New research explores why women aren’t able to stay home after family violence
McAuley and the University of Melbourne recently conducted research exploring the views of frontline family violence workers about why women are becoming homeless after family violence. This is an issue that has long been of concern to McAuley, and we have been advocating and working with other organisations with the aim of ensuring more women can be ‘Safe at Home.’
Safe at Home is an approach which addresses the risks of homelessness, poverty and intergenerational trauma that occur when women must leave their homes to escape violence. It is a social justice response which recognises that it is inherently unfair that women and children must leave their homes simply to be safe.
When the alternative is sleeping in cars, squalid rooming houses, multiple moves around unsuitable accommodation, and struggling financially, many women will feel that they have no realistic option of leaving. As many as 7,690 women a year return to perpetrators due to having nowhere affordable to live.
The research project asked family violence workers what they saw as the barriers that were preventing women from remaining at home. Outcomes and attitudes to ‘Safe at Home’ varied, with the timing of the first contact with the woman and the sort of intervention offered being significant. Outreach workers, for example, were more positive about it as a possibility than those working with women who had already left.
Workers based in services which only worked with women were less confident that ‘Safe at Home’ was achievable. Typically, the women they saw had already left the family home, and may have already had several moves to be safe. Workers in these situations often felt it was already too late, too difficult —or just too unsafe ——to initiate the legal and policing steps necessary to remove perpetrators who’d remained in the family home.
Another key finding was that the unrelenting nature of the violence and perpetrators’ lack of respect for legal orders meant women were unsafe. For this reason one finding was that organisations which also worked with perpetrators and kept them in view felt ‘Safe at Home’ was more achievable.
Workers acknowledged the difficulty in their roles, of balancing ‘duty of care’ and ‘dignity of risk’ when supporting women to reach decisions about whether to stay or leave but recognised the decision was always the woman’s to make.
The research project is an addition to other work undertaken by McAuley to further a ‘Safe at Home’ approach. The summary (below) appeared in the March edition of Parity, the Journal of the Council to Homeless Persons.