Searching and Waiting

Many women have nowhere to go when they try to escape domestic abuse – if they try to get to specialist support services, like refuges, they can face a dangerous period of searching and waiting for help.  Some are turned away from statutory services that should offer them help – including housing and social services – and they may also find refuges full, or unable to meet their needs.

 

The women and children who do get to formal support services have often already been on the move – staying in temporary arrangements such as with family or friends, or sleeping rough.

 

It was only after finally being able to get to a refuge that Cathy could reflect on the months of precarious stays with friends, on the street and returning to her abusive partner:

 

‘I didn’t want to go home; but I didn’t have anywhere to go. So some of the things I did was crazy – like sleeping in parks … what the hell was I thinking? Walking on streets in the early hours of the morning – two, three o’clock. I ask myself now – what was I doing?’ [Cathy – age 46 – no children]

 

Of those women who do manage to find a place in a support service, many are not moving directly from the abusive relationship, but are already on the move.  In the period up to 2009, over 40% were previously in other temporary accommodation – half of these were staying with family or friends.  Whilst this may indicate cramped living conditions, it may also indicate danger if a women is escaping a partner or husband who knows her so well.

 

I thought hed always find me; and that hed be violent towards my family if I did go because Ive tried many times before. And when the police came they said you can go back to your parents; and I said to them no, theres no way, because he always finds me. [The police said] You should go to a friendbut I said I dont want to put this on any of my friends. [Violet – age 35 with a 6 year old boy]

 

Research just published by Women’s Aid[1] highlights this period of searching and waiting for women who need to relocate.  Even with the intensive help of caseworkers, only a quarter of the women supported by the project were accommodated in a suitable refuge space; often after a period of 1-2 weeks or longer.  Some slept rough whilst searching and waiting; and others stayed put with the abuser, and experienced further abuse and injuries.  The conclusions are that women are being turned away and sent back to abuse when they seek help.

 

[1] https://www.womensaid.org.uk/pregnant-women-child-survivors-left-sleeping-rough-current-system-fails/

How do women hear about refuges?

If you have been to a domestic violence refuge yourself, or you know someone who has, you may have a clear sense of what a ‘refuge’ is and the kind of help provided there.  Similarly, if you work in public services – in housing, health, social work or the police, for example – you may be familiar with referring women and their children to a refuge.  After all, there have been domestic violence refuges for women and children in the UK since the 1970s, and a recent presentation to the UN Human Rights Council described refuges (‘shelters’) as “survival tools which protect women whose lives are at risk” and “human rights obligations” “not optional extras”[1].

 

But many people have no idea that anyone would help them if they experience abuse – and have no idea what a domestic violence refuge is.

 

Cathy was from the UK but spent much of her adult life in the USA, so when she returned to the UK did not know about her options when her partner became violent.

 

‘I’d already made my decision years ago to go; but I always ended up going back – not because I liked him, but because I had nowhere to go.’

 

She didn’t find out about refuges from formal public information, but from a chance conversation while she was sleeping rough and keeping warm in a late-night restaurant.

 

‘I was in McDonald’s in Marble Arch, and I was just talking to a person in there – just a regular customer – and she said – why don’t you call the Domestic Violence shelter?’

 

When a Housing Officer told Gloria he would refer her and her baby to a refuge, he didn’t think to explain to her what a ‘refuge’ was.

 

‘I said ‘refuge’?  I have no idea what you are talking about – explain to me what a refuge is – because I say to them – you’re sending me to prison?  Did I commit something that I don’t understand?’

 

Many women and children are so isolated in an abusive relationship that they do not know about refuges.  It’s vital for everyone to think about how they could ensure that women hear about refuges if they need them – think about having leaflets and the freephone number (0808 2000 247) available anywhere where a woman might first find out about her right to escape abuse.

 

[1] Press release 12 June 2017 ‘States must provide shelters as “survival tool” for women victims of violence – UN expert’ http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21724&LangID=E

Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session35/Pages/ListReports.aspx

Hidden from survey data – women on the move

Many of the statistics you might hear quoted about domestic violence are from surveys.  In Britain, this may be particularly the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey and the Crime Survey of England and Wales.

