Do the uncounted not count?

Women on the move due to domestic abuse are often hiding. They shouldn’t have to, of course…

But if not enough is happening to tackle the perpetrator, then women and children frequently have to move away – to try and keep safe. If the authorities will not prevent the abuser threatening her – and if he won’t change – then women uproot themselves and their children and try to disappear.

They may have to keep hidden for months, for years, forever – breaking contact with work, school, friends, family…

And hiding from the perpetrator also keeps them hidden from other aspects of ordinary life. It also means that they slip between the cracks of all kinds of administrative processes – falling off waiting lists, missing crucial appointments, losing their eligibility for services.

They are also uncounted in another way. All the social surveys in the UK sample the settled population – using the Royal Mail’s Postcode Address File – and so this excludes people in insecure, shared, and communal accommodation. Women on the move due to domestic violence may be in temporary accommodation for years – they may never get back to properly settled accommodation.

So the key surveys that are relied upon for prevalence of domestic violence and abuse (the Crime Surveys in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) systematically exclude anyone on the move or in unsettled accommodation. They exclude the people most acutely affected by the domestic abuse that they claim to count.

There was discussion of the problem at the RadStats conference in London on Saturday; and there is some wider acknowledgement – the Inclusive Data Taskforce (IDTF) reported in 2021 on the issue, and the Office for National Statistics has recently published research with 40 women on temporary accommodation due to domestic abuse.

But this doesn’t fill the gaps – there’s nothing more substantial to address the chronically uncounted; and the implications of them being missing from statistics. The supposed prevalence of domestic abuse – measured by the Crime Surveys – is widely reported; but it is barely acknowledged that the figure is potentially badly skewed by the missing women on the move.

And the missing are predominantly women – not only are women more likely to experience domestic violence and abuse, but when men experience domestic violence and abuse they are less likely to relocate and therefore exit the settled population sampling frame. So the prevalence for men and women are differentially skewed – meaning that the figures just cannot be relied upon.

So – from the assumption of only surveying the settled population, comes distorted statistics and significant exclusions.

And it matters – whenever the supposed prevalence of domestic violence and abuse from Crime Surveys is used to assess need, or make decisions about whether to provide services – and services for whom – the basis is flawed… and the decisions are flawed. And the message seems to be that the uncounted – women and children on the move due to domestic abuse – just don’t count…

Arrival and Departure – the spatial churn of domestic abuse

Within the UK, many people find themselves forced to relocate, whether due to housing evictions, dispersal of asylum seekers, clearance of housing estates for regeneration projects, or homelessness policies and practice. These non-voluntary mobilities affect individuals differently, but are structurally imposed.

The forced relocation of women and children due to domestic abuse may be seen as somewhat different – with the journeys initially forced by the abusive perpetrator. However, even at that point, there is the question of why the state isn’t holding him accountable – controlling his abuse so that women and children do not have to uproot themselves and relocate…

And, often, after that initial relocation, the domestic abuse journeys are further forced by state policies, availability (or not) of support services, and the implications of crossing administrative boundaries. So the journeys, in their multiple stages over time and place, are often structurally imposed in many ways.

With other non-voluntary mobilities, the flow of forced journeys may be in one direction: forcing people out of areas that are being ‘gentrified’, forcing asylum seekers out of major cities, or out of residential areas. And the focus of those who want to support such displaced persons is therefore on welcoming new arrivals, with the authorities focusing on the ‘arrival infrastructure’ including civil society and social professionals. The ReROOT Project is currently working across a range of locations in Europe, to improve practices, policies and imaginaries of arrival infrastructures; and a workshop in London on 9-10 October will explore the context and responses in the UK.

Thinking about arrival infrastructures, the forced internal displacement due to domestic abuse has parallels – all the difficulties of starting again with your life in a new, unknown, unchosen place. Individuals’ experiences may be similar, in terms of the effects and needs, but there is also a key difference in the aggregate effect in each place. For, at the same time as that arrival, there is also likely to be a departure – another woman, often with children, fleeing domestic violence. They won’t be aware of each other – their journeys will often be secret and hidden to escape the abuser – but domestic abuse occurs in all places; and journeys are from everywhere to everywhere.

Administrative data from services, analysed in this research, shows this spatial churn – that most local authorities experience around the same number of domestic violence departures as arrivals. But the lack of net effect is made up of a mass of journeys and disruption for individuals. So, a rights-based response to the disruption and harms of forced relocation, as well as the harms from the abuse, would create an infrastructure for both arrivals and departures – a coherent infrastructure so that women and children can go as far as they need and stay as near as they can.

