Women ‘forced to choose’ between homelessness and domestic abuse, say campaigners

Womens aid picWomen and children experiencing domestic abuse in Scotland are routinely being made homeless by the services that are meant to help them, according to Scottish Women’s Aid.

The claim comes after the publication of a two-year study looking into women’s experiences of homelessness as a result of domestic and sexual abuse. It reveals that women were being let down by the system and “forced to choose between homelessness and abuse”.

Research carried out in Fife by the Women’s Health Improvement Research Project (WHIR) discovered that the majority of women who took part felt they were given no choice about losing their home when ending a relationship with an abusive partner. They also felt they had little or no control in the process and even had their experience of abuse minimised by those who were meant to help them.

Nearly half (46 per cent) of women who took part in the survey said they had already been made homeless more than once because of domestic or sexual abuse.

The charity has now called for a new national strategy to specifically address enforced homelessness to meet the needs of women and children experiencing domestic abuse.

Scottish Women’s Aid, chief executive, Dr Marsha Scott, said: “The findings from this research project raise serious concerns about the housing options that are available to women who are at risk of homelessness due to domestic or sexual abuse and raises questions over whether the Scottish Government’s policy on homelessness prevention is appropriate for women who experience domestic or sexual abuse.

“The system continues to punish women and children for being victims rather than perpetrators, by forcing them to choose between abuse and homelessness.”

She added: “We want to see women’s rights and ability to remain in their home strengthened and additional action taken to remove and rehouse perpetrator s and abusive ex-partners.”

The survey, which spoke to 45 women and 96 service providers, discovered that more than half said they had not been told about other housing options and when they were they were limited to various types of homeless accommodation.

Furthermore, many did not feel any safer once they had left their home as their ex-partner would often know their new address, in particular in cases where they had child access.

In the report the research team suggested that too many of the women who were suffering abusive relationships had been treated like “second-class citizens” by the system that was meant to help them.

Domestic abuse is the fourth most common cause of homelessness in Scotland, with 11 per cent of applications attributed to it.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We expect local authorities, when making decisions on how they see services being delivered, to take the needs of those who use these services into account. We do not tolerate any violence against women and children and anyone who experiences domestic abuse should be able to access support services they require.”

The WHIR project has been developed in partnership with Fife Domestic and Sexual Abuse Partnership and is funded by the Fife Health and Wellbeing Alliance, Health Inequalities Funding Programme for Community Led Projects. The evaluation of the community led projects by the University of Glasgow can be found here.

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