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.
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.
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sometimes been replaced by a more social service ethos of professional staff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.
It is important
both to remember the history, and to take the insights forward to face the
current threats to women’s refuges.
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?
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.
is one of 9 key measures in the draft Domestic Abuse Bill which has finally
been published. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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…
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.
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.
 Most of those killed by a stranger were killed in a terrorist attack.
 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
The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) report on Domestic Abuse 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.
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”.
In March 2018 Theresa May pledged to “bring forward new legislation as part of my longstanding commitment to end domestic abuse”.
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 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.
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.
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.
 Bowstead JC. 2015. Why women’s domestic violence refuges are not local services. Critical Social Policy 35: 327–349
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.
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 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.
 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>
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 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%:
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.
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.
 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>
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.
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. 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).