Housing barriers impact VAWG survivors journey to recovery and independence
This week marks the second week of ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence’, an international moment to call for an end to violence against women and girls (VAWG), which is a systematic injustice affecting one in three women globally.
In the UK, VAWG is rising at an alarming rate. An estimated 2.4 million adults experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2022, up 40 percent from 2020, and around 1 in 4 women have been victims of sexual violence.
Experiences of abuse and violence are “near universal” for women who are homeless, according to the charity Single Homeless Project. In recent years, a shortage of safe and affordable housing across the country has worsened the outcome for survivors, with a 24 percent rise in the number of households homeless as a result of domestic abuse between July 2021 and March 2022.
While the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 gives local authorities a statutory duty to find accommodation for survivors to prevent them from sleeping rough, the data tells us a different story. Over 10,000 women referred to safe accommodation services were unable to receive support due to lack of capacity or because the shelter could not meet the needs of the household, according to a report monitoring how councils meet their duties under the Domestic Abuse Act.
Inflation and increased energy bills amidst the cost of living crisis have also further exacerbated the struggles facing survivors. Two-thirds of front-line workers surveyed by domestic violence charity Refuge found survivors are questioning leaving their abuser due to fears of poverty and facing homelessness. This is something no survivor should have to consider.
With women’s experiences of homelessness often connected to their experience of violence, access to safe housing can help break this cycle by ensuring women have somewhere to go.
Through our partnership with leading women’s charity Solace Women’s Aid, we’ve seen the impact safe and secure housing paired with additional support has for survivors of gender-based violence.
The Rhea project provided stable accommodation and tailored support for women and their children fleeing domestic violence. Survivors who used Rhea expressed how the service helped them to recover from trauma, improved their mental and physical health, and gave them hope and aspirations for their future. The stability provided by housing also helped improve women’s financial situation and ability to maintain a job, which is vital to ensuring survivors can lay the foundations for regaining their independence.
For women experiencing sexual exploitation, the Amari project, also in collaboration with Solace Women’s Aid, offered safe, secure post-emergency accommodation. Many women fleeing sexual exploitation are often denied access to housing and support after emergency accommodation. Without a continued safe living environment, survivors risk falling into homelessness or returning to the lives they left behind.
By providing a secure space to gain life skills and support to recover from their trauma and become independent, women who were housed through the Amari project self-reported improvements in their well-being, health, peace of living and financial security.
Both the Rhea and Amari projects reached their scheduled ending this year following a seven-year pilot period, leaving behind a wealth of learnings showcasing the fundamental role housing plays in enabling survivors to recover from their trauma and rebuild their lives.
As we reflect on the relationship between housing, homelessness and VAWG, it’s clear housing is at the heart of recovery for survivors. But this 16 Days of Activism is a reminder there remains a lot to be done to ensure access to safe housing options is a reality for all survivors of VAWG.