Whilst the Government has made clear that anyone is allowed to leave home to “avoid or escape risk of injury or harm”, 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.
A new initiative 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.
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.
 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.
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
Whilst the Government has made clear that anyone is allowed to leave home to “avoid or escape risk of injury or harm”, 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.
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.
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.
 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
‘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 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:
- The Freephone, 24hr National Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0808 2000 247 or www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/Contact-us · Rape Crisis services – www.rapecrisis.org.uk/get-help/want-to-talk/
- National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428
- Men’s Advice Line – a confidential helpline, email and webchat service for male victims of domestic abuse: 0808 801 0327 or www.mensadviceline.org.uk.
- The Mix, free information and support for under 25s in the UK – 0808 808 4994 · Rights of Women advice lines: www.rightsofwomen.org.uk/get-advice/advice-lines/
- Women’s Aid – including Live Chat, email, the Survivors Forum and local services: www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support/
- Respect Phoneline – a confidential helpline, email and webchat service for domestic abuse perpetrators and those supporting them: 0808 8024040 or www.respectphoneline.org.uk
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:
- Phone: 0808 802 1414 (Freephone) · Email: help(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)dsahelpline.org">help(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)dsahelpline.org
- Local services: www.womensaidni.org/get-help/local-groups/
- Scotland’s 24hr Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234 or www.sdafmh.org.uk/
- Rape Crisis Scotland: National Helpline on 08088 01 03 02 (6pm to midnight, 7 days a week) or www.rapecrisisscotland.org.uk/
- Further support and local services: www.mygov.scot/domestic-abuse/support-for-female-victims/
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:
- Telephone: 0808 80 10 800 · Live Chat Service: gov.wales/live-fear-free
- Text: 078600 77 333
- Email: info(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)livefearfreehelpline.wales
- Local services: www.welshwomensaid.org.uk/information-and-support/find-your-local-service/
Women Against Violence Europe has a search tool for services.
Saahas comprises a directory of support across 196 countries.
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”
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.”
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.
map for the last 30 days only shows events caused by Conflict or Disaster:
The map for the last 90 days also shows a few displacements caused by Development:
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.
 Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/Pages/VaW.aspx
 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
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 shouldn’t be too controversial a statement to highlight that violence against women is not just an individual problem – causing fear, harm, injury – but a human rights violation. A violation that does not just harm the individual woman, but harms society, community, nation and humanity – every time that abuse is not responded to with justice.
Violence against women does not just need a response from welfare services to individuals; it needs a response from justice services in the widest sense. It needs a willingness to tackle the causes as well as the consequences of the abuse.
That is the thinking about linking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25th November) with International Human Rights Day on the 10th December via the internationally-recognised “16 days of activism” each year.
At the international level, the United Nations highlights that “violence against women has come to be recognized as a violation of women’s human rights and a form of gender-based discrimination”; and the latest report from the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences details the international legal framework on women’s human rights and violence against women.
But you will struggle to find much recognition of women’s rights as human rights in the priorities of the UK Parliament. During the Second Reading of the Domestic Violence Bill on 2nd October 2019 only three MPs mentioned human rights:
- Conservative MP Theresa May talked about an individual abuser controlling a woman “until that individual’s rights as an individual human being were taken away from them.”
- SNP MP Angela Crawley highlighted that “should the Bill fail adequately to promote equality, including for those with insecure immigration status, it would risk violating our existing human rights obligations.”
- Labour MP Debbie Abrahams focused on public services for both men and women stating “That needs to be a human rights approach, and those services need to be adequately funded.”
A human rights approach requires a less piecemeal approach. It can’t be an afterthought or add-on. It needs to go beyond a brief statement on the Domestic Violence Bill by the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid that “In my view the provisions of the Domestic Abuse Bill are compatible with the Convention rights.”
As the Special Rapporteur  states “At present, at the international normative level, the right of women to be free from violence is recognized as an international human rights standard but, in practice, gender-based violence against women and girls continues to be tolerated and has become normalized in many societies.”
 European Convention on Human Rights. https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf
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.
And it is around this time of year because of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25th November) – 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?
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.
 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.
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. 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. 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.
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
gives a sense of the disruption and upheaval for women and children seeking
safety across the country.
 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.
 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>