Survival and beyond
The scale of domestic abuse in England and Wales is widely acknowledged. An Office for National Statistics report from last month estimated that 1.2 million women were abused last year.
Now a new (8 March 2018) report from Women’s Aid provides much more detailed information about those who seek help and the parlous state of domestic abuse services – both refuges and community services.
Survival and Beyond is a comprehensive report based on five major data sources including Women’s Aid’s annual census of women using domestic abuse services (a one day census for refuges and a census of one week’s duration for community services).
Who uses domestic abuse services?
Domestic abuse services are supporting large numbers of women and children from a range of backgrounds. Based on answers from respondents to the Women’s Aid Annual Survey 2017, the report estimates that there were 3,557 women with 3,919 children staying in refuge on the Day to Count and 25,727 women using community-based services in the Week to Count across all services in England.
Based on these censuses, it is estimated that over the year 2016/17, refuge services supported a total of 13,414 women with 14,353 children and 154,306 women used community-based services across all services in England.
Meeting the needs of women and children
Survivors using domestic abuse services had a very wide range of needs (see the chart below), as, of course, did their children – three fifths (61.7%) of women in refuge had children under 18 with them and a similar proportion (59%) of women using community services were also caring for their children.
Even the majority of these survivors of domestic abuse who had taken direct action to get help and support had not reported their abuse to the police. Just 28% women using community services had reported their abuse to the police (in some cases the abuse had been reported by concerned others) and the abuse of 43.7% of women using refuges had been reported to the police.
There was a criminal case against just 13.2% perpetrators of domestic abuse of women using community services and 17% of perpetrators whose victims were using refuges.
Interestingly, the figures for civil action (such as a non-molestation or occupation order) were slightly more common – in 13.5% cases involving women using community services and 20.4% for survivors in refuges.
In the Day and Week to Count, 52.7% of refuge service users and 30.6% of community-based service users had sustained physical injury from the domestic abuse they had experienced. In the Day and Week to Count, 38.3% of women in refuge and 28.4% of women in community-based services had mental health support needs.
The annual survey for 2017 showed that about three quarters of women (77.9%) using refuge services on the Day to Count and about two fifths of women (41.1%) using community based services during the Week to Count had health-related needs.
Demand exceeds capacity
The report makes very plain the extent to which services are unable to meet the needs of survivors of domestic abuse:
- 24.3% of referrals in 2016/17 to community-based services responding to the annual survey were declined
- 60.0% of referrals in 2016/17 to refuge services responding to the annual survey were declined, one in five of all referrals were declined due to lack of space in the refuge.
Demand for all service types continues to be higher than capacity. The number of survivors looking for support in these services is likely to be substantially greater than these ‘referrals declined’ figures indicate. Some women are unaware of helping services, others are not referred because the professionals referring know there are no vacancies.
Access to services
The report also makes it clear that for some groups of women, access to helping services is particularly problematic. Of the 11,187 vacancies listed on Routes to Support during 2016/17:
- Only 1.7% (n=195) had wheelchair access with a further 1.3% (n=150) being suitable for a woman with limited mobility
- Only 766 out of 11,187 vacancies (5.4%) posted on Routes to Support would accept applications from women with no recourse to public funds
- Less than half could take a woman with two children, this reduces to less than one in five for a woman with three children
In addition to the fact that there are clearly insufficient services, those services which do exist are under increasing financial pressure:
- 46.3% (57 services of 123) of organisations responding to the Women’s Aid Annual Survey 2017 were running an area of work without dedicated funding during 2016/17.
- 20.3% (n=24) received 25% or less of their funding from the local authority.
- Funding was the most commonly mentioned theme to a question about the service’s biggest challenge in 2016/17, with 60.0% of respondents raising concerns about funding.
The government continues to highlight the issue of domestic abuse and increase the criminal justice response; on the same day as Women’s Aid published this report, the government published its draft Domestic Abuse Bill which included Proposed Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPOs) which would allow police and courts to intervene earlier where abuse is suspected and would allow courts to electronically monitor suspects’ whereabouts before they have been found guilty of – or even committed – a crime.
It is time that similar attention and resources were invested in a comprehensive network of properly funded services for the survivors of domestic abuse.