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The churn of thousands of journeys

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[1].  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[2].  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.

Animation to focus in on one year of women’s domestic violence journeys to services

It 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[3] gives a sense of the disruption and upheaval for women and children seeking safety across the country.


[1] 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.

[2] 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>

[3] https://vimeo.com/369289835

The long and winding road

How many twists and turns do women have to make to escape abusive partners?

Only each woman herself would be able to map the road she has travelled – and often she still won’t know if there are more journeys to make.

Interviews with twenty women about their domestic violence journeys showed complex trajectories which could be over 2, 3, or more years; and involving nine or ten moves[1].  And women and their children could still be in temporary or insecure accommodation and anxious about when they would have to move again.

Analysis of the administrative data in this current research project[2] is revealing complex journeys of moves and stays – accessing different types of services across England.  It is only possible to link the data over a maximum of four years, and what is most striking is that these journeys seem to be just the tip of the iceberg. 

For example, a 22 year old woman, with no children, is recorded as having ten stays either in services or between accessing services; travelling over 600 miles within England in under 3 years.  But the first service record is in a women’s refuge – so she was already on the move due to domestic violence before this administrative record begins. 

A 39 year old woman, with a 3 year old daughter and a 1 year old son, was in a local authority tenancy at the start of the administrative record.  But over 800 miles later, in under year, she and her children had 7 stays in different types of accommodation, and the final recorded move is to stay with friends.  Even such complex trajectories are clearly only part of longer journeys away from abuse.

The administrative data only record what happened – we need to listen to women at every stage to understand which journeys are necessary, and which are more about a failure to provide the right support at that point in the road.


[1] Bowstead, Janet C. 2016. “Women on the Move: Theorising the Geographies of Domestic Violence Journeys in England.” Gender, Place and Culture 24 (1): 108–121. doi:10.1080/0966369X.2016.1251396.

[2] EUGEO. 2019. Re-Imagining Europe’s Future Society and Landscapes: EUGEO Congress 2019 Book of Abstracts. Galway, Ireland [Page 205] “Keep on running: women’s multiple moves in seeking security from domestic violence”. https://www.eugeo2019.eu/conference-schedule.

An infrastructure for women’s human rights

Imagine a world where there were enough refuge spaces for women and children escaping domestic violence.  Where these refuges were situated all around the country – in all types of places – so that women could go to the right type of place for their needs.

  • Not too close – first and foremost you need safety
  • Not too familiar – the abuser might try and track you down
  • Not too far – so that you don’t feel that you have been forced into exile
  • Not too strange – the kind of place where you can start again

Imagine a world where you could escape if you needed to – and therefore also knew that you could try and stay put (using legal protection and services’ support if necessary) if you wanted to…. because there would always be a safety net if that didn’t work.

Imagine a support system that gave top priority to your rights and needs – that was there to serve you.

A basic infrastructure that you have a fundamental right to access – when and where you need it.

Not the current fragmentation – where local areas can decide whether or not to provide services – and restrict the services they provide to local women and children.  Where you have to keep on proving that you really need help, and prove where you have come from – as if you are asking for some special favour rather than simply your rights…

If we really believe that “violence against women constitutes a violation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of women and impairs or nullifies their enjoyment of those rights and freedoms[1] then every state should ensure that women can easily access their right to escape violence.  Every state should provide a comprehensive, fully-functioning infrastructure for women’s human rights.




[1] UN General Assembly. 1993. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women: General Assembly resolution 48/104 of 20 December 1993. United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland. Available at: http://www.un-documents.net/a48r104.htm

Still waiting for security

The Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Act 2018 became law in May last year – but there is no sign of it actually coming into force.

The Act had support in all political parties – believing that no-one should have to prioritise their personal security in escaping abuse, over their longer-term housing security.

It should mean that anybody in England who leaves a secure social housing tenancy due to domestic abuse should receive the same security of tenure when they apply to a new local authority.

So what’s happened?

Well, it seems to be waiting for the Secretary of State to fill in the detail – to provide the regulations[1].

In the past year, since it became law, thousands of women will have left permanent housing tenancies to escape domestic abuse.

Did they lose those tenancies?  Did they keep the security of a permanent tenancy?

The simple answer is, we don’t know.

There is now a new Secretary of State[2] – the second since the Bill was first introduced – and we’re still waiting…


[1] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2018/11/section/2/enacted

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/ministers/secretary-of-state-for-housing-communities-and-local-government

Is it ‘some’ or ‘many’?