Journeyscape or Journeybreak?

Domestic violence isn’t in any way a game, but it is important to use all kinds of ways to prompt discussion and thinking about the issues – and a new card ‘game’ aims to do just that. “Serious games” use the interactions and norms of games – from playing cards or board games to online gaming – to engage and inform in ways that other methods cannot.

Journeyscape or Journeybreak? is a card game about women and children’s journeys to escape domestic abuse. The game draws on the British Academy-funded research project “Women on the Move: the Journeyscapes of Domestic Violence” using examples of the pressure points women experience and the help or hindrance from people, policies, services and luck.

Relocation is only one possible strategy for women but tens of thousands of women and children relocate in the UK due to domestic abuse, often in multi-stage journeys over time and distance, and accessing a range of services and support. The game presents a simplified journey of multiple stages and stopping points, with the players gathering the points they need for the next stage, whilst also experiencing the ‘chance’ elements that can allow them to leap forward or fall back on their journey.

The examples of ‘chance’ – positive and negative – are taken from women’s accounts shared during the research, and the cards showcase women’s images from participatory photography groupwork carried out with Solace Women’s Aid. The cards are therefore an expression of women’s creativity and insights, and the game aims to highlight how journeys away from violence can be either stalled and thwarted by ‘journeybreaks’ or ‘journeyscaped’ by law, policy, services and support.

Journeyscape or Journeybreak? will be launched at the Social Research Association conference on 15th June 2023 in London. It is part of the “Please Do Touch” gallery – emphasising the importance of in-person interaction with each other and with material objects: the value of actually being able to touch…

Journeyscape or Journeybreak? is a game for 2-4 players and could be used by groups of professionals involved in responding to domestic abuse, as well as individuals who want to understand more about women and children’s journeys.

If you would like a set of cards, please make a donation to Solace Women’s Aid, and then use the contact form of this website to send your postal address.

IDPs in the Global North: Women’s Journeys to Escape Domestic Violence

The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement recognise that people forced to leave their homes become Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

However, tens of thousands of women and children in the UK are displaced due to the human rights violation of violence against women, but they are not recognised or responded to as IDPs. Their individual and hidden journeys to escape violence cause support needs, and a loss of rights, but state and service responses are often inadequate.

What does that say about women’s citizenship in countries of the Global North?

And would using the lens of internal displacement focus minds and actions on more just, effective, and rights-based responses?

A blog post for Researching Internal Displacement discusses the issues and implications of under-recognising women’s displacement in countries of the Global North.

Intersections of Art and Policy

Explore how art can influence perceptions of women’s experiences of home and displacement while championing policy change. Join us for a day of talks, poetry, workshops and an exhibition in collaboration with the Marylebone Project, Mental Fight Club and researcher Janet Bowstead.

Intersections of Art and Policy is a collaborative programme that highlights the wonderful and influential possibilities of art as a medium to discuss and challenge perceptions of women’s experiences of home and displacement, while offering ideas on functional policy measures.

Working in partnership with the Marylebone Project, Mental Fight Club and researcher Janet Bowstead, our programme aims to accentuate the outstanding work that these charities and other groups have been engaged in, providing shelter and skills that empower women facing homelessness while simultaneously championing policy change. 

Programme Synopsis – 23 March 2023, 10am to 4.30pm

Join us for a day of talks, poetry performance, exhibition displays and interactive workshops as we mark the close of our Behind the Door Campaign, which aimed to fundraise for women charities and raise awareness of women homelessness.   

At its core, Intersections of Art and Policy is a celebration of the exceptional women who produced the artworks and photography that will be displayed during the day, and acts as a recognition of their courage, resilience and boldness.  Our programme is only a platform to anchor their voices and allow them to be beacons of change and possibly pioneers of practical policies on women’s issues.    

Part I: Art as Agency  

Art as Agency aims to highlight the misconceptions surrounding women homelessness and breakdown stereotypes, exploring ideas of home and feelings of belonging using art as a premise that enables the possibility of changing people’s perceptions.  

10-11am: Breakfast & Viewing Exhibition Displays

Challenging Perceptions of Homelessness (A voice through the Lens): Artworks by the Marylebone Project in collaboration with the Mental Fight Club and Photographer Marysa Dowling.  

