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.
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]
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]
this reminder has disappeared by the overview summary two pages later, which
“Assess the need and
demand for accommodation-based support for all victims and their children” [p19]
makes the needs and rights of tens of thousands of women and children who cross
local authority boundaries appear a bit of an afterthought.
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]
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.
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.
take what you can with you.
you can store some furniture, books, toys until you get somewhere settled.
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,
do what you can to keep your family safe and away from the abuser.
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.
don’t want to leave them behind when you go.
left her cat with friends when she escaped abuse, but felt so anxious about him
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.”
it’s important to know that there are projects
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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 –
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.
it’s good to see the Scottish Government consulting 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
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):
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.
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.
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.
It is important
both to remember the history, and to take the insights forward to face the
current threats to women’s refuges.
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?
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.
is one of 9 key measures in the draft Domestic Abuse Bill which has finally
been published. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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…
It is a chilling fact that women are most at risk from men they know. Three-quarters of women killed by men in the UK last year were killed by someone they knew.
Many of the killings were in the context of domestic violence – 64 women were killed by a current or former intimate partner.
The women who died include those who were not able to escape the abuser, as well as those who were tracked down after trying to get somewhere safe. Many were killed by a former partner in the first few months after separation.
These should not be seen as private or isolated incidents – the ‘Femicide Census Report’ highlights similar patterns in cases across the country – and similar possible ways to prevent future killings.
It is clear that it is vital that women can find somewhere safe and supportive to escape to.
 Most of those killed by a stranger were killed in a terrorist attack.
 Support is available via the Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge, on 0808 2000 247
The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) report on Domestic Abuse uses a wide range of data sources to bring together the evidence on prevalence, on incidence, on accessing services. As the report acknowledges – it raises many questions, and highlights many gaps in the evidence.
For the section on prevalence – on the numbers of the population of England and Wales who experience domestic abuse – the report relies on the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW). It focuses on the number of adults who experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2018.
But who is invisible in this evidence?
Anyone who is on the move or in temporary accommodation due to domestic abuse.
The Crime Survey is a survey – only asked of adults in “households”.
So women on the move (and it is mostly women), including women in domestic abuse refuges – the women most directly and acutely affected by domestic abuse in the past year – have no chance of being asked the Crime Survey questions. They have no chance of being counted in this measure of domestic abuse prevalence.
This is briefly acknowledged in a note on page 11 of the report – but it’s a major gap – it could be made a lot clearer. The prevalence figures from the Crime Survey are presented as the top “Headline figure” at the start of the report, with no mention of the problem of the invisible women on the move.
Maybe it would be better to estimate lifetime prevalence from the survey – rather than just the past 12 months. But we know that women and their children can end up on the move or in temporary accommodation for years due to domestic abuse – so survey data are always going to have important gaps.
The key question here is to be aware that the main method for estimating the number of people experiencing domestic abuse automatically excludes those most acutely affected – tens of thousands of women and children on the move.
Governments often find it easier to pass another law which claims to tackle a complex issue, rather than implement the laws that are already in place. And rather than develop and sustain the services and social infrastructure that are needed to make a real difference.
It looks like this is happening again in the UK. In February 2017 the UK Government – Theresa May herself – claimed “I believe that the plans I have announced today have the potential to completely transform the way we think about and tackle domestic violence and abuse”.
In March 2018 Theresa May pledged to “bring forward new legislation as part of my longstanding commitment to end domestic abuse”.
But the proposed Bill focuses yet again on the criminal justice system, with new definitions and the possibility of longer sentences for convicted perpetrators. It doesn’t focus on developing a society that prevents abuse and supports survivors. Many women who experience abuse go nowhere near the criminal justice system – often these are the tens of thousands of women (and children) who relocate every year in the UK.
If the Government wants to change the options and life chances of these women and children, it needs to ensure sustained funding for the specialist services all around the country that enable woman and children to rebuild their lives after abuse. We do not need a new law for that – we need everything from lessons on healthy relationships in schools, to refuges all around the country for women to escape to, to holistic and timely practical and emotional support.
This would need effective action by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, by the Department for Education, by the Department of Health and Social Care, by the Department for Work and Pensions – not a new law.