Women escaping domestic abuse left with ‘nowhere to turn’

Report reveals the extent to which victims are often faced with a choice between homelessness or returning to abusers.

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Women’s Aid has launched the findings from its annual No Women Turned Away project.

Funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the project provides dedicated support to women who face barriers in accessing a refuge space.

Through quantitative data collected by specialist practitioners; qualitative interviews with survivors of domestic abuse; and artwork, including photographs and poems; the report illustrates the ‘lived impact’ that unequal access to refuges and support services has had on women.

As outlined in today’s reports, 309 women were revealed as left with ‘nowhere to turn’ as they fled domestic abuse.

In the last year, 136 (44%) of these women sofa-surfed, 42 (14%) stayed in local authority emergency accommodation, 22 (7%) slept rough, and 12 (4%) stayed in a B&B, hostel or hotel.

While waiting for a refuge space, 59 women (19%) experienced further abuse from their perpetrator.

The report also describes the financial difficulties that survivors face when fleeing domestic abuse, with many women struggling to feed themselves and their children and pay for the phone calls and transportation required to reach a safe place to stay.

Most survivors reported an immense negative impact on their own and their children’s wellbeing, and how this compounded the trauma they experienced from their abusers.

Some survivors reported suicidal feelings linked to the stress of trying to find a safe place to stay, and of the 17 women who were interviewed in depth, two attempted to kill themselves.

Further research by Women’s Aid’s found a shortfall of refuge bed spaces of 1,715 in England.

The report found that 57% of domestic abuse service providers were running an area of their service with no dedicated funding, and 31% reported that, since 2014, they’ve had to make staff cuts due to reduced funding.

One survivor, Emira, said that she has no money left at all for her or her daughter after she had fled the confines of her abuser.

Another said that by the end her experience, she was “broken”, with just pieces of her left.

“I don’t know whether my perpetrator was worse or this was worse…I’d come from one thing and got dumped into another hellhole,” she said.

The report highlights a key list of recommendations for the government, including providing sufficient bed spaces in specialist refuges to meet the level of demand nationally.

Recommendations also include:

  • Ensuring migrant women, including those with no recourse to public funds, do not face discriminatory treatment that prevents them from safely escaping domestic abuse and having fair access to services
  • Through the domestic abuse bill, ensure individuals fleeing domestic abuse are automatically considered in priority need for housing, rather than being subject to the ‘vulnerability test’
  • Ensuring that sufficient women-only spaces are available in emergency hostels
  • Ensuring effective mechanisms and sanctions are in place to shift the onus of stopping the abuse onto perpetrators

The report also urges local authorities to ensure services are commissioned that will give the right response first time round and ensuring that there are clear links between local strategies for domestic abuse and homelessness.

Adina Claire, acting co-chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “It’s scandalous that, in 2019, women fleeing domestic abuse still face the terrifying prospect of either returning to their perpetrator or facing homelessness.

“We are facing a chronic shortage of bed spaces in specialist refuge services, and this is causing unimaginable suffering for women at a time when they are most in need of support.

“Our report tells the story of women who have endured unsafe living arrangements, overcrowding, broken friendships, and further abuse while sofa-surfing.

“It goes without saying that survivors should not have to sleep rough, yet, for the third year running, we found that this is still happening, even to pregnant women and children.”

She added that the research shows BME women are far more likely to face homelessness because of domestic abuse.

“At Women’s Aid, we firmly believe that every survivor should receive the right support, the first time they ask for it.

“To deliver this, we need sustainable funding for life-saving services in every community, including the very specialist-services led ‘by and for’ BME women, which have been hit hardest by budget cuts and poor commissioning decisions.

“Earlier this year, Theresa May promised a landmark legal duty for councils to fund support for survivors in refuge and safe accommodation, and we strongly urge Boris Johnson to deliver on this pledge.

“It is also crucial that the law is changed to ensure that all survivors escaping domestic abuse are automatically in ‘priority need’ for housing.

“The desperate experiences of women and children detailed in this report must end.”

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