News

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

Imagined community – Real belonging

In all the talk of strong communities, united communities, struggling communities, the [insert a term of your choosing] community, there remains a real question of where women escaping domestic violence can find a sense of community.  If the actions of her abusive partner or husband have forced her out of her locality, has he also forced her out of her community – her friends, family, her sense of belonging and shared culture?

Can she join a new community?

Even if women experiencing domestic abuse stay put, they can be entirely isolated from their supposed community – unable to tell anyone what is happening, unable to feel at home.

In the 1930s, Virginia Woolf wrote, “As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.”[1] and maybe that points to the potential for women to share experiences – and a sense of belonging – across all kinds of borders.  The potential to cut across isolation and build strong communities of shared experiences.

Women who escape domestic violence and meet other women who have experienced abuse talk about how they begin to make connections:

I find that [isolation] odd; because you think you’re the only one that’s experiencing it… but it’s millions of women – each sitting there thinking – what have I done wrong now? And you haven’t. I was totally amazed.

[Elizabeth – age 56, of White British ethnic origin with an adult son. Living in a rural village in Southern England at the time.]

 

I’ve made a lot of friends; a lot, a lot of good good friends – like sisters in all this.   

[Julien Rosa – age 24, of Black African ethnic origin with sons aged 7 and 3. Living in a small town in Southern England at the time.]

As well as such real support – a sense of friendship, community and belonging – women imagine themselves as part of a community of women who have experienced abuse; both the actual community of women and children they had met, but also a community outside, and in the future.  They imagine back to a shared homeland of being an abused woman, but also forward to an imagined community they had not intended to be a member of, but had found as a positive outcome in their journeys away from abuse. Their messages to other women are:

Don’t feel TRAPPED!!’

‘good luck to new women who come here!’

‘Help is at hand’.

[1] Virginia Woolf (1938) Three Guineas

First contact

Isolation is such a powerful tactic of abuse that many women experiencing domestic violence do not talk to anyone else about what’s happening.  They often think that they’re the only one – that they are to blame for the abuse.  Even friends and family may not see the abuse, and the abuser will often behave completely differently around them.

“When I started to talk to some close friends they were saying to me – oh, it’s not true, he’s such a lovely person, he’s look after you; when I see you with him he’s just lovely…”

– Anna – age 42, with an adult daughter.  White Polish ethnic origin.  Journey from private rented in London to rented social housing in a town in a rural area.

 

When women arrive at a domestic violence refuge, or another service where there are other women who have experienced abuse, the first contact with other survivors is often as important as any of the formal services.

“I was actually surprised!  I was shocked because [laughs] – I didn’t think it would be like this!  So that was a relief to me – that I had somewhere safe to go with my child.  And I had somebody there to listen, without judging me; without looking for any other cause besides what I’m telling them – to understand where I’m coming from.  It made me feel so at home and at peace – I cried – that was the first time I cried.”

– Gloria – age 41, with a 1 year old boy.  Black African ethnic origin.  Journey from private rented in a South Coast town to rented social housing in a town in a rural area.

 

Amidst any formal service provision – and professional practices such as risk assessments – it is important to value that contact between women.  It is vital to enable women to meet each other – often the first contact when they will be believed by someone who understands.

“We’ve been through a lot together; and I feel it’s nice – I’ve met some good friends here [women’s refuge]; which weren’t my plan!  I was like – I’ve come here and I’m not here to make friends and I’m not here to make enemies – but I have made friends, and I will keep in contact with them – definitely.  It’s nice – and the kids have made really close friends.”

– Violet – age 35, with a 6 year old boy.  White British ethnic origin.  Journey from owner-occupied in London periphery to private rented in a town in a very rural area.

Acute shelters or longer-term refuges – who decides?

At the European Conference on Domestic Violence in Porto this month[1], there were quite a few presentations about women on the move due to domestic violence… but not many that really explored the overall trajectories of women’s journeys.  Rather than focusing on the complexities of women and children travelling over distance and time, they tended to focus on particular segments of the journeys, such as when women accessed services.  As a result, they often looked at the journeys from the perspective of agencies, services and authorities… rather than from the perspective of women and children themselves.

 

One segment of women’s journeys that was focused on was a stay in a domestic violence shelter or refuge, with presentations from Portugal, United Kingdom, Norway, Finland, Austria, Canada and Sweden.  However, though the terms “refuge” and “shelter” are often used interchangeably, these services are very different in different countries.  And so women and children’s experiences are likely to be very different if they are staying in a shelter in, say, Finland – for 14-21 days – than if they are staying for six months or more in a refuge in the UK.

 

Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE) report[2] that the maximum period of stay for women and children varies enormously – from 4-6 weeks in some countries, to up to 12 months in others.  Clearly some of these services are seen as acute and crisis support, without time for longer term recovery and independence.

 

The key question is who decides the length of stay?

Who is in control of this stage of women and children’s journeys away from abuse?

 

As WAVE report: “No country mentioned that women survivors of violence and their children, if any, had the right to stay as long as needed, which would be the standard of a human rights-based and gender-sensitive approach”.  They argue that “Restrictions on the right to stay are especially problematic if there are no housing programmes guaranteeing permanent or even temporary housing for women leaving shelter.”  “If a woman is exposed to the same situation of violence after her stay in shelter, the State and society have failed to guarantee her right to live free from violence.”

 

If women and their children can only stay a few weeks in a domestic violence shelter, where do they go next?

 

[1] http://www.fpce.up.pt/iiecdv/about.html

[2] WAVE. 2016. WAVE Report 2015: On the Role of Specialist Women’s Support Services in Europe. Vienna, Austria: WAVE Co-ordination Office. https://www.wave-network.org/resources/research-reports.

 

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/