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

Children on the move – what about their schooling?

After over a year of concern about the disruption to children’s schooling, it’s important to remember other issues that also affect children’s education – like their forced displacement due to domestic abuse[1].

If mothers can seek help and support without having to relocate – by staying put – then children may be able to stay at school, and stay in contact with friends, teachers and other support to help them deal with their experiences of abuse.  But this may not be possible.

Around half of the women accessing services due to domestic violence have children with them, and over two-thirds are forced to relocate to seek help.  Even if this is within the same local authority, children will often still have to change schools due to distance or safety concerns.


Though rates of help-seeking do vary somewhat during the year (see the graph below), with lower numbers in December, the patterns are very similar for women with and without children; and with school-age or pre-school children – as shown by the second graph below which shows the proportions through the year.

It’s clear that women often have very little choice about when and where they seek help – both because of the threat of the abuser, and the lack of service options.  This includes the fact that many mothers of school-age children cannot avoid relocating during term-time, and children often face a further wait to get into a new school – and still longer to settle and begin to catch up.

Tracy talks about how the disruption to schooling has affected her son:

It has all affected them so much; especially the older one – schoolwise.  And the way I was – he was really affected emotionally as well – seeing me crying and unhappy, and all these changes, and coming to a new place from the old place.

For my son – changing schools – you know, it confuses children from one place to another.  It’s like – he’s changed three times.

Tracy & son (age 12), daughter (age 3)

Mothers have to seek help when and where they can – so it’s clear that it is vital to support children to resettle.  They may be literally safe – especially if they go elsewhere – but needing support to get their lives back on track.  This will include both the practicalities of getting back into school, but also the wider support to undo the harm of a disrupted education.

[1] This is based on a presentation at the forthcoming RGS-IBG Annual Conference: https://www.rgs.org/research/annual-international-conference/

Older women escaping abuse – similarities and differences

Each woman’s journey to escape domestic abuse is unique, and only some include formal services in their help-seeking.  The key focus for any responses should be to respect women’s rights and needs – and listen to their experiences.

But it can be useful to generalise – to some extent – to recognise shared experiences and similarities and differences.  Especially if it is clear that particular groups of women are less likely to use particular types of services – or less likely to seek formal help (or more likely to be turned away if they do).

Older women can often seem to be missing from the experiences of service providers.  Older women do access services – the oldest in the data used in this research was 102.  But older women do seek formal service help in lower numbers.

They also are more likely to have additional needs and barriers:

  • More likely to have physical health problems
  • More likely to have mental health problems
  • More likely to be disabled

And some of these issues may be due to experiencing years of abuse.

There is more detail in a briefing paper from this research.

Some older women will have been experiencing abuse for a very long time before seeking help – like Elizabeth in this research, who planned to leave when her son was independent – and she did when her son left home for university:

“I just thought – I can’t take it any longer.  You know – I’ve stood it for twenty-three years for my son.”

Many older women will not have legally-dependent children, but that is not to say that their children’s needs and concerns don’t continue to affect them, and give ongoing opportunities for the abuser to continue to control the situation.  As Elizabeth said:

“I couldn’t go to my son’s graduation – which upset me in a way; but then, that was my choice, because I didn’t want to see him [husband].  I couldn’t bear to see him.  I’ve seen some of the pictures – that are on the internet – of my husband; and I just had to turn away when I saw him, because it sends the shivers up my spine.”

Though older women may relocate to a refuge, like Elizabeth did; they are significantly more likely to stay put when they seek help, and less likely to go to a different local authority.  But when they do go elsewhere, there is no significant difference from younger women in the average distance travelled.

Older women should not be assumed to be more dependent and needy – in fact, they are more likely to self-refer to services than younger women.   But they are also more likely to have longer engagement with services – being significantly more likely to stay in a service for 9 months or more.  There are only a few services which specifically respond to the needs of older women – like The Silver Project – and there is a toolkit to help professionals improve their responses so older women have a real chance of freedom.

Elizabeth said:

“I knew I was making the right move.  I was worried about my son obviously; and I was worried about the future.  But I thought – it can’t be as bad as what I’m leaving” “ I feel so much better in myself now – than I have done in years; it’s been a great weight off my shoulders.”

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/

Night or Day I can go where I want

Women who have relocated due to domestic abuse talk about escaping from the abuser’s control and being able to make their own choices and decisions – in major issues, and in the day-to-day.

One of the participatory photography groups in London produced this poster collage of their local walks.

© 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: www.womensjourneyscapes.net

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

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!


It’s not just about the moving

This research focuses on the journeys women and children are forced to make because of domestic violence.  But it’s not just about the moving itself.

It’s not that either moving or not moving is the solution – it’s about the force and control over any movement.

An abuser will often try and control a woman’s mobility – where she goes, what she does – and expect her to account for her every movement.

Anna was constantly questioned by her partner about her journeys to and from work:

“It was – where have you been…  Because from my work it was possible for me to walk or to go by bus […]  It was – oh, why did you prefer to walk?  Did you meet someone?  I just feel like I want to walk.  No – why are you fifteen minutes late?

In an abusive relationship, a woman can feel imprisoned by such surveillance – and it can be really effective in ensuring that she cannot go anywhere on her own – or seek any help.

But it can also be that an abuser uses moving around as another way to imprison and isolate.  During the course of her marriage, Violet’s husband insisted on them moving house to somewhere she didn’t want to go:

I was moved furthest – furthest away from my parents, my friends – so really really remote spot.  If he’d take my car then there was nowhere even to go to a shop in walking distance – it was too far.  So I felt really isolated.”

So it’s not just about moving or not moving – it’s about who initiates the moves, and who is in control.