This website brings together information, knowledge and research about women’s domestic violence journeys.  It aims to reference the current state of knowledge – including my own research in the United Kingdom – and encourage sharing and debate within the UK and internationally.

The scale of the issue

More than 18,000 women a year, over half accompanied by children, relocate to access support services in England due to domestic violence, in a process of forced internal migration. Whilst this displacement is disruptive at the individual scale, it also has significant wider implications; though it does not aggregate into a net migration locally or nationally, as women travel from everywhere to services in all types of places in a process of spatial churn.

Previous research and knowledge

Previous research in the UK has generally focused on the disruption for individual women and children, and considered the emotional journeys towards safety and recovery (for example, Kirkwood, 1993; Humphreys and Thiara, 2002; Humphreys and Joseph, 2004; Abrahams, 2007, 2010; Kelly et al., 2014). Or it has considered policy and practice in local areas, or for women to stay put (for example, Edgar et al., 2003; Wilcox, 2006; Jones et al., 2010).  However, there has been little focus on the geographical journeys.

In addition, these journeys have not previously been conceptualised as a forced migration; which challenges the notion of the UK as a country with no internally-displaced persons (IDPs) (UNHCR, 2013: 41).  Few scholars have explored forced relocation or displacement within the UK, with exceptions being research into witness protection (Fyfe and McKay, 2000), and studies of asylum seekers (Gill, 2009; Darling, 2011; Hynes, 2011). However, forced relocation is being increasingly considered in the implications of UK housing policy and the relocation of homeless people and people receiving Housing Benefit.  Internal migration in the UK and other European countries is not always a phenomenon of choice.

My previous research

My previous research has included the first geographical mapping of domestic violence journeys across England and the concept of this being forced migration (Bowstead, 2015a).  I have also produced briefing papers and journal articles on the policy and practice implications (Bowstead, 2015b).  Further information is available in briefing papers, media coverage and journal articles.

The current policy and practice context

This research is being carried out at a time when policies of ‘austerity’ are forcing cuts to service provision in the UK (Towers and Walby, 2012; Ishkanian, 2014). The policy and service context is of a tension between a criminal justice focus at the national level (Home Office, 2013, 2016; HMIC, 2014) and increasing recognition of the effects of domestic abuse within a wider range of social issues such as child abuse, financial abuse, early intervention, homelessness, impact on parenting and physical and mental health (for example, NSPCC, 2013; Citizens Advice, 2014; Guy et al., 2014; Hutchinson et al., 2014; Katz, 2014; NICE, 2014). As a result, policy makers, service providers and service commissioners are keen to look at better ways of understanding and organising effective services, and require the evidence base to do so (Baxter and Mercier-Weiner, 2013).

This new research project

My new research is to investigate the geography of the journeys at a range of scales – exploring the significance of space and place – and to hear from women themselves about how these journeys, though initially forced, might be part of a practical and potentially positive strategy for safety and autonomy (Fry and Barker, 2001; Paterson, 2009). It explores domestic violence from the angle of ‘people on the move’ to increase understanding of these migration flows at the regional scale and to identify the functional scale of women’s domestic violence journeys, and the scale at which services – such as women’s refuges – would therefore most effectively operate (Bowstead, 2015b).

It introduces the concept of the possibility of such a functional scale for these journeys – forming “journeyscapes” – whereby women and children travel as far as they need to escape the abuse, but are not forced further than necessary due to constraints of administrative boundaries or service provision. Where such forced migration is not at a functional scale for individual women and children, this increases the damaging consequences for their social and economic well-being, which has implications across public services.

The research is funded by a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship from October 2016 to March 2021.

Project Summary: Women on the move: the journeyscapes of domestic violence

I will analyse administrative data across England, and focus in detail on the London region, including carrying out participatory creative groupwork with women to explore how they begin to know a new place and to resettle themselves and their children; redeveloping a sense of home and belonging. The research will therefore bring together these individual experiences, and connect them with the local, regional and national scale.

The research outputs will include an evidence-based formula for effective domestic violence service provision in terms of location, capacity and catchment area. This will be developed out of the national and regional quantitative and spatial analysis carried out in the first year, and tested via briefing papers and meetings with key stakeholders. It will be grounded in women’s insights and experiences, as explored during the participatory groupwork, and via discussion with domestic violence service providers.

The academic outcomes include the innovative theorisation of domestic violence journeys as being forced migration, creating Internally Displaced Persons.  The aim is to develop a research sub-field within the study of violence against women, and specifically domestic violence, which grounds sociological and social policy insights in the geography of place, relocation, home and movement. Though my research is in the UK, the aim is to make connections internationally with scholars and practitioners focusing on women on the move due to domestic violence and abuse and concerned with exploring the practical, policy and theoretical implications of this new conceptualisation.

Please contact me if you are interested in this work and/or looking at women’s domestic violence journeys in your country/region – Thanks!


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Abrahams H (2010) Rebuilding Lives After Domestic Violence: Understanding Long-Term Outcomes. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers Ltd.

Baxter S and Mercier-Weiner J (2013) Demonstrating Value Factsheet: Domestic Violence. London: Sitra. Available from: http://www.sitra.org/documents/domestic-violence-factsheet/ (accessed 30 August 2016).

Bowstead JC (2015a) Forced migration in the United Kingdom: women’s journeys to escape domestic violence. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series 40(3): 307–320.

Bowstead JC (2015b) Why women’s domestic violence refuges are not local services. Critical Social Policy 35(3): 327–349.

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