Showing survivor journeys into refuge

Showing survivor journeys into refuge

Women’s Aid data has been used as part of a MSc project by Nissa Ramsay to create a data visualisation map of the journeys women have made into refuges in London from 2015-2016. 1165 journeys are represented on the website

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, welcomes the new website. She said:

“Women’s Aid is a national membership organisation, and we take data collection seriously. All of our work to end domestic abuse is underpinned by solid evidence. We collect a comprehensive range of data on domestic abuse, which includes detailed data from London refuge providers about the women who are accessing services. Nissa Ramsay has worked with Women’s Aid as part of her Masters in Digital Sociology at Goldsmiths University, using this valuable data, to create an online data visualisation at The site includes a map which allows you to examine the 1165 journeys women made to seek refuge in London when fleeing domestic abuse between April 1st 2015 and March 31st 2016. This site provides a valuable insight into the journeys that survivors are making, often with their children, as they escape their abuser to find safety in a refuge.

“This work is informed by running UKRefugesOnline, which is the UK-wide database of domestic abuse services and refuge vacancies, in partnership with Women’s Aid Federation of Northern Ireland, Scottish Women’s Aid and Welsh Women’s Aid. It contains detailed, up-to-date information on the nature and scope of domestic abuse services throughout the UK, including services for specific groups of women and women with support needs. It also contains current information about bedspaces available in refuge houses. Since 2013, with the support of London Councils, Women’s Aid has been collecting detailed data from London refuge providers on the women who are accessing spaces.

We know that a number of local authorities have commissioned refuges with quotas restricting the number of women from out of the area allowed. This means that that while one local authority may house women from out of area in their refuge, other local authorities will only house women from the same borough. When women are literally running for their lives away from dangerous perpetrators, and need to get as far away as possible… for safety, this is extremely worrying. A key outcome for the government by 2020 is that, “No victim is turned away from accessing critical support services delivered by refuges.” We need this data to be able to show what is happening to women and help improve the options available to them, and we are now looking to roll out this data capture nationally, which will strengthen the evidence base available for sound commissioning and domestic abuse policy and practice.”

Nissa Ramsay said:

“Digital Sociology brings together digital technologies with sociological concerns, to enable new ways of knowing social issues.I approached Women’s Aid because I wanted to develop the technical skills needed to create an interactive and engaging data visualisation that they could share publicly. I began creating maps of refuge provision with Women’s Aid, and came across large-scale academic studies of domestic abuse migration (Bowstead 2015), which evidenced the vast distances women travel to escape an abusive partner. I developed this project, which  was primarily technical in nature, to focus on creating the most effective ways to visualise data collated by Women’s Aid on the journeys women made between London boroughs. As a prototype, it only includes journeys for refuges in London, helping us explore the value of using this map to inform service design and funding.

“Each woman’s journey and experience to escape domestic abuse is unique, and this visualisation highlights the diversity of their migration when accessing a refuge in London. When a woman is placed in a refuge, she has to leave her entire life behind. The journey she makes is covert, her new address is held in secrecy and she is likely to travel a long distance in order to stay safe. In doing so, this stay in a refuge represents a pivotal stage in moving on from an abusive partner, physically and emotionally.

“We believed making their journeys visible would bring their journeys to public attention; to help us all think more about the scale and effects of domestic abuse and the need for services to support those who experience it.  We were very careful to ensure that the locations of refuges remained secret and the journeys visualised are all anonymous by using representative locations for journeys to and from each borough.Overall, this map highlights that women rarely stay in their own borough to seek refuge, regardless of the level of provision. Their journeys are hugely diverse and were not necessarily between neighbouring boroughs or those in the same region of London.  Finally, it draws attention to the scale of demand for domestic abuse services in comparison to the refuge spaces available.*

“We hope it helps you to think more about the journeys women make to escape domestic abuse and the role of refuges in providing life saving services where and when they need them.”

*Please note that the maps show the journeys based on available data and therefore do not represent all of the women seeking refuge in London. They also do not reflect the experiences of the many women who are experiencing domestic abuse but not seeking refuge, or show the availability of non-refuge based domestic abuse services.


Bowstead, J.C.(2015a) Why women’s domestic violence refuges are not local services. Critical Social Policy. 35 (3), pp. 327-349.

Bowstead JC. (2015b) Forced migration in the United Kingdom: women’s journeys to escape domestic violence. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series 40: 307–320

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