Women’s creativity on the move

When women and their children are forced to relocate due to domestic abuse their lives and energy are taken over by all the practicalities and emotions involved.

It’s hard to make space or time for anything else.

And yet, women on the move still have their hopes and dreams, their hard-won knowledge, and their ideas and insights. And they want – and deserve – to be heard.

The participatory work in this project provided time and space for women to be creative – to communicate their experiences of forced relocation and tentative resettlement. Groups held in women’s refuges and a women’s centre were a temporary creative space – for women who would soon be on the move again.

And yet they could explore their creativity – even as they remained on the move: not knowing when they would have to relocate again.

Images and captions from their creativity are featured in the report from this research, and also as an example in a new article[1] on creative practice and mobilities. The article includes recognition of sensory experiences, material objects, landscape and place, as well as the importance of co-production and participation and the role of creativity in making issues and ideas public.

Creative practice goes beyond text and words, and enables ongoing communication of mobile lives, even when the individuals themselves may have moved on.


[1] Kaya Barry, Jen Southern, Tess Baxter, Suzy Blondin, Clare Booker, Janet Bowstead, Carly Butler, Rod Dillon, Nick Ferguson, Gudrun Filipska, Michael Hieslmair, Lucy Hunt, Aleksandra Ianchenko, Pia Johnson, Jondi Keane, Martin K. Koszolko, Clare Qualmann, Charlie Rumsby, Catarina Sales Oliveira, Max Schleser, Stephanie Sodero, Aryana Soliz, Louise Ann Wilson, Heidi Wood & Michael Zinganel (2022): An agenda for creative practice in the new mobilities paradigm, Mobilities, DOI: 10.1080/17450101.2022.2136996

Location – Location – Location

It matters where domestic abuse services are – of course it does.

The location of domestic abuse services – whether women’s refuges or non-accommodation services – affects whether and how women can access the services and receive the support they need and deserve.

Whilst non-accommodation support can include workers travelling to where women and children are – sometimes called “floating support” with the idea that it floats to where it is needed, rather than expecting individuals to travel to the support – accommodation is in a specific location.

So, where should such services be?

As part of developing an ETHICAL response to service provision for domestic violence against women, Location is a key element to consider (alongside Eligibility, Type, Holistic, Independence, Capacity, and Accessibility). The location of services must enable both staying put and journeys – including return journeys where appropriate. Location is about women’s fundamental eligibility as a survivor of abuse – violence against women as a human rights violation – to go and be wherever is best.

Technical Paper on a formula for the Location of services in England

A technical paper on developing a formula for the Location of domestic abuse services in England has just been published and is available here. It should be read alongside the technical paper on Type and Capacity of domestic abuse services.

The main conclusion is that there should be sufficient accommodation and non-accommodation provision across the country in all types of places, and with no location exclusion criteria or rationing. Despite this formula being based on increasingly historical data of expressed demand, provision of accommodation bedspaces as recorded by Women’s Aid Routes to Support[1] is still below the required minimum level indicated by this formula (and by the Council of Europe recommendation[2]). Overall, the actual count of 4,332 family bedspaces in England in 2022 is below both the minimum from this formula (5,369) and the minimum recommended by the Council of Europe (5,656). And the shortage is more acute in some regions compared to others.

The graph shows that only the West Midlands region currently has higher provision than the minimum of the formula from this research, and that whilst provision in London meets the population-based Council of Europe recommendation, it does not meet the higher minimum calculated by this research by taking into account the distinctiveness of London in terms of length of stay in services.

The initial stage for a policy towards an ETHICAL service provision would be to fund the different types of service up to the minimum capacity. Thinking and planning regionally would be more functional than the current narrow focus on local authorities. After identifying the shortfall per region, actual provision should be in all types of places (all types of local authorities) – but strictly hosted by them and not in any way limited to women and children from that local authority. Planning and funding must be at the scale of women and children’s domestic violence help-seeking and journeys: scale meaning both providing sufficient capacity and provision at the appropriate geographical scale.


[1] Women’s Aid. 2022. Domestic Abuse Provision: Routes to Support. Bristol: Women’s Aid Federation of England. https://www.womensaid.org.uk/domestic-abuse-provision-data-routes-to-support/.