 

However, these surveys are asked of a sample of people from a household register – so specifically exclude anyone who is on the move, in temporary accommodation, staying with friends or family, staying in a women’s refuge…

 

So the survey data you hear quoted has systematically excluded anyone on the move because of domestic violence – the statistics on domestic violence are actually excluding some of the women most affected by domestic violence…

 

It’s a problem.

 

It’s one of the reasons why this ‘Women on the Move’ research uses administrative data about people accessing temporary accommodation because of domestic violence.  Next week at the Administrative Data Research Network (ADRN) annual conference in Edinburgh there will be a presentation about using administrative data as a safe way to research these hidden domestic violence journeys.  See http://www.adrn2017.net/agenda.html

 

For a discussion about how surveys could better measure violence, see an article in the new ‘Journal of Gender-Based Violence’ (http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/tpp/jgbv) where Sylvia Walby and Jude Towers highlight the “long-standing concern as to the exclusion of those who are, temporarily, not staying in their permanent place of residence, since this may be a result of domestic violence”. (Walby and Towers, 2017: 17).

 

You will also see a new article about this ‘Women on the Move’ research – about how policy and practice can further fragment women’s domestic violence journeys (Bowstead, 2017).

 

References:

Bowstead JC. 2017. Segmented journeys, fragmented lives: Women’s forced migration to escape domestic violence. Journal of Gender-Based Violence 1: 43–58 DOI: 10.1332/239868017X14912933953340

Walby S, Towers J. 2017. Measuring violence to end violence: mainstreaming gender. Journal of Gender-Based Violence 1: 11–31 DOI: 10.1332/239868017X14913081639155

Moving – and Moving On

The metaphor of ‘moving on’ is more often used in policy and practice responses to domestic violence than thinking about the actual journeys of women and children moving all around the country.

 

Women often experience their literal journeys as unsettling and disorientating; and therefore feel that they will not really know where they are going with their lives until they can stop literally going places.

 

“I was just feeling like – you still don’t know where you are going, what you are doing, you know.  I was just – until before I was like – I don’t know what I’m doing; you know you feel embarrassed sometimes – moving all your stuff, you know; and with children and all that.  It was like – oh, what am I doing, what am I doing?  Where am I going?  It’s not easy.  You don’t know really – it’s only like that I left but I don’t know where I’m going.”

[Julien Rosa – age 24 with 3 and 7 year old boys]

 

They feel that they need to stop moving, to be able to get their lives back on course.

 

“In a way I feel quite drained and really tired; I can’t wait to just get in to a new place and just sit – not physically, but mentally.  To be able to just –[sigh]- it’s done; and just wake up and be all like – this is it – I’m going, I’m moving – not just plodding, plodding, plodding.”      

[Louise – age 28, with 7 year old girl]

 

All the moving means that women feel stuck – that their lives have been put on hold.

 

“I just think – where would I be now if I hadn’t moved – where would I be?  Because I’ve moved so many times – years have had to be put on hold because of it – and I didn’t want to start life this late.  Like going to college and things like that – it should have been done a long time ago.”

[Jenny – age 21, with a 3 year old girl]

 

It is when they finally become more settled that they feel they are able to start ‘moving on’.

 

“I’ve just been so lucky really – really have.  It’s just that – after years of hell – all of a sudden I’m in this place – and I don’t mean the flat – I mean this wonderful place; and it just feels amazing.  And I just think – feeling like that – helps you then to move on with other things as well.”

[Helen – age 52 with 3 adult children]

Becoming yourself again

An abusive partner strips away your identity.

 

“In the beginning, you compromise a lot – you change who you are – to be somebody that he wants you to be.  So, in the end you don’t have – you’re not yourself.”

[Gloria – age 41 with a 1 year old boy]

“You feel like you are wrong – for me I was thinking always that I was all wrong; I’m doing the wrong thing, when he says so.”

[Julien Rosa – age 24 with 3 and 7 year old boys]

 

In escaping the violence, women talk about rebuilding their sense of self.

 

“I’ve gone through quite a lot of transitions – it’s weird – maybe it’s just because you can be yourself.  I always wanted to dye my hair – so – why not? – I can now; wear what you want, eat what you want.”