Women’s Journeyscapes: Women and Children Relocating due to Domestic Abuse: Artworks by Women working with Janet Bowstead.  

11-11.30am: Beacons of Change: A Reflection on the Marylebone Project.   

11.30am-12pm: Womens’s Journeyscapes:  Janet Bowstead Interactive Talk in Conversation with Gaynor Tutani.  

12-1pm: Lunch

Part II: Towards Change  

Towards Change aims to explore the challenges related to women homelessness through art and creative workshops to encourage positive change and inspire policy.   

1-3pm: Parallel Workshops in Music and Art Making – Final works to be used in Producing a group Manifesto. (Spaces are limited. Booking required).  

3pm-3.30pm: Performance by Artists and Poets

3.35pm-4pm: Music and Art Making Workshop – Manifesto Presentation

4-4.30pm: Final Remarks and Close

Journeyscapes – the scale of the need and the scale of the response

The concept of Journeyscapes in this research is that the response to domestic abuse needs should be at a functional scale and capacity – a practical and accessible infrastructure for women and children. That should be a fundamental responsibility of the state – of Government – in response to the human rights violation of violence against women.

Whilst Government persists in devolving responsibility to local authorities – not least in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 – women and children in their tens of thousands are crossing these local authority boundaries to seek help.  Yet again, the scale of the response does not match the scale of the need.

A new open-access article[1] from this research shows that the regional scale in England is much more self-contained than local authorities in terms of accessing services; but this is not currently a scale of service commissioning. The example of the region of Yorkshire and The Humber shows women relocating to access a service due to domestic abuse; and many relocating again when they leave the service: either to another local authority in the region, or to elsewhere in England.

Domestic violence help-seeking journeys from local authorities in Yorkshire and The Humber

The churn of all these journeys is striking.

But, looking at the flows at the regional scale, rather than the local authority scale within a region, shows a different pattern. Though there are clearly domestic violence journeys leaving each region, the majority stay within the same region.

Domestic violence help-seeking journeys to and from English regions

The journeys may be forced by the threat of the abuser – or by the policies and (non) availability of services at the point of seeking help. Some journeys would not be necessary if the support was better, and if perpetrators were held responsible for their abuse. But the reality is that these journeys are made.

If Government wanted to meet the needs of these journeys, then it would ensure that there were no additional barriers put in place across local authority boundaries: that the state wasn’t making anything worse. A rights-based, needs-led service provision would plan at the national scale for sufficient and sustainable service capacity, without any access restrictions in terms of past, present, or future location.

A human rights argument would be for all options to be possible without any additional harm or losses being caused by the state in terms of policies, laws, and services.

As Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the UK, the state should have duties to minimise individuals’ losses, and support their rights and resettlement. Women and children should be enabled to journey as far as they need, and stay as near as they can, with the role of the state authorities being to journeyscape (by law, policy, and provision) an otherwise potentially hostile terrain.

[1] Bowstead, Janet C. 2022. “Journeyscapes: The Regional Scale of Women’s Domestic Violence Journeys.” People, Place and Policy. doi:10.3351/ppp.2022.8332428488.

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.

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

Staying Put – the problems of joint tenancies

Women experiencing domestic abuse should be able to stay put in their homes – whilst safely continuing their lives and connections with friends, family, work and education.

That’s obvious.

Tens of thousands of women and children relocate due to domestic abuse – but for many others, they try to stay put.

However, even if they could safely do this, they are often caught in the trap of a joint tenancy with the perpetrator of the abuse.

Perpetrators may use the joint tenancy as another tool of abuse. They may have originally used coercion to get themselves onto the tenancy, which the woman had in her sole name before. They may threaten to terminate the tenancy and/or continue to maintain control by refusing to remove themselves voluntarily from the tenancy. They may use their name on the tenancy as a means of continuing post-separation abuse – claiming that they could move back into the home. Survivors of abuse may find themselves trapped by the power of the perpetrator threatening to keep/end/keep/end the tenancy – never being free from the control and abuse.

The Government says in its Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan that it has the aim of “bringing victims and survivors more security if the right option for them is remaining in their own home”[1] but there are legal changes urgently needed to make this a reality for women with joint tenancies.

Currently, the legal procedures may be expensive and/or complicated[2] – with survivors often not knowing their options or rights, and finding themselves facing eviction, or being forced to relocate, with all the losses and uncertainties that follow from that.

