Women who have to relocate to escape domestic violence often lose personal possessions, furniture, employment, and contact with friends or family who might be at risk from an abusive partner trying to track them down. They may lose the chance of study or specialist services that they had applied for in one locality, and now have to start again at the bottom of a waiting list. Many also lose their housing rights when they have to give up a secure tenancy and are unable to afford, or are ineligible for, similar housing security in their new location. In so many ways, the emotional and practical implications of the abuse and the relocation are highly disruptive for women and their children.
However, in London at least, there is now the chance of less of a loss on the journey.
The Pan-London Housing Reciprocal was launched in January and enables people with a social housing tenancy, and who relocate due to a high risk of harm, to move elsewhere in London and retain their security of tenure. They can move somewhere where they will be safe, and not have to choose between security of themselves and security of their housing rights. The majority of London Boroughs (27) and 17 Registered Housing Providers have signed up to the scheme so far, so for some people there should be less of a loss on the domestic violence journey.
For details of how to refer: http://saferlondon.org.uk/pan-london-housing-reciprocal/
A focus on the responses of police and the law to domestic violence does not meet the needs of most women and children experiencing domestic violence.
For the women who have to relocate to escape a violent partner, it is not the police that are the main source of help. Police and criminal justice agencies made up only 10% of referrals to housing related support services over six years of data (110,849 cases in England). The largest categories of referrals were from Housing authorities and providers (24%) and Voluntary Agencies (24%), and 20% were self-referrals as women contacted services directly themselves.
Police referrals were even lower in London, making up just 5.2% of the referrals of London women and children to services; and Voluntary Agencies were much more important, making up over a third (35.6%) of referrals in London.
So women and children need much more than legal and police responses – and they particularly need the independent non-statutory agencies of the voluntary sector, and the information and assistance that enable them to refer themselves to the kind of support services they need.
When women experiencing abuse from a partner, husband or ex-partner need to escape, where do they go? They are at risk from someone who knows a lot about them: the abuser knows their family, their friends, the places they used to live, are familiar with, or always talked about visiting. For safety, they often have to go to the least-likely place – the place that the abuser would never think of – especially as an abuser may try and track them down. They may not have had any time to plan, so have to go wherever they can travel to and wherever they can find somewhere to stay.
So we might expect a strong flow of women to major urban areas – an ‘escape to the city’ – away from rural areas where there are limited support services and less public transport, and away from small towns where women might fear being more easily noticed as a newcomer, and easier to track down. Public transport routes are generally cheaper and easier on the main routes into major urban areas, and more difficult, costly and infrequent in more rural areas.
However, analysis of six years’ of administrative data for England shows the opposite: it is not that there are strong flows along transport routes, or to services in larger urban areas. In fact, major cities are consistently places of net leaving due to domestic violence; with more women and children leaving each year to services elsewhere in the country, than the number who arrive to access services in the city. London has more women leaving every year due to domestic violence than the number who travel to London to access services, and the same is true of cities such as Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle upon Tyne. It is not an escape to the city after all.
 Bowstead JC. 2015a. Forced migration in the United Kingdom: women’s journeys to escape domestic violence. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 40: 307–320 DOI: 10.1111/tran.12085
Bowstead JC. 2015b. Why women’s domestic violence refuges are not local services. Critical Social Policy 35: 327–349 DOI: 10.1177/0261018315588894
According to the United Nations, the United Kingdom has no Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) or people in IDP-like situations needing protection or assistance by the UNHCR. But is that really the case? Displacement has many causes, but IDPs are generally caused by war and conflict, or by natural disasters, as well as by government policies such as large development projects, or by human rights violations. If a government adequately supports, protects and compensates such displaced persons, then it is not surprising that they do not come under the international concern of the United Nations. However, if, like refugees, they cannot obtain the security and well-being they need from their own government, then they become the concern of the international community. Violence against women is a form of discrimination and a violation of human rights, so are the women and children displaced by violence and abuse adequately protected, supported and compensated by the UK Government? Even if we only consider the women and children who go to formal services to escape domestic violence, we are talking about tens of thousands of people in the UK every year – Internally Displaced Persons. Are their human rights really being protected?
 UNHCR. 2013. Displacement – The new 21st Century Challenge: UNHCR Global Trends 2012 Available at: http://www.unhcr.org/statistics/country/51bacb0f9/unhcr-global-trends-2012.html
 UN. 2006. Ending violence against women: From words to action. Study of the Secretary-General. United Nations, New York. Available at: http://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2006/1/ending-violence-against-women-from-words-to-action-study-of-the-secretary-general