To read the report by the ONS in full click here.

To read Women’s Aid’s analysis of the findings click here.


Why the definition of refuge matters

Sarika Seshadri, Head of Research and Evaluation

“For those three weeks, I didn’t eat anything. I was breastfeeding. And it was COVID, and the hotel didn’t give too much, just gave a cereal, a juice, and a cake. That was all my food for three weeks, while I was breastfeeding. And I didn’t have money to buy anything”.

(Multiple types of TSA, Other ethnic group)

The report Women survivors of domestic abuse and their lived experiences of temporary safe accommodation in England: January to June 2023” from the ONS explores the experiences of women accessing different forms of temporary accommodation. Centering women’s voices, it sheds important light on what it is actually like to flee domestic abuse. From worrying about not being able to safely return to pay back some borrowed money for a train fare, to not being able to feed yourself or your children, the stories that the women shared bring home the real and daily challenges women face in escaping domestic abuse. Whilst each woman’s experience is different, the stories here reflect the critical difference that specialist support can make, whilst also being a testament to the strength and resilience of the women themselves.

What the stories also show is the difference between a refuge service, including specialist ‘by and for’ refuge services, and other types of temporary accommodation, which may not even be safe. Women’s Aid defines a refuge service as a type of safe accommodation dedicated for survivors of domestic abuse that includes a specific programme of support. This differs from other forms of accommodation, which we know from our work on our No Woman Turned Away project, are often unsuitable and dangerous for women fleeing domestic abuse.

This report highlights this difference, showing that in other forms of temporary accommodation, women and their children were often unable to access even basic rights such as food, water, clothing, bedding or space to sleep. Women were frightened for their safety, and the safety of their children. They struggled to navigate complex systems to access services, felt isolated and depressed and struggled to secure the resources they needed to move on. Despite the fact that children are now recognised in law, under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, as victims in their own right, women were unable to secure support for their traumatised children.

 “We’re just living in one small room, with … one double bed. So, we have to share a bed. He sometimes didn’t like me to sleep with him… I told the council, ‘This is the situation. It’s very narrow, and I don’t know what to do’… They were like, ‘You have to make him sleep on the floor, and you sleep on the bed.’…How can I do that? He’s a disabled child. He’s autistic. How can I make him sleep on the floor, while I’m on the bed?”

(Multiple types of TSA, Other ethnic group)

Even those women who had accessed refuge, reported that they were concerned about staff who were overworked and overstretched, and some refuges didn’t offer the quality or specialism of service that women fleeing domestic abuse desperately need. 

“As much as women have help, particularly speaking for myself, you have the support, you have your key worker that comes to see you every week, but one side that I thought was not looked …  into is people’s mental health … accessing even mental help was very difficult … Because I felt suicidal a lot. But my key worker was very good, she was really brilliant. She made loads and loads of referrals.”.

(Refuge, Black African)

This quote supports the findings from a recent report from Imkaan and the Centre for Women’s Justice on the suicides and homicides of Black and minoritised women, that specialist support, and in particular support provided by ‘by and for’ services, can potentially be the difference between life and death. Women fleeing domestic abuse need a well-funded, sustainable and high-quality network of specialist refuge services, including ‘by and for’ refuge services, that can support them and their children to recover, move on and live free from abuse.  

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