Safety and More-Than-Safety for women surviving abuse

New research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has shown again how (unnecessarily) complicated women’s domestic abuse journeys can be. Journeys away from abuse and towards freedom often include all sorts of temporary accommodation – from hotels to women’s refuges, from self-contained flats to shared and supportive communal settings.

The wide range of temporary accommodation may imply options and choice…

However, women survivors experienced barriers to access and a lack of accommodation; as well as lack of information and lack of control of the processes. They didn’t always feel involved in the decisions that affected them and their children; and found themselves trying to navigate complex processes without the support they needed.

Whilst they were escaping violence and looking for safety, they described the importance of both emotional and physical safety – and of more-than-safety that recognised their individual needs and circumstances. They valued accommodation that felt more home-like – less like an impersonal institution – but that offered the holistic “wrap-around” range of practical and emotional support that understood what they and their children had been through.

Not surprisingly, women survivors identified the need for more flexibility and availability of both suitable accommodation and appropriate support.

And for support – rather than pressure – to make decisions. Women have only just come out of the coercion of domestic abuse, where they might not have been ‘allowed’ to make decisions, and then they are often rushed into a journey to a place and a type of accommodation with no time to think. The urgency of a crisis move often sets things in stone – rather a later chance to reconsider, to be heard and respected, and a real range of options to choose from.

Women lost valuable possessions – of themselves and their children – as well as sentimental items, favourite toys, important paperwork, and family pets.

They have survived the domestic abuse – but the current limited and fragmented system of temporary accommodation (and the barriers to accessing what there is) means they have to be survivors again- survivors of complicated journeys to find somewhere truly safe to stay.

One woman survivor who had stayed in a refuge now said:

“All of a sudden, I have the freedom and the space to be, to just be. When we were talking before about safety as well, that’s important to me. The fact that you have the space and the freedom to be; that I feel safe … just being myself.”