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:
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 :
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.
 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
is always a powerful concept – the ‘domestic’ in domestic abuse/domestic
violence highlights the complexity of what home means.
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?
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.
that, they, in turn, need the practical, awareness and financial support to be
able to do so.
safe – and know that there is help and support:
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
against women is recognised internationally as a human rights violation:
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”
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).
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs publishes the “Guiding
Principles on Internal Displacement”, highlighting the distinctive issues
around internal displacement:
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
UNOCHA specifically lists human rights violations as one of the causes of
reasons for flight may vary and include armed conflict, situations of
generalized violence, violations of human rights, and natural or human-made
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).
time and again, the focus of data and action on Internal Displacement is only
on the other causes – armed conflict, generalised violence, natural or
Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre collects and maps data on displacement
events – but the categories of the map are only Conflict, Disaster and
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:
there is no mapping here of human rights violations causing displacement.
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.
always talk that women and children shouldn’t have to relocate due to abuse:
“Why should she have to move?”
course she shouldn’t…
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
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
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.
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.
─ relocating ─ leaving ─ moving…
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.
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).
shouldn’t be for anyone else to force you to move ─ or to force you to stay.
need a society where all options are really available for women and children
experiencing domestic violence.