News

Christmas is a time for families

Women experiencing domestic violence seek help all year round; whether it is advice and support to be able to stay put; or relocating to access services locally or further away.

Many factors affect the timing of seeking help.

Individual women may seek help at a time of extreme danger – or at a time of opportunity: it may be when a woman hears about support services or refuges, or is encouraged to believe that someone will help her.

Women are often not just seeking help for themselves – over half the women accessing services over an eight year period in England had children with them[1].

Women may or may not have an option about when and where to seek help – and if they try and access a service they may not find any space at a refuge, or may be put on a waiting list for an advice and support worker.

However, there is one clear pattern in women’s help-seeking month by month:


Whether women are staying put and seeking support, remaining local within the same Local Authority area, or travelling across boundaries to go elsewhere, the numbers dip in December.

Christmas in the UK is often celebrated as a time for families – with the restrictions this year being highlighted as preventing the kind of December that so many people expect. 

However, help-seeking due to violence and abuse highlights another side of many women and children’s experiences in families – with December as a time of not wanting or not being able to seek help; and January as a time of reaching out or relocating for support.

Even so, thousands of women and children will be seeking help in December – with thousands more to come in January.

[1] Analysis by Janet C. Bowstead using data fromDepartment 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

My kind of town

Women in all kinds of areas experience domestic abuse.  They may seek help and support informally – or from services.

Many stay put – and need services and authorities to do their job to tackle the perpetrator: to hold him to account.

Others move – but remain local – seeking the safety from relocation, but keeping as close as they can to key – and familiar – support and work, school and other services.

But thousands of women and children have to go elsewhere – as the only way to become safe and start again with their lives.

Often women have little choice about where they can go – they might simply want the most unlikely place: a place where the perpetrator won’t think to look.  And, if they need to access services – such as refuges – they have to go wherever there is a vacancy.

But it is striking that women tend to go to the same kind of place[1].  If they can’t find a refuge place in a similar type of area, they may be able to return to that type of area further on down their journey.  So women from urban areas tend to stay in urban areas; and rural women tend to stay in the kind of area they are familiar with.

Analysis of different stages of nearly 20,000 woman-journeys to access services, and afterwards, shows the flows from the six Rural-Urban categories in England[2].

Analysis by Janet C. Bowstead using data from 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

It is clear that the majority of women and children are from Major Urban areas – because this is also by far the largest category of local authority in England for the whole population – as the graph below shows[1]

ONS. 2014. Mid-2011 Population Estimates: Single Year of Age and Sex for Local Authorities in England and Wales; Estimated Resident Population; Revised in Light of the 2011 Census. London: Office for National Statistics.

The flow diagram also shows significant patterns – the kinds of places where women access services; and where they go afterwards.

Their domestic violence journeys clearly tend to be to the same kind of area, so that even if rural women have to go to a more urban area to find service support, they can return to a rural area after the service.  And the most Urban areas are actually net leaving overall (from 8,472 women to 7,879 women; and 2,804 to 2,414); whereas the most Rural areas show a slight net arriving overall (from 1,947 to 2,341 and from 1,474 to 1,188).

It makes sense – women are trying to escape the violence, but they want to stay in their kind of town: the kind of place where they and their children can start again after abuse.


[1] ONS. 2014. Mid-2011 Population Estimates: Single Year of Age and Sex for Local Authorities in England and Wales; Estimated Resident Population; Revised in Light of the 2011 Census. London: Office for National Statistics.


[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] Analysis by Janet C. Bowstead using data fromDepartment 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 

Night or Day I can go where I want

Women who have relocated due to domestic abuse talk about escaping from the abuser’s control and being able to make their own choices and decisions – in major issues, and in the day-to-day.

One of the participatory photography groups in London produced this poster collage of their local walks.