A real option of staying put is needed.

To provide this, an alternative legal procedure has been proposed[3] – it was raised during the development of the Domestic Abuse Bill; though it was not included by the Government in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. It would provide a simplified legal mechanism for the transfer of a tenancy in the family court if a survivor of domestic abuse shares a joint secured or social tenancy with the perpetrator. It would recognise the tenancy rights within a joint tenancy, but provide a proportionate response to be able to promote the safety, stability, and housing security of the survivor.

Now it is being proposed again in response to the Government’s consultation on the impacts of joint tenancies on victims of domestic abuse. The consultation[4] is open until 10th May 2022 – asking landlords, lawyers and individuals about what is currently happening, and what the Government should do about it. We’ll have to see how the Government responds this time….

Women fleeing domestic abuse are fleeing a human rights violation: they should be able to stay put, stay as near as they can, or travel as far as they need without any detriment to their lives.


[1] HM Government (March 2022) ‘Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan’ https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1064427/E02735263_Tackling_Domestic_Abuse_CP_639_Accessible.pdf

[2] National Group briefing on Joint Tenancies and Survivors of Domestic Abuse (2021) https://www.dahalliance.org.uk/media/11058/domestic-abuse-bill-joint-tenancies-qa.pdf

[3] National Group response to MHCLG’s New Deal for renting (2019), https://www.dahalliance.org.uk/what-we-do/national-policy-practice-group/our-national-group-responses-to-government-consultations/

[4] Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (15 February 2022) ‘Consultation on the impacts of joint tenancies on victims of domestic abuse’ https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-the-impacts-of-joint-tenancies-on-victims-of-domestic-abuse

Perverse incentives in (not) assessing need

How do you assess the need for domestic abuse support in a Local Authority area?

It is well-known how hidden domestic abuse is – that many women keep their experiences secret and never seek formal help. Others do seek help, but are turned away. Others do not disclose the violence or abuse until they are safely away from where the perpetrator might find them.

But over and above all that… assessing need in an area depends on what the word ‘in’ means…

  • Is it the women and children already in an area?
    • but what about the many forced to move away because of the abuse…
  • Is it the women and children coming into an area to seek help?
  • Is it both?

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 requires Local Authorities (Counties and Unitary Authorities – and London as a whole) to “assess, or make arrangements for the assessment of, the need for accommodation-based support in its area”[1].

But how can they do that?

To take the example of one year of help-seeking to services and one local authority – Cambridgeshire:


The local authority should be able to count the number of women who manage to access formal services – women’s refuges and other types of accommodation – due to domestic abuse;  and include that in their ‘needs assessment’. But that depends – of course – on them providing services in the first place…

And the majority – it can be noted – do not actually come from Cambridgeshire…

And then, what about Cambridgeshire women and children? – where do they go to access services?

Well, some ‘remain local’ – remain within Cambridgeshire – but many (and the vast majority of those needing women’s refuges) go elsewhere[1]

So, should Cambridgeshire be including these as well in its ‘needs assessment’? – maybe if it provided more services they would have been able to stay in the County… maybe they wouldn’t…

Certainly, Cambridgeshire is very unlikely to have any data on all those who ‘go elsewhere’ as the whole point is that they are escaping the abuse – they are not going to wait and inform the authorities of their plans.

So, any local authority – like Cambridgeshire – is only going to be able to count those who come into its area if it already provides services for them to come to; and is unlikely to have any idea of the numbers of its women and children who flee elsewhere.

With the best will in the world, a very partial needs assessment is all that is possible… and there is a perverse incentive to reduce or limit service provision, so that there is less expressed need in your area – and therefore less ‘need’ to provide services for…

Is this what local authorities are currently doing?  Given that the ‘needs assessments’ are not made public, it’s impossible to know…

But it’s clear that if you wanted to design a system to fail to meet domestic abuse accommodation needs, then this would be a good way to do it….


[1] Bowstead, Janet C. 2021. “Stay Put; Remain Local; Go Elsewhere: Three Strategies of Women’s Domestic Violence Help Seeking.” Dignity: A Journal of Analysis of Exploitation and Violence 6 (3): 4. doi:10.23860/dignity.2021.06.03.04. https://digitalcommons.uri.edu/dignity/vol6/iss3/4

[1] Domestic Abuse Act 2021 https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2021/17/section/57/enacted