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 

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 

Displaced by Human Rights violations

Violence against women is recognised internationally as a human rights violation:

“the elimination of violence against women in public and private life is a human rights obligation” – “this form of violence impedes the ability of women and girls to claim, realize and enjoy their human rights on an equal foot with men”[1]

And human rights violations are one of the recognised causes of displacement – whether internationally (leading to refugees) or within countries (leading to Internally Displaced Persons – IDPs).

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs publishes the “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement”, highlighting the distinctive issues around internal displacement:

“Unlike refugees, the internally displaced have not left the country whose citizens they normally are.  As such, they remain entitled to the same rights that all other persons in their country enjoy.  They do, however, have special needs by virtue of their displacement.”[2]

The UNOCHA specifically lists human rights violations as one of the causes of internal displacement:

“The reasons for flight may vary and include armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights, and natural or human-made disasters.”  

So, it is clear that internal displacement due to violence against women is within these definitions.  That forced displacement of women and children due to domestic violence creates internally displaced persons (IDPs).

But, time and again, the focus of data and action on Internal Displacement is only on the other causes – armed conflict, generalised violence, natural or human-made disasters.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre collects and maps data on displacement events – but the categories of the map are only Conflict, Disaster and Development.

The map for the last 30 days only shows events caused by Conflict or Disaster:

https://www.internal-displacement.org/

The map for the last 90 days also shows a few displacements caused by Development:

https://www.internal-displacement.org/

But there is no mapping here of human rights violations causing displacement.

The UK shows some Disaster displacement – and current news reports are full of people being forced from their homes due to flooding.  But there is no mention of the tens of thousands of women and children forced from their homes due to domestic violence – the tens of thousands of domestic violence IDPs in the UK.

[1] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/Pages/VaW.aspx

[2] Handbook for applying the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 1999, p. 5) http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/protection/idps/50f94df59/handbook-applying-guiding-principles-internal-displacement-ocha-november.html

Forced to move ─ Forced to stay

There’s always talk that women and children shouldn’t have to relocate due to abuse:

“Why should she have to move?”

Of course she shouldn’t…

It would be better if we lived in a society where women and children didn’t experience violence in the family ─ if perpetrators were swiftly and effectively permanently stopped from being abusive. 

Abuse can be physical ─ but it can also be emotional, psychological, financial…  In the context of an intimate relationship, there are so many ways that an abuser can control you: can get into your head, as well as your heart.  It can take a long time to recognise this ─ to realise how much you are only doing what he wants you to do: how you have become so used to living in fear.  If anyone asked you about the “latest incident”, it would be impossible to define what an incident is within your constrained life.

Even if the perpetrator disappeared, it could take months and years to rebuild your sense of self; and to help your children learn what healthy relationships look and feel like.

There is a big difference between being just literally safe, and being in a context where you can feel free in your mind and your emotions.

Escaping ─ relocating ─ leaving ─ moving…

These are strategies that can be vital for immediate safety (because we are very far from living in a society that holds domestic violence perpetrators accountable and stops them continuing their abuse); but also for women and children to rebuild their sense of self, independence and freedom.  To be in a place and amongst people who help you to make sense of the abuse in all its aspects ─ not just physical incidents ─ and to accept that you are not to blame.

So moving can be a crucial strategy ─ for safety and freedom.  Getting away from the danger ─ but also from the constraints and memories.  Meeting other women who have been through similar experiences.  Clearing your head ─ and getting information and advice for your next move: whether that move is geographical or emotional (or both).

It shouldn’t be for anyone else to force you to move ─ or to force you to stay.

We need a society where all options are really available for women and children experiencing domestic violence.

It’s not just about the moving

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.

Moving – and Moving On

The metaphor of ‘moving on’ is more often used in policy and practice responses to domestic violence than thinking about the actual journeys of women and children moving all around the country.

 

Women often experience their literal journeys as unsettling and disorientating; and therefore feel that they will not really know where they are going with their lives until they can stop literally going places.

 

“I was just feeling like – you still don’t know where you are going, what you are doing, you know.  I was just – until before I was like – I don’t know what I’m doing; you know you feel embarrassed sometimes – moving all your stuff, you know; and with children and all that.  It was like – oh, what am I doing, what am I doing?  Where am I going?  It’s not easy.  You don’t know really – it’s only like that I left but I don’t know where I’m going.”

[Julien Rosa – age 24 with 3 and 7 year old boys]

 

They feel that they need to stop moving, to be able to get their lives back on course.

 

“In a way I feel quite drained and really tired; I can’t wait to just get in to a new place and just sit – not physically, but mentally.  To be able to just –[sigh]- it’s done; and just wake up and be all like – this is it – I’m going, I’m moving – not just plodding, plodding, plodding.”      

[Louise – age 28, with 7 year old girl]

 

All the moving means that women feel stuck – that their lives have been put on hold.

 

“I just think – where would I be now if I hadn’t moved – where would I be?  Because I’ve moved so many times – years have had to be put on hold because of it – and I didn’t want to start life this late.  Like going to college and things like that – it should have been done a long time ago.”

[Jenny – age 21, with a 3 year old girl]

 

It is when they finally become more settled that they feel they are able to start ‘moving on’.

 

“I’ve just been so lucky really – really have.  It’s just that – after years of hell – all of a sudden I’m in this place – and I don’t mean the flat – I mean this wonderful place; and it just feels amazing.  And I just think – feeling like that – helps you then to move on with other things as well.”

[Helen – age 52 with 3 adult children]

Tens of thousands of IDPs in the UK

According to the United Nations[1], 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[2], 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?

[1] 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

[2] 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