© Image by women who have relocated due to domestic abuse – from the research project “Women on the move: the journeyscapes of domestic violence”. For further details see: www.womensjourneyscapes.net

The complexity of women’s journeys

Services in a particular area of the country often do not realise the extent of women’s journeys as they try to escape domestic violence.

Survivors themselves may have very good reason to keep their location – and relocation – secret as they try to escape an abuser who knows so much about them.

It is only by combining data from services across the country – and safely de-identifying them – that we can see the complexity of women’s journeys across months and years; and possibly hundreds of miles.

An example from one woman shows multiple moves[1]:

At the start of the record of accessing services due to domestic violence, “Mia” was 17.  She was staying with friends in Essex, and over the next two and a half years travelled between four places in Essex, three in Northamptonshire, and one each in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire (all shown in red on the map), staying in refuges, Bed and Breakfast, private rented, hostel, supported housing and with friends.  All the moves added up to over 300 miles (straight line distances).   The final administrative record is a move to a women’s refuge in Lincolnshire – so still not to settled accommodation.


Another woman’s journey – with her son – shows fewer moves, but longer distances [1]:

At the start of the record of accessing services due to domestic violence, “Karen” was 45 with an 8 year old son.  They were in a refuge in Gateshead, so already on the move due to domestic violence; and over the next two and a half years travelled between three places in Essex and two in the North East (all shown in red on the map), staying in refuges and with family.  All the moves added up to around 950 miles (straight line distances).  The final administrative record is a move out of a refuge in Essex to a local authority tenancy in Newcastle upon Tyne.

It all shows that the snapshot that any service sees – in a particular area of the country – is often only a small fragment of the complexity of any woman’s domestic violence journey.

[1] Analysis by Janet C. Bowstead using data from 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 

A Question of Scale

Time and time again politicians, policy-makers and practitioners end up operating at the wrong scale.

A policy or service developed with the best intentions, becomes ineffective or even counterproductive when it is implemented either too locally – or not local enough.

Take the current issue of grading school results in the UK.  It may well be appropriate to moderate or standardise teacher assessments to be more closely aligned with what the grades would have been if pupils had taken exams.

But that moderation – even using an algorithm – could have been done at many different scales – the UK level, in the four nations, regionally – or at the scale of local government.

It’s a question of scale that has to be decided – and the decision has consequences.

Applying the moderation at the most local scale – individual schools – has belatedly been recognised as palpably unfair to individuals; and has been scrapped[1].

The scale was too local.

At the other extreme, a national “test and trace system” to identify and tackle COVID-19 infections was criticised as under-used and ineffectual.  Belatedly, again, it has been recognised as needing to be changed; and a more tailored, localised approach is being implemented[2]

The scale wasn’t local enough.

The cost in money and people’s lives from getting the scale wrong can be massive.

So when politicians, policy-makers and service commissioners think and talk of tackling domestic abuse, this is another issue that affects people across the whole country. 

It is vital that those in power make decisions and provide responses at the right scale: recognising what must be national – what local – and understand the serious consequences for getting this right or wrong.


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-53808233

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-53723398

Moving On in a time of pandemic

Whilst the Government has made clear that anyone is allowed to leave home to “avoid or escape risk of injury or harm”[1], there is much else that is needed to make it possible for all the different stages of escaping domestic abuse and getting somewhere safe. 

There is a risk that the focus on women and children escaping to a safe place implies that the escape phase is the only critical stage in domestic violence journeys.  But at each stage there are crucial concerns both about the options available; and who is in control of the decisions[2].

A new initiative[3] between housing providers and women’s refuges is trying to free up the next stage after an initial escape to a refuge.

The issue is that some housing providers have a number of homes that are currently empty as the usual nominations and lettings procedures were paused during the early part of the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, refuges are increasingly full, and unable to support women in the refuge to move on to less temporary accommodation.

Move on from refuges is difficult enough at the best of times – women and children often face years of housing insecurity after leaving a refuge –  but now the problems are even more acute. 