[Violet – age 35 with a 6 year old boy]

“[I had] a couple of pieces of clothing I didn’t wear because my mind is still trying to figure out – what do I wear? – after being so long in isolation…  you tend to forget what your style was.  So you make mistakes and buy things and then think – no, this ain’t me – so you put it aside.”

[Cathy – age 46 – no children]

 

And in a safe place, they feel they are becoming themselves again.

 

“I’m still who I am – I’m just able to be who I am.  Because you kind of forget who that person is when you’re in a relationship like that.  So – I don’t feel I’ve changed; I think I’m just becoming who I am again.”

[Helen – age 52 with 3 adult children]

“I can be myself – I am so happy!  So much more happier than I was at home – the true me has actually come out – instead of hiding the person that I was – I’m the person I want to be.” 

[Aliya – age 24 – no children]

Mothering on the move

Over half the women making journeys to services have children with them – and their children are important in what they are thinking and doing.

 

Mothering on the move is not easy – women are trying to support their children to make sense of the abuse and to understand the need to relocate; at the same time as dealing with all the practical and emotional disruptions.

 

I said [to the Housing officer] – if I was on my own, I’d sleep in a tree; but it’s my little baby!  Why does he have to go through that?  

[Gloria – age 41 with a 1 year old boy]

 

For my son – changing schools – you know, it confuses children from one place to another.  It’s like – he’s changed three times […] in a short period of time; so it wasn’t something that I wanted to do to my children.

[Tracy – age 34 with a 12 year old boy and a 3 year old girl]

 

I think she [daughter] always feels that she ain’t going to be around her friends forever – she thinks she’s always going to be taken away from them.  That’s why I want to have her settled before she’s in a school – because it’s getting close now – and I just don’t want to have to move her.

[Jenny – age 21 with a 3 year old girl]

 

My daughter hates me, because she’s lost her friends – she’s got difficulties with social – she’s Asperger’s – so, of course, she’s made friends and all of a sudden she’s got to go as well – so she’s suffering.  And I wouldn’t let her out, so she says – I’m going to run away; because you won’t let me out – it’s wrong.  But I couldn’t explain to her – because he’s [ex partner] always nice to her – do you know what I mean.  In fact, sometimes, he’d try and get her on side against me.

[Maud – age 42 with an adult son and 14 year old girl]

 

However, in escaping the violence, mothers also talk about the positives as their children are able to feel safe and begin to recover; and they themselves are able to be the mother they would want to be.

 

I think what a better life we’ve got now, and he’s changed – he’s like a different child – all that anger’s gone; and the swearing and the pulling of the hair – he’s like a different person.  And the compliments that people say – oh, he’s an asset to you; isn’t he polite…  and when I was with his dad I’d never had that – never – because he was just so naughty.

I really do enjoy life, and I appreciate life – so you have got a bit of a second chance to make a relationship with your child.

[Violet – age 35 with a 6 year old boy]

 

It’s like last Mother’s Day she put her arms around me and give me a hug and said – you’re the best mum ever!  It’s the first time ever in my life she’s hugged me – because she doesn’t do hugs; they [children with Asperger’s] don’t like that – touching things. 

[Maud – age 42 with an adult son and 14 year old girl]

 

Now – the more often that I take him out – he’s getting used to it now; and I’m actually happy for him – his health and everything has just changed.  He used to be plugged with colds and coughs and all that, but now he’s a happy baby!

[Gloria – age 41 with a 1 year old boy]

 

Data boundaries – Knowledge boundaries

Data are often collected within administrative boundaries, as if those boundaries contain all the necessary knowledge.  But boundaries can be porous – with people and resources crossing through.

Women escaping domestic violence are on the move – crossing administrative boundaries if they need to: either for safety, or support, or to find services.

However, if those services – and the authorities which plan and commission those services – only look within their administrative boundaries, they will not be able to see or understand what is going on.  They won’t have the data they need to provide good evidence for their decisions.

For example, if London services – whether at the Borough-level, or across the city – only collect London data, they will only get part of the picture.  They will see London women accessing London services; and they will see women from outside London coming to London domestic violence services.

But they are missing a key part of the picture.

Many London women escape domestic violence by leaving London.  They may go elsewhere in South East England; or may go much further.

