Why women’s refuges are not local services

Whenever we hear of cutbacks or closures to domestic violence services in a particular area, we hear campaigners and concerned local people ask “Where will local women and children go now – when they need to escape abuse?”

But if the service under threat is a women’s refuge, then local women and children will probably be the least affected.

Local women and children will most likely be going to a refuge elsewhere.

Cuts and closures of local support services affect local women and children.  But – if they need the distinctive services of a refuge – chances are they would not have been able to stay in their local area anyway.

In general, when women relocate to access services because of domestic violence, it’s about half-and-half whether they stay in their own local authority area (“residential mobility”) or move to another local authority (“internal migration”).

But, this varies enormously between types of services.  For support services that do not provide accommodation 80-90% of women are from the local area; and for non-refuge accommodation around two-thirds are similarly from the local area.

However, for women’s refuges, 70% of women have travelled from another area.

Women’s refuges are not really local services[1].

But – at present – they are generally planned and funded locally, which makes them particularly vulnerable to cutbacks.  And local cuts do not primarily have a local impact – they affect women and children nationally.  We are planning and funding refuges at the wrong scale.

Local women and children everywhere might need women’s refuges; but they need them not in their original local area.

 

[1] Bowstead JC. 2015. Why women’s domestic violence refuges are not local services. Critical Social Policy 35: 327–349

Women’s Journeyscapes Briefing paper 4 – November 2018

As far as you need – as near as you can

How far do women need to go to escape domestic violence?

Well, the question is not about the woman…  it’s about the abuser.

For a life that is free from abuse – for a life where you can be yourself – women shouldn’t have to go anywhere at all.  They should be able to stay put.

However, this is often not possible – if the abuser doesn’t change his behaviour, and if nothing is done to make him change.  So tens of thousands of women and children have to relocate to escape abuse.

A new start in a new area can be really positive.  But it can also be really difficult.

So it’s an important principle that women should be able to go as far as they need – but not be forced any further – and stay as near as they can – but not live in fear.

Evidence[1] about women and children who go to services shows that just under half relocate within their local authority.

But just over half go further.

So, rather than thinking just about local authorities providing services, we need to widen our thinking – to a regional approach.

Over 80% of women stay within their region – around 90% for some regions of England.

So let’s think more about regions in planning and providing services.

[1] Analysis of data from Supporting People Programme of housing-related support services.  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>

 

 

What about the men?

Domestic violence and abuse is often very hidden, and people frequently ask for more evidence on the needs of women and children – and the needs of men.

Men do experience domestic abuse, but we have evidence of very different rates of abuse for men and women – and that men have different needs.

Administrative data collected by housing-related support services[1] show:

  • Men seek support on a wide range of issues at an equal rate to women.  But where domestic violence is the issue, men are a tiny minority – only 3.1%:
All support needs – men and women

 

 

 

 

 

Domestic violence support needs – men and women

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Men are equally likely as women to self-refer to services – to seek help themselves when they experience domestic abuse – but more likely than women to be referred by statutory agencies such as Housing and Criminal Justice.  In contrast, women are more likely to be referred by voluntary agencies.

 

  • Needs are also different, with men less likely to have children with them, and more likely to have stayed put or stayed local when they seek help.
Accompanied by children – men and women
Relocation and distance travelled – men and women

This kind of evidence can help people make the best decisions about support services – that the vast majority of domestic violence services should be provided for women – often accompanied by children – and that men’s needs are different as they are more likely to be staying put and staying local when they seek support.

[1] 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>

 

Not just Police and Law

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.