Mapping the forced migration of women fleeing domestic violence

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1 Mapping the forced migration of women fleeing domestic violence Do not cite without author s permission Janet Bowstead MA, Woman and Child Abuse, London Metropolitan University 1 Abstract This paper presents data from a study of women s relocation whilst seeking safety from domestic violence. Conceptualising such movement as a process of forced migration, it maps the journeys to a small sample of refuge accommodation within England in one year. In contrast to the current public policy agenda that focuses on measuring domestic violence incidents and positioning solutions in neighbourhoods and boroughs - imagining dangerous locations - this paper locates domestic violence in the (dangerous) social relations of gender. It illustrates the extent of relocation by women and their children to escape such dangerous social relations, and explores trends in their migration routes. Key questions addressed include: To what extent are women and children relocating to escape domestic violence? How can mapping be used to visualise and analyse their journeys? What are the implications of identifying and understanding these processes as forced migration? Key words: domestic violence, relocation, forced migration 1 c/o Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, London Metropolitan University, Ladbroke House, Highbury Grove, London N5 2AD 1

2 Introduction Domestic violence is a highly gendered crime; hence the focus on women s relocation away from male violence. This research relied on interviews with women (five women and six workers in domestic violence services) to explore the meaning and implications of their journeys. This paper focuses on the mapping of anonymised data. Local and national government promote the mapping of domestic violence, by which they generally mean crime mapping of reported incidents to identify so-called hot spots (James- Hanman 2001). This paper briefly considers the appropriate role of mapping in analysing domestic violence data and argues that Geographical Information Systems (GIS) need to be appropriately populated with ideas as well as location data, to ensure that mapping is meaningful in its analysis and presentation. This paper therefore presents data not on the location of incidents of domestic violence, but on the relocation of women fleeing domestic violence. Conceptualising such movement as a process of forced migration, the research mapped the journeys to a small sample of refuge accommodation within England in one year, and drew initial conclusions in terms of mapping data and analysis, and the implications for re-conceptualising women s relocation due to domestic violence. Definitions Forced migration is defined as movement from home, across the boundary of an areal unit (whether within a state or across national borders), where coercion has taken place and individuals have had to uproot themselves against their wishes (Boyle et al 1998:p180). Within the UK context, this research considers forced migration as across local authority boundaries. 2

3 Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of abusive and controlling behaviour through which the perpetrator seeks to exert power over the victim. Recognising that the majority of perpetrators are men and between 80-95% of those who experience it are women (Home Office 2006:p1), this research considers domestic violence as male violence and abuse against women in intimate partner relationships. The role of mapping There has been a huge increase in the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) by government to produce crime hot-spot maps, often without an associated understanding of the nature of what is being supposedly mapped, or even whether it is valid to analyse the data in such a way (Heywood et al 2002). Geographers have criticised the epistemology, philosophy and politics of much GIS use by commerce and government (O Sullivan 2006) whilst domestic violence professionals have challenged the use of hot spot maps as a basis for decisions on service responses and targeted resources (James-Hanman 2001), and the skewed nature of the data which relies on incidents reported to the police. This paper draws on this debate to explore the truths that maps can convey, including illuminating women s spatiality (O Sullivan 2006). The research builds on others ideas: Hanson (2002) argues for the shared aspects of GIS and feminist research, namely the concern with the grounded contexts of everyday life, and with conceptions of power and empowerment. Silvey s (2006) work in migration studies emphasising the spatial specificities of power, highlighting the roles that gender and other social differences play in shaping unequal geographies of mobility, belonging, exclusion and displacement. 3

4 Earlier feminist geography, such as Rose s (1993) argument that feminists can rethink places and journeys of exclusion and resistance, and work to construct a different kind of space where women need not be victims; as well as Massey s (1994) recognition of the dynamic instability of space, boundaries and identity. Concepts from migration studies of diaspora and diasporic journeys (Brah 1996: p182) allowing journeys to be mapped to identify women s active strategies of moving to seek safety, in contrast to fixing the geographical location of their experience of violence to the accommodation where an incident occurred. Kwan s (2002) work in highlighting the potential to use GIS with such rich and contextualised primary data, and to incorporate multiple views and forms of knowledge; thereby abandoning the oppositional polemics of the 1990s which positioned GIS as against social and critical theory and qualitative research. She argues that GIS can allow a more interpretative mode of analysis and incorporate rich and scale-sensitive spatial stories about women s lives. The data The data came from Refuge (a voluntary sector domestic violence service provider) which runs refuges in 18 locations across England (see map) and provided data for the year April 2007 to March 2008 for women s location immediately prior to accessing a refuge. 4

5 The data is therefore from a convenient sample of locations, with particular geographical distribution, namely six local authorities in London, four in Sussex and the South Coast, three in the Midlands and Staffordshire, three in Kent, and one each in the Welsh Borders and East Anglia. Refuges vary considerably in the number of single and family bedspaces and, in addition, five of the sample are specialist refuges (three Asian and two African & African- Caribbean). The sample represented 550 women, 312 of whom had children under 18, who accessed refuges. All women had relocated due to domestic violence, including 38 who went to their local refuge. It is not possible from this snapshot data to identify whether the move to the refuge was an initial move away from an abusive relationship or whether women had previously moved. In addition, because refuges are temporary accommodation, all women 5