[2] Council of Europe. 2011. Explanatory Report to the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. Strasbourg: Council of Europe. https://rm.coe.int/1680a48903.

Give the Joy Back

Women’s experiences and voices are vital in this research – their understandings and insights into their journeys. 

Women who took part in the participatory photography groupwork talked about how they noticed text and images as they travelled around their new area. They had all been forced to relocate due to domestic abuse, and were now in an area they didn’t know before. They had practical things to sort out, but were also starting to explore where they were.

Sometimes they spotted a place – a park, a shop – or an image – a poster, an artwork – that seemed to call out to them. Places or images that made them feel a little more welcome – a little more like they could begin to feel at home.

Week by week in the groupwork, women used their cameras as they made day-to-day journeys, or actually went out specially to look for images to share with the group.

As well as their individual images and captions about their experiences, women shared their insights and messages – including in posters from the groupwork.

Give the Joy Back
© Amy/Cordelia/Daisy/Marilyn/Solace Women’s Aid/Janet Bowstead

In this poster, women took a slogan from a poster as a message about how they were beginning to feel positive in themselves, but also that they could pass on their positivity to others. One of the ways of doing this was by making the posters that went on display in the women’s refuges and women’s centre – and are here on the project website. Women included images of light, of blue skies, of trees that refused to be hemmed in, and of the small steps they were taking forward in their and their children’s lives.

Developing an ETHICAL response to service provision for domestic violence against women

This research on women’s domestic violence journeys aims to underpin an ETHICAL response, highlighting seven key elements of an effective service provision: Eligibility, Type, Holistic, Independence, Capacity, Accessibility, Location.

  • Eligibility
    • rights and needs-based – a service infrastructure designed around women and children rather than forcing women and children to navigate a fragmented and ill-suited infrastructure.
    • no location or risk-assessed criteria or rationing.
    • not excluding women and children due to legal status – such as migration status, criminal convictions or debt – with any proceedings being put on hold until support and security have been provided.
  • Type
    • A range of types of services for a range of needs, including:
      • Women’s Refuge accommodation + support
      • Other accommodation-based support
      • Non-accommodation services – one-to-one support
    • Specialisms – around cultural, health needs, higher support needs.
    • Note that core service needs not addressed in this formula include: Peer support, children’s support, advocacy through complex and hostile systems.
  • Holistic
    • Services as only a part of wider co-ordinated and multi-agency responses so that women and children can journey through at their pace and need – involving and not involving the services and support they choose.
    • Providing support on abuse issues in the context of other issues women and children may be experiencing over time.
  • Independence
    • Recognising the pervasive nature of coercive control within abusive relationships, the interactions and relationships of services with women and children must not replicate coercion, control, or limitations on freedom or autonomy.
    • Service provision must operate with independence from statutory authorities (even if receiving funds from statutory authorities), including not sharing personal information inappropriately.
  • Capacity
    • Sufficient for the level of expressed need – at the point of need.
    • Including an expected level of vacancy/voids/free capacity, so that service provision does not exploit or exhaust the workers or ration the availability of support.
    • Flexibility – able to respond when needed – recognising that women have to seek help when they can and may be unable to wait on a ‘waiting list’.
    • Evidence-based – not reducing, developing or changing services unless there is clear evidence of needs.
  • Accessibility
    • Services must be constantly vigilant about barriers to accessibility – where women and children who deserve and would benefit from a service are unable to access it.
    • This may be due to issues of Eligibility, Capacity, or Location; but may additionally be about addressing aspects of specialist support, legal status, and the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of service providers.
  • Location
    • Women experience domestic abuse everywhere, so the location of services must enable both staying put and journeys – including return journeys where appropriate.
    • All types of places – so that you can go as far as you need/ stay as near as you can.
    • The location of help-seeking should not necessarily cement the location of longer-term resettlement.
    • About fundamental eligibility as a survivor of abuse – violence against women as a human rights violation – to go and be wherever is best.

Technical Paper on a formula for the Type and Capacity of services in England

The elements of service provision characterised as Eligibility, Holistic, Independence, Accessibility are based on principles, and are evidence-based from past learning, research literature, human rights law, and experience of decades of domestic abuse service provision. These are discussed in other blog posts, briefing papers and publications available on this website.