The Government’s consultation[1] about the accommodation needs of domestic abuse survivors provides a welcome focus on women’s and children’s needs in terms of support and refuge.  But in its proposal to place a statutory duty on only local (rather than national) government, it appears confused about the scale of the issue of relocation due to domestic abuse.

In the main part of the consultation document there is some acknowledgement of the needs of those who move across borders to access support:

“We recognise that in some cases, an appropriate response to supporting a victim and their children will be to help them move to another local area to access services and rebuild their lives.” [p22]

And the suggested Statutory Duty on local authorities would require them to:

“Assess the need and demand for accommodation-based support for all victims and their children, including those who require cross-border support.” [p17]

But this reminder has disappeared by the overview summary two pages later, which only says:

“Assess the need and demand for accommodation-based support for all victims and their children” [p19]

This makes the needs and rights of tens of thousands of women and children who cross local authority boundaries appear a bit of an afterthought.

And yet, in the Annex of “Priorities for Domestic Abuse Services” there is repeated recognition that:

“many victims of domestic abuse need to flee from their local area to access services and stay safe.” [p42]

And that local authorities are expected to commission services that:

 “Meet the needs of victims from within and outside the local area, recognising that many victims move from their local area to be safe.” [p43]

So – is it a marginal issue affecting some individuals; or does it affect many?

Of course, it affects many – tens of thousands – and this consultation (which ends on 2nd August 2019) is an important opportunity to wake up to that fact; and ensure that women and children who relocate across boundaries due to domestic abuse do not continue to disappear through the gaps in policy, service provision and rights.


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/support-for-victims-of-domestic-abuse-in-safe-accommodation

Part of the family

When you need to relocate because of domestic abuse there can be so many losses – from your sense of home to your personal possessions, from your career progression to your comfy sofa, from your favourite corner shop to your children’s friends.

You take what you can with you.

Maybe you can store some furniture, books, toys until you get somewhere settled.

It all depends on how you have to leave – whether the abuser will notice any plans you make, anything you try to do to prepare.  And it all depends on what kind of help and support you get – practical, financial, emotional…

You do what you can to keep your family safe and away from the abuser.

Pets are part of your family, and often a big concern for women and children – animals pick up on the threat and abuse, and may be at risk from the abuser: either from living in the situation, or deliberately targeted.

You don’t want to leave them behind when you go.

Maud left her cat with friends when she escaped abuse, but felt so anxious about him

“So I’ve got that stress – and he’s my daughter’s baby; so I’m worried.  I actually dreamt about him last night – he’d got one eye and lost a leg; like he’s been attacked – honestly, it’s so.”

So it’s important to know that there are projects[1] that can foster your cats and dogs whilst you are escaping the violence – keep them safe and cared for until you can have them back.  It means one less loss for you – and keeps your pets as part of the family as you start again.


[1] https://www.cats.org.uk/what-we-do/paws-protect

https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/help-advice/hope-project-freedom-project/freedom-project

Are you local?

Because specialist services on domestic abuse, and housing rights and provision, are devolved by the UK Government, there is no consistent response across the country.  There are different responses between the UK nations, and between local authorities – even within the same region.

On top of everything else you have to face if you relocate to escape a violence partner, you have to find out what it means to have left your local area and journeyed somewhere else.

Statutory services in your new area will ask – Are you local?

– and, if you are not, then you may find yourself or your children at the back of the queue for services – or even not eligible at all.

This is particularly the case if you need homelessness help – if you want to try and go to social housing.  By law, local authorities have to determine if you have a “Local Connection”, and – if not – whether you have a good enough reason for now being in their area and seeking help.

Tens of thousands of women and children are forced to relocate due to domestic abuse – and many cross local authority boundaries and seek help in an unknown place.  But this means that they often have no “Local Connection” – the lack of connection is often vital for them to feel and be safe.  However, the research in this project has shown that most local authorities have a similar number of women and children leaving as the number who arrive to seek help[1] – so the authorities are not unfairly affected.  They are only helping women and children to the same extent as their women and children are being helped elsewhere.

So it’s good to see the Scottish Government consulting[2] on easing the “Local Connection” legislation, recognising that “Choice may lead to better outcomes than a strict interpretation of the legislative test.”  They see the importance for resettlement if people who have been forced to move from their local area are able to go to their kind of place to start again: that “People experiencing homelessness are best placed to make the judgement as to the geographical area which best meets these needs.”


[1] 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.