6 would be making at least one further move: these data could only indicate one stage in women s journeys. The analysis of the total sample The data indicate that women travel from a vast range of locations and in all directions to access refuges: a total of over 18,000 miles to the 18 refuges in one year. There is no strong trend to the migration flows: there are 315 different journeys amongst the 512 women who left their local authority (LA) area, with a maximum of only 12 women making ostensibly the same journey. The total sample shows that women travel an average of nearly 35 miles to a refuge, and in total, just over half (52%) of the women moved less than 25 miles away from their previous place of residence (see graph (1a)). Graph 1a) Distances travelled and local women 1% 1% 7% 21% 52% 18% Outside LA area over 50 miles Outside LA area miles Outside LA area under 25 miles Local not known Outside UK A fifth travelled over 50 miles and many of the sample travelled long distances (often over a hundred miles), Some women travelled over two hundred miles within England; those travelling from Scotland to England sometimes travelled even further. There are examples of a woman travelling from A to B whilst another woman travels from B to A, and there is no indication that there are any net import or export areas for women fleeing domestic violence. 6

7 Looking at the demographics of the sample: Graphs (1b) and (1c) show the age range of the sample from 16 to over 60 and the children from new born to 17, with the majority aged under 5. Graph 1b) Age distribution of women Number of women n/k Age Graph 1c) Age distribution of children Number of children Children aged under 5 Children aged 5-11 Children aged Graph (1d) shows that nearly 60% of the women had children with them a total of 514 children (between 312 mothers). Graph 1d) Women with and without children 0% 1% 7% 21% 29% 42% Women without children Women with 1 child Women with 2 children Women with 3 children Women with 4 children Women with 5 children Graph (1e) shows the ethnic origin of the women in the sample. Though there were specialist refuges in the sample, most Black and Minority Ethnic women are accommodated 7

8 in non-specialist refuges (60 per cent of the Black and Minority Ethnic women in this sample were accommodated in this way), but diversity varies considerably between these refuges with the refuges in London showing greater ethnic diversity than many of the non-specialist refuges elsewhere. Graph 1e) Ethnic origin of women not know n Any other ethnic group Chinese Mixed Asian or Asian British Black or Black British White Number of women White - British White - Irish White - Other African Caribbean Black - Other Pakistani Indian Bangladeshi Asian - Other White & Black Caribbean White & Black African White & Asian Mixed - Other 8

9 The mapping GIS was used to map the distance, density and numbers of journeys made by women to each refuge (exact locations are anonymised for security, but have been exactly plotted), to enable visualisation of the movement that is occurring. For example, see the map below. Each line plots the direction and distance (in a straight line) of a woman s journey to the refuge. The thicker the line, the greater the number of women who made that particular journey in the year. Geographical scale is stated, and varies between the maps for clarity of representation. 9

10 The analysis of migration trends Key findings are: 1. In general, women are shown to make longer journeys to access refuges in more rural areas such as the Welsh Borders (see map above) with an average journey of 59 miles, and a longest of 202 miles. This compares with shorter journeys in more populated areas such as South West London (see map below) with an average of 16 miles, and longest of 113 miles. However, this perhaps reflects service availability and access to transport, rather than a choice of how far to move. 10

11 2. The London refuges show that most women come from within London, with lower average journeys than elsewhere (6 to 30 miles). Under 20 per cent of women in London refuges travelled over 25 miles. However, all but one London refuge received at least one woman from over 100 miles away and some women did travel long distances to London refuges. For example, the above map shows many long journeys to a South East London refuge: these were on an average of 30 miles but included journeys of over 250 miles within England and nearly 400 miles from Scotland. 11

12 3. Women travelled shorter distances to the specialist refuges in the sample, particularly the African & African Caribbean refuges in London as shown by the following map to South London borough C with an average of 6 miles, and a longest of 12 miles. This may reflect attempts to stay close to community and/or a lack of knowledge of potential community and services elsewhere. 12

13 4. The three Asian specialist refuges show differing patterns and one in the North West Midlands (see map below), had an average journey of 46 miles, and a longest journey of 131 miles. The majority of women came from over 25 miles compared to shorter journeys to the other Asian specialist refuges. 13

14 5. A picture emerges of a multitude of individual escapes, exemplified by the following map of journeys to the refuge in East Anglia. This shows women travelling from all directions, including one woman who travelled the longest journey within England (265 miles), with women travelling an average of 49 miles to this refuge. 14

15 6. Women travelled long distances and from a variety of places. The following map for the South Coast town V shows half the women travelling over 50 miles, with an average of 66 miles. The longest journey in the sample (from Scotland to the South Coast of England) was over 400 miles. 15