A technical paper on developing a formula for the Type and Capacity of domestic abuse services in England has just been published and is available here. The minimum required capacity of three types of services is estimated as:

Accommodation – A minimum of 5,369 family bedspaces

  • 4,497 should be ‘Women’s Refuge’ spaces
  • 872 ‘Other’ types of support accommodation

Non-accommodation – A minimum of 1,084 fte (full-time-equivalent) community-based specialist support workers (separate roles from ‘advice’; or risk-based ‘advocacy’) rising to a minimum of 1,543 fte workers to be able to support women with additional needs beyond the domestic abuse

Love is the only language I speak fluently

Women’s experiences and voices are vital in this research – their understandings and insights into their journeys. 

As part of the project, participatory photography was carried out with groups of women in three areas of London: two groups in women’s refuges where women would soon be on the move again, and one at a women’s centre with women who were beginning to resettle. 

As well as individual projects, producing images and captions about their experiences, women shared their insights and messages.

Love is the only language I speak fluently
Love is the only language I speak fluently © Amy/Cordelia/Daisy/Marilyn/Qiana/Solace Women’s Aid/Janet Bowstead

In this poster, women took the slogan from graffiti on the London Southbank as a metaphor for their own beliefs about love, care and kindness – received and given. In making a poster, they wanted to pass on the love and positivity to women they imagined seeing the poster in the future. Blending together their individual images into a collage, they celebrated their shared experiences, and how being in a group reduced their isolation.

Women on the Move – report published

On Human Rights Day – 10th December 2021 – the report from this research was published.

Featuring more than 250 images by women who have been forced to relocate due to domestic violence, the book and maps provide an overview of the project, highlighting key research findings and new conceptualisations and knowledge from the research.

The publication presents the key messages – and points to further reading – on aspects of People, Places, Patterns and Processes of women and children on the move due to domestic violence and abuse.

To order a copy, please send postal address to info(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)womensjourneyscapes.net or send details via the contact form

Women on the Move – Vol. 1: Journeyscapes of Domestic Violence (book). ISBN: 978-1-7399686-0-1

Women on the Move: Journeyscapes of Domestic Violence. From Everywhere to Everywhere (map). ISBN: 978-1-7399686-1-8

Women on the Move: Journeyscapes of Domestic Violence. One Year of Spatial Churn (map). ISBN: 978-1-7399686-2-5

See the flier for further information.

There is always a way ahead

Women who have relocated due to domestic abuse talk about their multi-faceted journeys: emotional, practical and geographical journeys.  Often, during the journeys, they do not know what the next stage will be – or what they need to prepare themselves and their children to face.

Women in the creative groupwork for this research produced images and captions for women they imagined making such journeys in the future – wanting to encourage women in their journeys from abuse to freedom.  The posters were then put on display in the women’s refuges and centre where the women met.

One of the participatory photography groups in London produced this poster of a path in a local park – leading to the blue sky and sunshine ahead.  The original image was then made into a mosaic of hundreds of their photographs: the idea of combining everyone’s contribution into one image, and one strong message:

There is always a way ahead

© Image by women who have relocated due to domestic abuse – from the research project “Women on the move: the journeyscapes of domestic violence”.  For further details see: https://www.womensjourneyscapes.net

Transport yourself to a better place

Women’s experiences and voices are vital in this research – their understandings and insights into their journeys. 

As part of the project, participatory photography was carried out with groups of women in three areas of London: two groups in women’s refuges where women would soon be on the move again, and one at a women’s centre with women who were beginning to resettle. 

Over weekly sessions, participants used their photography and captions to communicate their experiences, producing images, maps and collages for themselves, for the group, for display in women’s services, and for wider presentation through the research.

Transport yourself to a better place © Amy/Cordelia/Daisy/Marilyn/Solace Women’s Aid/Janet Bowstead

In this poster, women took the slogan from a London bus as a metaphor for their own journeys from abuse to freedom.  As a mixture of London-born women, and women who had come to London, they took many photographs of their journeys around London on public and private transport, documenting their growing confidence and familiarity with different routes. 

