Many women have nowhere to go when they try to escape domestic abuse – if they try to get to specialist support services, like refuges, they can face a dangerous period of searching and waiting for help. Some are turned away from statutory services that should offer them help – including housing and social services – and they may also find refuges full, or unable to meet their needs.
The women and children who do get to formal support services have often already been on the move – staying in temporary arrangements such as with family or friends, or sleeping rough.
It was only after finally being able to get to a refuge that Cathy could reflect on the months of precarious stays with friends, on the street and returning to her abusive partner:
‘I didn’t want to go home; but I didn’t have anywhere to go. So some of the things I did was crazy – like sleeping in parks … what the hell was I thinking? Walking on streets in the early hours of the morning – two, three o’clock. I ask myself now – what was I doing?’ [Cathy – age 46 – no children]
Of those women who do manage to find a place in a support service, many are not moving directly from the abusive relationship, but are already on the move. In the period up to 2009, over 40% were previously in other temporary accommodation – half of these were staying with family or friends. Whilst this may indicate cramped living conditions, it may also indicate danger if a women is escaping a partner or husband who knows her so well.
I thought he’d always find me; and that he’d be violent towards my family if I did go – because I’ve tried many times before. And when the police came they said – ‘you can go back to your parents’; and I said to them – ‘no, there’s no way, because he always finds me’. [The police said] ‘You should go to a friend’ – but I said – ‘I don’t want to put this on any of my friends’. [Violet – age 35 with a 6 year old boy]
Research just published by Women’s Aid highlights this period of searching and waiting for women who need to relocate. Even with the intensive help of caseworkers, only a quarter of the women supported by the project were accommodated in a suitable refuge space; often after a period of 1-2 weeks or longer. Some slept rough whilst searching and waiting; and others stayed put with the abuser, and experienced further abuse and injuries. The conclusions are that women are being turned away and sent back to abuse when they seek help.