And if women and children are staying longer than they need in refuges that both frustrates and stalls their journey, and means one fewer refuge space for someone else in acute need.  The average number of refuge vacancies in England during the first 7 weeks of lockdown was 97, compared with an average of 183 for the same period in 2019[3].

The initiative from the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) provides clear guidance to housing providers and refuges about how to make at least this part of the system work a little bit better at this time of acute and ongoing need.

It’s a window of opportunity – to free up space in different stages of the system for women and children who need support in moving on from abuse.


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do

[2] Bowstead, Janet C. 2017. “Segmented Journeys, Fragmented Lives: Women’s Forced Migration to Escape Domestic Violence.” Journal of Gender-Based Violence 1 (1): 43–58. doi:10.1332/239868017X14912933953340.

[3] https://www.dahalliance.org.uk/media/10760/standing-together_housing-providers-refuges_final.pdf

Stay Put – Remain Local – Go Elsewhere

Each woman’s journey to escape domestic abuse is unique, but there are shared characteristics that can be identified. 

Understanding these shared aspects can help identify the barriers and challenges that face particular women or women in particular places or circumstances.  That can highlight the kinds of help and support needed from different types of services – or the policies and practices that could be changed to assist women and children. 

Domestic violence journeys can include stages of actual relocation, but also stages of staying put; and journeys can be short or long, and include crossing administrative boundaries.

The data from women who did access services show three distinct strategies when women seek help:

  • Stay Put – and seek help from support services
  • Remain Local – relocate to access support, but within the same Local Authority
  • Go Elsewhere – move to another Local Authority to seek help

The three strategies are not just distinctive in terms of where women and children go; they also involve different types of agencies.  And these agencies therefore only know about some women’s strategies – which limits their understanding of what other women do.

For example, statutory agencies such as Police or Health are only involved for some women – and distinctively for women who are trying to Stay Put or Remain Local.  Housing is particularly involved when women need to relocate but are Remaining Local.

However, voluntary agencies are much more likely to be contacted by women who need to Go Elsewhere – escaping to another area.  And women self-refer for all three help-seeking strategies.

Different types of agencies – in different areas of the country – will only see a fraction of what women are weighing up in their strategies away from abuse.

More details in the briefing paper: http://www.womensjourneyscapes.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Womens-Journeyscapes-Briefing-paper-6-May-2020.pdf

Essential journeys

Whilst the Government has made clear that anyone is allowed to leave home to “avoid or escape risk of injury or harm”[1], there is much else that is needed to make it possible for anyone to escape domestic abuse and get somewhere safe.  Let alone the practicalities and support needed in the longer term.

Just thinking about the journeys of escape – the essential journeys – when women and children need to escape domestic abuse, how do they actually travel?

Because the journeys are very secret, not much has been known; but a new article has just been published from this research about different means of transport[2].

Public transport is extremely important – especially for longer distances – as the graph shows; however two-thirds of the journey stages were by private transport.

And, in the sample of women interviewed for this research, the largest category of transport was the private car of friends or family. 

Figure 1. Journey segments by public, private and others’ means of transport

So – at this time – it is not just a problem of that initial escape due to:

  • Increased surveillance from the abuser at home
  • Risk of being questioned about how essential your journey is
  • Difficulty accessing over-stretched support services and refuges
  • Less public transport

It is also a problem that you cannot connect in the same way with others – friends and family – who could help you with both the actual journey, but also to plan how to make the journey safer and reduce the losses for you and your children. 

This might be the initial essential journey away from an abusive partner; but it will also be all the further literal and emotional stages of your journey after that first step. 

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do

[2] Bowstead Janet C. 2020. “Private violence/Private transport: the role of means of transport in women’s mobility to escape from domestic violence in England and Wales.” Mobilities, doi: 10.1080/17450101.2020.1750289 Available here:  Private violence/Private transport: the role of means of transport in women’s mobility to escape from domestic violence in England and Wales

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/