15th September 2017
Kelly Henderson is the Business Manager (Domestic Abuse) at Gentoo Group housing association. She is also the co-founder of the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance and a PhD Researcher at Durham University where she is examining the role of housing providers in a coordinated community response to domestic abuse. For an audio version of this blog, scroll to the bottom of this page, or visit our Soundcloud profile.
It is well documented that a major factor in women leaving abusive relationships is the (un)availability and/or the (in)accessibility of safe, long-term, independent and affordable accommodation. Regardless of whether women stay or move following domestic abuse, research by Scottish Women’s Aid (2016) found that 84% of women in their study felt they had no choice in the matter. Putting the practical factors aside, even once this ‘decision’ is made, women have reported that both paths had varying degrees of positive and negative impacts on their safety, wellbeing and recovery. With often little choice in the matter, many could only hope that the path laid before them would lead to safety and recovery.
This blog focuses on the impact of both staying and leaving their home (after domestic abuse) on survivors I interviewed as a part of my PhD research into the role housing plays in a woman’s experience of domestic abuse. While I also had the opportunity to interview housing professionals and perpetrators, this blog specifically focuses on one theme identified in my interviews with survivors, and seeks to give their experiences a voice when they can often feel voiceless in their own experiences.
For some of the women I interviewed; moving was positive and they felt the move represented a new start. Mary stated:
“Oh I… I mean, you know, like coming into a strange, a new area, a new house, I’ve been able to go to bed and know that I’m… I feel really protected in this house …. The first night my daughter came up from [area], the first night we slept here, this house wraps itself round you, it really does”.
Other women discussed the therapeutic effects of moving. Carrie described the move as a cathartic experience and that once she had moved she was given the space to make choices that impacted her life for the first time:
“… and I was in a very controlling environment where I had no choice in a lot of things, so having the choice of actually just moving and doing something for myself was beneficial for me, yeah”.
Emma discussed how she felt safer in her property as a result of moving:
“I’ve made friends with a couple of the mums and I feel safer in that environment that the fact that these people recognise who I am, my friends and family and they would notice if somebody shouldn’t be here.”
Whilst moving for some women represented a fresh start and improved their feelings of safety, this often came with an emotional cost. Kelly et al (2014) argued that for women and children their home and rootedness (or not) in local communities was critical to their (un)safety and freedom. In addition to the violence they had experienced, the loss of a home can be a serious part of the trauma that women (and children) suffer as a result of domestic abuse.
Emily spoke about the guilt she felt regarding her child when she left her partner and moved away from their home:
“cause she sort of… I felt that she blamed me, I don’t know if she did, she was still young at the time but I just thought that she sort of blamed me for us not being together no more”
This feeling was reiterated by Sally who also described feelings of blame and guilt for uprooting her children when she finally did move:
“Do you know what I mean, so I think they… at the time when I said ‘Well move’ and they said ‘Oh no Ma’ it’s like my kids they knew we’d have to move one day, it’s just up the road, blah de blah de blah, and they’re like ‘No, no I don’t want to move.’”
Some interviewees felt it was important to stay in their current home and community, where they could access the support of family and friends. A housing provider’s ability and willingness to provide security and safety measures impacted a victim’s ability to live out this choice.
For example, Sally was offered a move by her housing provider but felt this could potentially place her in more danger. In response to her decision to stay, the housing provider stated “if it was that bad you would move”. Comments like these represent a total failure to understand her lived experience.
She explained that her neighbours were aware of the perpetrator and would tip her off if he was in the street, and if needed they could call the Police. She felt that accepting a move to another property a few miles down the road, away from her support network, would isolate her and was ultimately the wrong choice for her safety and wellbeing.
After deciding to stay put, Sally’s social housing provider offered her a Safe Room with a range of security measures, which she described as the most useful thing that her housing provider did in the range of support they provided. This option allowed her to live out her choice to remain within her home and community where she felt safer and supported.
Even though Sally eventually decided to move as she progressed through her recovery, because the housing provider accepted her expertise in her own experience, she was able to make a CHOICE about whether to stay or move in a way that met her needs, addressed her safety and at the right point in her recovery.
I am privileged the women have shared their experiences with me and I hope their voices (and research overall) will influence the housing sector’s recognition and understanding of the crucial role they can play in a coordinated community response to domestic abuse.
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