In fact, for the period of time when there were country-wide data from the Supporting People Programme, every year more London women left to elsewhere in the country, than women came to London to access services.

The full data picture needs to cover all four aspects of the journeys women make:

  Within Borough journeys 

Within London journeys 

Journeys coming to London 

Journeys leaving London 

If authorities, service providers and commissioners only look at London data they only get a partial picture of London women and domestic violence services (http://www.domesticabusemigration.co.uk/).  They do not see all the London women who go to services elsewhere – that there are more women leaving London than coming to London.  That for domestic violence services London actually needs and uses the rest of the country more than it serves it.

* all maps one year of Supporting People Programme data – women accessing accommodation services due to domestic violence. Data based on Supporting People Client Records from Communities and Local Government. ©Janet  C. Bowstead

Less of a loss on the journey

Women who have to relocate to escape domestic violence often lose personal possessions, furniture, employment, and contact with friends or family who might be at risk from an abusive partner trying to track them down.  They may lose the chance of study or specialist services that they had applied for in one locality, and now have to start again at the bottom of a waiting list.  Many also lose their housing rights when they have to give up a secure tenancy and are unable to afford, or are ineligible for, similar housing security in their new location.  In so many ways, the emotional and practical implications of the abuse and the relocation are highly disruptive for women and their children.

However, in London at least, there is now the chance of less of a loss on the journey.

The Pan-London Housing Reciprocal was launched in January and enables people with a social housing tenancy, and who relocate due to a high risk of harm, to move elsewhere in London and retain their security of tenure.  They can move somewhere where they will be safe, and not have to choose between security of themselves and security of their housing rights.  The majority of London Boroughs (27) and 17 Registered Housing Providers have signed up to the scheme so far, so for some people there should be less of a loss on the domestic violence journey.

For details of how to refer:  http://saferlondon.org.uk/pan-london-housing-reciprocal/

Not just Police and Law

A focus on the responses of police and the law to domestic violence does not meet the needs of most women and children experiencing domestic violence.

For the women who have to relocate to escape a violent partner, it is not the police that are the main source of help.  Police and criminal justice agencies made up only 10% of referrals to housing related support services over six years of data (110,849 cases in England).  The largest categories of referrals were from Housing authorities and providers (24%) and Voluntary Agencies (24%), and 20% were self-referrals as women contacted services directly themselves.

Police referrals were even lower in London, making up just 5.2% of the referrals of London women and children to services; and Voluntary Agencies were much more important, making up over a third (35.6%) of referrals in London.

So women and children need much more than legal and police responses – and they particularly need the independent non-statutory agencies of the voluntary sector, and the information and assistance that enable them to refer themselves to the kind of support services they need.

Escape to the city?

When women experiencing abuse from a partner, husband or ex-partner need to escape, where do they go?  They are at risk from someone who knows a lot about them: the abuser knows their family, their friends, the places they used to live, are familiar with, or always talked about visiting.  For safety, they often have to go to the least-likely place – the place that the abuser would never think of – especially as an abuser may try and track them down.  They may not have had any time to plan, so have to go wherever they can travel to and wherever they can find somewhere to stay.

So we might expect a strong flow of women to major urban areas – an ‘escape to the city’ – away from rural areas where there are limited support services and less public transport, and away from small towns where women might fear being more easily noticed as a newcomer, and easier to track down.  Public transport routes are generally cheaper and easier on the main routes into major urban areas, and more difficult, costly and infrequent in more rural areas.

However, analysis of six years’ of administrative data for England[1] shows the opposite: it is not that there are strong flows along transport routes, or to services in larger urban areas. In fact, major cities are consistently places of net leaving due to domestic violence; with more women and children leaving each year to services elsewhere in the country, than the number who arrive to access services in the city.  London has more women leaving every year due to domestic violence than the number who travel to London to access services, and the same is true of cities such as Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle upon Tyne.  It is not an escape to the city after all.

[1]  Bowstead JC. 2015a. Forced migration in the United Kingdom: women’s journeys to escape domestic violence. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 40: 307–320 DOI: 10.1111/tran.12085

Bowstead JC. 2015b. Why women’s domestic violence refuges are not local services. Critical Social Policy 35: 327–349 DOI: 10.1177/0261018315588894