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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

 

Tens of thousands of IDPs in the UK

According to the United Nations[1], the United Kingdom has no Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) or people in IDP-like situations needing protection or assistance by the UNHCR.  But is that really the case?  Displacement has many causes, but IDPs are generally caused by war and conflict, or by natural disasters, as well as by government policies such as large development projects, or by human rights violations.  If a government adequately supports, protects and compensates such displaced persons, then it is not surprising that they do not come under the international concern of the United Nations. However, if, like refugees, they cannot obtain the security and well-being they need from their own government, then they become the concern of the international community.  Violence against women is a form of discrimination and a violation of human rights[2], so are the women and children displaced by violence and abuse adequately protected, supported and compensated by the UK Government?  Even if we only consider the women and children who go to formal services to escape domestic violence, we are talking about tens of thousands of people in the UK every year – Internally Displaced Persons.  Are their human rights really being protected?

[1] UNHCR. 2013. Displacement – The new 21st Century Challenge: UNHCR Global Trends 2012 Available at: http://www.unhcr.org/statistics/country/51bacb0f9/unhcr-global-trends-2012.html

[2] UN. 2006. Ending violence against women: From words to action. Study of the Secretary-General. United Nations, New York. Available at: http://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2006/1/ending-violence-against-women-from-words-to-action-study-of-the-secretary-general