16 Conclusions The conclusions from this research can be addressed with respect to the original research questions: To what extent are women and children relocating to escape domestic violence? Women are clearly doing a great deal of relocating. This research indicated that this sample of 550 women travelled over 18,000 miles to the 18 refuges in one year. This sample represents only 6.5% of the refuge spaces in England, so extrapolation would indicate that hundreds of thousands of miles are travelled by women fleeing from domestic violence in the UK each year. This is a significant process of migration of women (often with children) fleeing from domestic violence. Tens of thousands of women make such journeys (16,815 women stayed in refuges in England alone in : Women s Aid 2007); often making multiple moves to a sequence of temporary homes, including refuges. Whilst policy-makers and practitioners focus on what works in particular local areas to tackle and prevent domestic violence, the reality is that many women and children still need to leave home for their mental and physical safety; and they are forced to make these journeys because they literally have no other options, other options have failed, or they are not aware of any alternatives. Under-recognition of this issue is exacerbated by the distinctive nature of this migration compared with other diasporas: women s leaving is secretive and hidden as they try and escape an abuser with intimate knowledge of them who may well try to track them down. Fleeing from domestic violence is generally an individual, covert and therefore often invisible act. It is consequently unlikely to be any sense of community in the process of leaving and travelling. Women may have to hide their plans from family and friends, and are often unable 16

17 to take possessions with them for fear of being seen. In some other migrations the process of moving away may be more visible as families and friends move as a group, together with their possessions. How can mapping be used to visualise and analyse their journeys? This research is innovative in beginning to map and quantify the journeys women are making. This technique of GIS mapping begins to enable the identification of extent and trends, and therefore allows more informed analysis and potential interventions by Government and service providers. Mapping can have a strong impact in terms of visualisation and analysis; and this study used the power of mapping to provide a meaningful visualisation indicating such unequal gendered geographies of mobility, belonging, exclusion and displacement (Silvey 2006). The use of mapping helps to bring together data and understandings to re-conceptualise women s relocation due to domestic violence. What are the implications of identifying and understanding these processes as forced migration? The qualitative aspect of the research indicated the extent to which this is forced migration. None of the women interviewed felt that they had a choice not to leave where they were living; they had already exhausted all options to avoid relocating, including pursing legal interventions and enhanced security such as the Sanctuary Scheme 2. 2 The Sanctuary Scheme is designed to enable victims of domestic violence to remain in their own accommodation, where it is safe for them to do so, where it is their choice and where the perpetrator does not live in the accommodation. The main feature of the scheme is the creation of a sanctuary room, providing a safe room or sanctuary from where victims can call and wait for the arrival of the police. (Local Government Association and Department for Communities and Local Government 2006) 17

18 A greater understanding of the extent and trends of women s migration therefore raises significant questions for: The provision of services to accommodate and assist women (and their children) escaping domestic violence the need for national provision with sufficient capacity, and a dispersed distribution around the country (for reasons of safety and security, justice, and to provide for specialist needs). The conception of women s journeys as forced migration, which allows insights and learning from the experiences of other migrants and other diasporas. For example, there is a potential role for services in reducing isolation, and supporting women to create shared narratives, so that they can experience a more collective sense within their dislocation, and less of an individual exile. The research therefore begins a re-conceptualisation of the journeys of women fleeing domestic violence, to point towards possibilities to inform greater understanding and more effective policy and practice; and the potential for positive moves, and the possibility of creating sites of hope and new beginnings (Brah 1996). To finish, this paper ends with a quote from one of the women interviewed, reflecting on her experience of relocation and wanting to settle safely. I shouldn t be keeping on running I m running every minute. That s why I said I m making sure that this property, and my next property because obviously I need to move to my permanent to make sure that s my last. No more stress after this that s what I m saying domestic violence no more. [Emma] 18

19 References: Boyle, P., Halfacree, K. and Robinson, V. 1998: Exploring Contemporary Migration Harlow, Essex : Longman Brah, A. 1996: Cartographies of diaspora: Contesting identities London: Routledge Hanson, S. 2002: Connections in Gender, Place & Culture, 9:3, pp Heywood, I., Cornelius, S. and Carver, S. 2002: An Introduction to Geographical Information Systems: 2nd edition Harlow: Pearson Education Home Office 2006: Domestic Violence The Facts Factsheet sent to Local Authorities 16 February 2006 James-Hanman, D. 2001: Why hotspotting and domestic violence don t mix London: Greater London Domestic Violence Project Kwan, Mei-Po (2002): Is GIS for Women? Reflections on the critical discourse in the 1990s in Gender, Place & Culture, 9:3, pp Local Government Association and Department for Communities and Local Government (2006): Options for Setting up a Sanctuary Scheme London: DCLG Mahler, S. and Pessar, P. 2001: Gendered Geographies of Power: Analyzing Gender Across Transnational Spaces in Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 7(4): pp Massey, D. 1994: Space, place and gender Cambridge: Polity Press O Sullivan, D. 2006: Geographical information science: critical GIS in Progress in Human Geography 30, 6 (2006) pp Rose, G. 1993: Feminism and Geography Cambridge: Polity Press Silvey, R. 2006: Geographies of Gender and Migration: Spatializing Social Difference in International Migration Review, Volume 40 Number 1 (Spring 2006):pp64 81 Women s Aid 2007: 2006 Survey of Domestic Violence Services Findings [accessed ] 19

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