[2] https://www.gov.scot/publications/consultation-local-connection-intentionality-provisions-homelessness-legislation/

A picture can tell…

a thousand words!

A recent exhibition for International Women’s Day (8th March) featured images from the participatory groupwork of this research project.

Whilst women themselves may not be safe enough to speak at public events about their experiences and their hard-won wisdom – their images and captions can speak volumes:

  • Cheers to new beginnings – New friends, New life, New start
  • You can’t walk over us no more. We’re in power because 3 Beats 1
  • What could be more important in life than your children? – my absolute everything!
  • From Fear to Hope – How quickly life changes from black and white to colour!
  • There is always a way ahead
  • We are powerful!
  • Different pieces can complete a puzzle. Everyone has a space somewhere
  • Just wanted to share how I feel… and it’s freedom!


More than just safety

Women’s refuges were first developed in the 1970s as part of a wider feminist movement.  They were set up to help women and children by providing a roof over their heads when they needed to escape male violence.  So, a safe place to stay was central over forty years ago – and is still vital today[1].

But women’s refuges provide more than just safety.  The refuge movement also had the goals of challenging male violence and changing women’s position in society; as well as helping individual women.  It’s important to remember these roots, and a project on the early history of refuges in the East of England and in East London has been interviewing the pioneers of the 1970s to provide an oral history archive of women’s experiences[2]

Refuges in the UK have developed and changed over the decades, and refuges on a range of different models have been set up around the world.  There have been positive and negative changes; such as improvements in the quality of accommodation, but also constraints on length of stay.  Many refuges in the UK were originally run by volunteers – often women who themselves had experienced domestic abuse in the past – and have seen increases and decreases in funding for paid workers over the years.  A feminist ethos of mutual self-help has sometimes been replaced by a more social service ethos of professional staff helping ‘service users’. 

So there are many different ways of running a refuge, and a recent article as part of this journeyscapes research highlights how the practices of workers and residents help create a dynamic space for so much more than safety[3].

It is important both to remember the history, and to take the insights forward to face the current threats to women’s refuges.


[1] To find a place in a refuge call the free: National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 2000 247 (24 hours)

[2] https://www.youcantbeatawoman.co.uk/

[3] Janet C. Bowstead (2019): Spaces of safety and more-than-safety in women’s refuges in England, Gender, Place & Culture, https://doi.org/10.1080/0966369X.2018.1541871

Who smelt it dealt it

You wouldn’t be very impressed if an arsonist now said they were going to be a firefighter.  Would you really believe that someone wanted to put out fires – solve problems – when they had been causing the problems in the first place?

So, there should be some hard questions asked about the Government’s announcement of their commitment that domestic abuse perpetrators will no longer be able to directly cross-examine their victims in family courts.

It is one of 9 key measures in the draft Domestic Abuse Bill which has finally been published[1].  Leaving aside points about timing and distraction tactics, we also need to remember that this is only a draft Bill.  There is a long way to go before even the positive aspects of proposals could or might be enacted.

The intention is to stop abuse perpetrators – only those who have been charged, cautioned or convicted of a “specified offence” – from cross-examining their victims directly in the family courts. 

Of course, this is a serious problem – with perpetrators being able to continue their abuse in the courtroom – as has been highlighted in numerous reports in the past few years[2].

However, it only became such an issue because of the cuts in ‘Legal Aid’ – where previously individuals had legal representatives in such cases.  So this high profile proposal that appears to commit to protecting women from ongoing abuse in the family courts, fails to mention that the problem was caused by the Government in the first place[3].

Deep in the detail of the Domestic Abuse Bill documents you can find the acknowledgement that the only way to prevent such cross-examination may be to “give the court power to appoint a legal representative to undertake cross-examination of a witness in specified circumstances” with the “Lord Chancellor, by regulations, to make provision for the payment out of central fund of sums to cover the properly incurred fees, costs and expenses of a legal representative”[4]

So this is a complicated route – which may or may not happen – to provide the legal representation that used to be available for domestic abuse survivors in the family courts – until the Government cut Legal Aid…


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/domestic-abuse-consultation-response-and-draft-bill

[2] https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/Global/Migrated_Documents/corporate/domestic-abuse-victims—struggling-for-support-final.pdf

https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/practice-areas/family-children/vulnerable-witnesses-family-law-cases-application-pd12j/

https://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed189738

[3]Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/10/contents

[4] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/772191/Draft_Domestic_Abuse_Bill_-_Delegated_Powers_Memorandum.pdf