Date Published: 25 May 2010

Women fleeing violent relationships inform pioneering research

Health News from Bristol, England (UK).

The moving testimonies of women who survived years of domestic abuse feature in the first long term study of its kind in 30 years, which could help to improve women’s chances of building a better future.

Dr Hilary Abrahams from the University of Bristol’s School for Policy Studies interviewed 12 women over a seven year period, tracing the effects of living in a refuge and how they coped living independently.

The results of the study are published this month in a new book, Rebuilding Lives after Domestic Violence: Understanding Long-Term Outcomes.

Dr Abrahams, an Honorary Research Fellow at Bristol University’s Centre for Gender and Violence Research, found that the women were keen to work and contribute to society but without access to affordable and appropriate childcare, they were constrained and hampered by a series of obstacles, such as difficulties finding safe and independent accommodation.

Most noticeably, the women felt that longer term support and the wider availability of support groups might help to counter the sense of isolation, distrust and anxiety that otherwise tainted their lives as a result of years of abuse.

Dr Abrahams said:

Refuges provide an essential breathing space for women to recover from the initial impact of leaving and receive support as they prepare to move on. But support needs to continue to be available within the context of their new lives as they try out new ways of being and learn to live independently. As one of them said to me ‘it's not just in the refuge, it's a few years down the line’.

The key findings of the study, supported by a grant from the British Academy, revealed:

  • The importance of safe, suitable accommodation: women who are desperate will take anything to escape a violent home, but it is the responsibility of those working with them to ensure they are not placed in accommodation which could place them at risk, either by being close to the abuser or being unsuitable to their needs;
  • The importance of long term support, both emotional and practical; women who have never been allowed to control their own finances or take care of themselves need help in rebuilding their self-esteem and confidence to find their inner strengths and resources;
  • The need for help in rebuilding social networks; the input of housing officers, commissioners of services, housing associations, people who work in refuges and outreach.

The book provides an insight into the lengthy and difficult process of recovery and reintegration, and offers messages and advice to those working with women who have endured similar experiences. Dr Abrahams was keen to bear witness to the women’s experiences and to given them a voice in helping to shape recommendations for change that could impact on services for survivors of domestic abuse.

As BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour presenter Jenni Murray OBE, writing the Forward to the book, notes, the overriding message is one of hope:

It is a testament to the bravery and resourcefulness of women who have suffered unimaginable humiliation and cruelty”.


Source: Bristol University, England (UK)..

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