Within the groups they also shared knowledge of places and journeys – taking photographs and developing maps of useful locations and services for other women they imagined coming after them.  Whilst recognising what they had lost, women also focused on what they could take with them, and on sharing messages of strength and hope to reach other women they imagined making similar forced journeys.  Captions to the photographs included “There is always a ‘Way Out’!” and emphasising in the image of traffic lights that “all the lights are green!”  Through the groupwork, women explored their experiences of displacement and resettlement, and brought their individual images together into collages to show their collaboration.

More images from the groups are in a recently published book chapter – the book will be launched at a free online event on Wednesday 23rd June 2021 at 4pm (BST)[1]

Some of the posters were also part of an online exhibition at the Im/mobile Lives in Turbulent Times conference:


[1] http://itd.territorial-identity.ro/evenimente/

London’s Churning, London’s Churning

Women’s domestic violence help-seeking strategies are often thought of and responded to in place.  Both statutory and voluntary sector services work within administrative boundaries; with the Local Authority, or sometimes the County, as the key scale of planning and providing services. 

But domestic abuse causes displacement.

Even important tools to help women – such as Bright Sky[1] – start by asking women to “Enter location, postcode or address”.  They say:

Bright Sky is here for you. Our directory of services can help you find local support.

This can help women who are trying to stay put or remain local – so are looking for help close to home. 

But many other women will be seeking help not in a specific place, but simply thinking – any place but here!

Whilst individual women will be keeping their location and relocation secret – to keep themselves and their children safe from the abuser – they need services and authorities to have a greater understanding of the journeys that are going on. 

It affects access and eligibility for services – it affects the kind of support needed.

Policies and practices can also make things worse – giving women little control over where they go, and whether they are able to resettle long term.

It can be much harder for women and children to ‘move-on’ after abuse, because of the amount of actual moving they are doing…

Service providers tend to be familiar with their local area, but have little sense of the extent to which women and children may be moving through their area due to domestic abuse.

But linking administrative data that used to be collected by services[2] shows both the distances travelled by women and children, and the multiple stages of thousands of journeys.

This graph of London domestic violence journeys shows some of the turbulence of displacement due to domestic abuse:

journeys to access service support – and journeys after services

This analysis is just data on women in London who accessed services, and shows the massive churn going on as women seek help where they can. 

Many London women (just over 20% in these data) seek help from services outside London; but safely linking the data shows that some of these women do actually manage to return to London afterwards.  And, of course, excluded from this graph are the women who come into London to seek help from London services – however, it is important to know that the numbers are lower than for London women seeking help elsewhere. Overall, it shows the displacement of women and children throughout London due to domestic violence: the massive churn going on under the surface which is often under-recognised by both services and policies.


[1] https://www.bright-sky.org.uk/

[2] Analysis by Janet C. Bowstead using data fromDepartment 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

Who does what to whom?

There are many kinds of evidence and information that help us decide how to respond to domestic violence: how to prevent abuse – and the kinds of services to tackle perpetrators and support and empower survivors.

One important part of the evidence is the data that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports in November each year[1].  It often forms the basis of media articles around this time[2].

And it is around this time of year because of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25th November)[3] – because domestic violence is predominantly gender-based violence – predominantly violence against women by men.

So it is vital in all our responses to domestic violence that we are clear about who does what to whom.

But here the data collection in England and Wales lets us down – Police Forces are still failing to produce the most basic data on whether victims and perpetrators are male or female.

If these are the data being used to make decisions on the seriousness of the issue and what should be done to tackle it, what does it say about priorities that only 28 out of 43 regional Police Forces in England and Wales can report the sex of the victim and the perpetrator[4]?

Police Forces producing adequate data in 2018 (coloured blue)


Police Forces producing adequate data in 2019 (coloured blue)

At this rate it will still be years until England and Wales has just the very basic evidence of “who does what to whom” in terms of domestic abuse reported to the Police.

[1]https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/domesticabuseinenglandandwalesoverview/november2019

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/nov/25/domestic-abuse-charges-fall-despite-rise-in-recorded-crimes

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7725361/Domestic-abuse-cases-rose-quarter-2018.html

[3] https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/take-action/16-days-of-activism

[4] A rise from 24 in 2018 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/domesticabuseinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2018  – but it is different Police Forces producing adequate data, with some which produced adequate data in 2018 failing to do so in 2019.