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/

Who does what to whom?

There are many kinds of evidence and information that help us decide how to respond to domestic violence: how to prevent abuse – and the kinds of services to tackle perpetrators and support and empower survivors.

One important part of the evidence is the data that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports in November each year[1].  It often forms the basis of media articles around this time[2].

And it is around this time of year because of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25th November)[3] – because domestic violence is predominantly gender-based violence – predominantly violence against women by men.

So it is vital in all our responses to domestic violence that we are clear about who does what to whom.

But here the data collection in England and Wales lets us down – Police Forces are still failing to produce the most basic data on whether victims and perpetrators are male or female.

If these are the data being used to make decisions on the seriousness of the issue and what should be done to tackle it, what does it say about priorities that only 28 out of 43 regional Police Forces in England and Wales can report the sex of the victim and the perpetrator[4]?

Police Forces producing adequate data in 2018 (coloured blue)


Police Forces producing adequate data in 2019 (coloured blue)

At this rate it will still be years until England and Wales has just the very basic evidence of “who does what to whom” in terms of domestic abuse reported to the Police.

[1]https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/domesticabuseinenglandandwalesoverview/november2019

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/nov/25/domestic-abuse-charges-fall-despite-rise-in-recorded-crimes

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7725361/Domestic-abuse-cases-rose-quarter-2018.html

[3] https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/take-action/16-days-of-activism

[4] A rise from 24 in 2018 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/domesticabuseinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2018  – but it is different Police Forces producing adequate data, with some which produced adequate data in 2018 failing to do so in 2019.

The churn of thousands of journeys

Most local authorities have around the same number of women arriving to access services because of domestic violence as the number of women who leave their area due to the abuse[1].  Authorities may not realise this, of course, as women (and their children) leave secretly – to reduce the risk from the abuser, they don’t tell the authorities when they leave, or where they are going.

Local authorities who provide domestic violence services – especially refuges or specialist accommodation services – tend to imagine a flow of women and children into their area from elsewhere.  They know nothing about their local women who escape violence and abuse by crossing boundaries – the women who leave.

It is only because of the service data for the whole of England (up to 2011) that we can see the wider picture[2].  And that is still only the picture of women and children who went to those particular types of housing services.

It is a striking picture – no strong flows between local authorities.  Not even strong flows into major cities, or along key public transport routes.

Animation to focus in on one year of women’s domestic violence journeys to services

It is a pattern of thousands of very individual journeys – including journeys from every single local authority in England.  It is a total churn of displacement – journeys probably far more complex than the straight lines on the map.  But even a flow map of one year of journeys[3] gives a sense of the disruption and upheaval for women and children seeking safety across the country.


[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] 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>

[3] https://vimeo.com/369289835

An infrastructure for women’s human rights

Imagine a world where there were enough refuge spaces for women and children escaping domestic violence.  Where these refuges were situated all around the country – in all types of places – so that women could go to the right type of place for their needs.

  • Not too close – first and foremost you need safety
  • Not too familiar – the abuser might try and track you down
  • Not too far – so that you don’t feel that you have been forced into exile
  • Not too strange – the kind of place where you can start again

Imagine a world where you could escape if you needed to – and therefore also knew that you could try and stay put (using legal protection and services’ support if necessary) if you wanted to…. because there would always be a safety net if that didn’t work.

Imagine a support system that gave top priority to your rights and needs – that was there to serve you.

A basic infrastructure that you have a fundamental right to access – when and where you need it.

Not the current fragmentation – where local areas can decide whether or not to provide services – and restrict the services they provide to local women and children.  Where you have to keep on proving that you really need help, and prove where you have come from – as if you are asking for some special favour rather than simply your rights…

If we really believe that “violence against women constitutes a violation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of women and impairs or nullifies their enjoyment of those rights and freedoms[1] then every state should ensure that women can easily access their right to escape violence.  Every state should provide a comprehensive, fully-functioning infrastructure for women’s human rights.




[1] UN General Assembly. 1993. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women: General Assembly resolution 48/104 of 20 December 1993. United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland. Available at: http://www.un-documents.net/a48r104.htm

More than just safety

Women’s refuges were first developed in the 1970s as part of a wider feminist movement.  They were set up to help women and children by providing a roof over their heads when they needed to escape male violence.  So, a safe place to stay was central over forty years ago – and is still vital today[1].

But women’s refuges provide more than just safety.  The refuge movement also had the goals of challenging male violence and changing women’s position in society; as well as helping individual women.  It’s important to remember these roots, and a project on the early history of refuges in the East of England and in East London has been interviewing the pioneers of the 1970s to provide an oral history archive of women’s experiences[2]

Refuges in the UK have developed and changed over the decades, and refuges on a range of different models have been set up around the world.  There have been positive and negative changes; such as improvements in the quality of accommodation, but also constraints on length of stay.  Many refuges in the UK were originally run by volunteers – often women who themselves had experienced domestic abuse in the past – and have seen increases and decreases in funding for paid workers over the years.  A feminist ethos of mutual self-help has sometimes been replaced by a more social service ethos of professional staff helping ‘service users’. 

So there are many different ways of running a refuge, and a recent article as part of this journeyscapes research highlights how the practices of workers and residents help create a dynamic space for so much more than safety[3].

It is important both to remember the history, and to take the insights forward to face the current threats to women’s refuges.


[1] To find a place in a refuge call the free: National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 2000 247 (24 hours)

[2] https://www.youcantbeatawoman.co.uk/

[3] Janet C. Bowstead (2019): Spaces of safety and more-than-safety in women’s refuges in England, Gender, Place & Culture, https://doi.org/10.1080/0966369X.2018.1541871