the Domestic Abuse Bill documents you can find the acknowledgement that the only way to prevent such cross-examination may be to “give the court power to appoint a legal representative to undertake cross-examination of a witness in specified circumstances” with the “Lord Chancellor, by regulations, to make provision for the payment out of central fund of sums to cover the properly incurred fees, costs and expenses of a legal representative”[4]

So this is a complicated route – which may or may not happen – to provide the legal representation that used to be available for domestic abuse survivors in the family courts – until the Government cut Legal Aid…


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/domestic-abuse-consultation-response-and-draft-bill

[2] https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/Global/Migrated_Documents/corporate/domestic-abuse-victims—struggling-for-support-final.pdf

https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/practice-areas/family-children/vulnerable-witnesses-family-law-cases-application-pd12j/

https://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed189738

[3]Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/10/contents

[4] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/772191/Draft_Domestic_Abuse_Bill_-_Delegated_Powers_Memorandum.pdf

What if you do not escape?

It is a chilling fact that women are most at risk from men they know.  Three-quarters of women killed by men in the UK last year were killed by someone they knew[1].

Many of the killings were in the context of domestic violence – 64 women were killed by a current or former intimate partner.

The women who died include those who were not able to escape the abuser, as well as those who were tracked down after trying to get somewhere safe.  Many were killed by a former partner in the first few months after separation.

These should not be seen as private or isolated incidents – the ‘Femicide Census Report’ highlights similar patterns in cases across the country – and similar possible ways to prevent future killings.

It is clear that it is vital that women can find somewhere safe and supportive to escape to[2].

 

[1] Most of those killed by a stranger were killed in a terrorist attack.

[2] Support is available via the Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge, on 0808 2000 247

Invisible women

The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) report on Domestic Abuse[1] uses a wide range of data sources to bring together the evidence on prevalence, on incidence, on accessing services.  As the report acknowledges – it raises many questions, and highlights many gaps in the evidence.

For the section on prevalence – on the numbers of the population of England and Wales who experience domestic abuse – the report relies on the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW).  It focuses on the number of adults who experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2018.

But who is invisible in this evidence?

Anyone who is on the move or in temporary accommodation due to domestic abuse.

The Crime Survey is a survey – only asked of adults in “households”.

So women on the move (and it is mostly women), including women in domestic abuse refuges – the women most directly and acutely affected by domestic abuse in the past year – have no chance of being asked the Crime Survey questions.  They have no chance of being counted in this measure of domestic abuse prevalence.

This is briefly acknowledged in a note on page 11 of the report – but it’s a major gap – it could be made a lot clearer.  The prevalence figures from the Crime Survey are presented as the top “Headline figure” at the start of the report, with no mention of the problem of the invisible women on the move.

Maybe it would be better to estimate lifetime prevalence from the survey – rather than just the past 12 months.  But we know that women and their children can end up on the move or in temporary accommodation for years due to domestic abuse – so survey data are always going to have important gaps.

The key question here is to be aware that the main method for estimating the number of people experiencing domestic abuse automatically excludes those most acutely affected – tens of thousands of women and children on the move.

 

[1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/domesticabuseinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2018

Do we need another law?

Governments often find it easier to pass another law which claims to tackle a complex issue, rather than implement the laws that are already in place.  And rather than develop and sustain the services and social infrastructure that are needed to make a real difference.

It looks like this is happening again in the UK.  In February 2017 the UK Government – Theresa May herself – claimed “I believe that the plans I have announced today have the potential to completely transform the way we think about and tackle domestic violence and abuse”[1].

In March 2018 Theresa May pledged to “bring forward new legislation as part of my longstanding commitment to end domestic abuse”[2].

But the proposed Bill focuses yet again on the criminal justice system, with new definitions and the possibility of longer sentences for convicted perpetrators.  It doesn’t focus on developing a society that prevents abuse and supports survivors.  Many women who experience abuse go nowhere near the criminal justice system – often these are the tens of thousands of women (and children) who relocate every year in the UK.

If the Government wants to change the options and life chances of these women and children, it needs to ensure sustained funding for the specialist services all around the country that enable woman and children to rebuild their lives after abuse.  We do not need a new law for that – we need everything from lessons on healthy relationships in schools, to refuges all around the country for women to escape to, to holistic and timely practical and emotional support.

This would need effective action[3] by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, by the Department for Education, by the Department of Health and Social Care, by the Department for Work and Pensions – not a new law.

 

 

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/feb/17/theresa-may-domestic-violence-abuse-act-laws-consultation

 

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/08/theresa-may-domestic-violence-bill-women

 

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/24/brexit-theresa-may-domestic-abuse-bill-universal-credit

Why women’s refuges are not local services

Whenever we hear of cutbacks or closures to domestic violence services in a particular area, we hear campaigners and concerned local people ask “Where will local women and children go now – when they need to escape abuse?”

But if the service under threat is a women’s refuge, then local women and children will probably be the least affected.

Local women and children will most likely be going to a refuge elsewhere.

Cuts and closures of local support services affect local women and children.  But – if they need the distinctive services of a refuge – chances are they would not have been able to stay in their local area anyway.

In general, when women relocate to access services because of domestic violence, it’s about half-and-half whether they stay in their own local authority area (“residential mobility”) or move to another local authority (“internal migration”).

But, this varies enormously between types of services.  For support services that do not provide accommodation 80-90% of women are from the local area; and for non-refuge accommodation around two-thirds are similarly from the local area.

However, for women’s refuges, 70% of women have travelled from another area.

Women’s refuges are not really local services[1].

But – at present – they are generally planned and funded locally, which makes them particularly vulnerable to cutbacks.  And local cuts do not primarily have a local impact – they affect women and children nationally.  We are planning and funding refuges at the wrong scale.

Local women and children everywhere might need women’s refuges; but they need them not in their original local area.

 

[1] Bowstead JC. 2015. Why women’s domestic violence refuges are not local services. Critical Social Policy 35: 327–349

Women’s Journeyscapes Briefing paper 4 – November 2018

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>