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Geographies of Domestic Violence

Geographies of Domestic Violence

Abstract picture on the theme of domestic violence

In England each year over 50,000 women and children are forced by violence to leave their homes and move to a refuge. Domestic violence is the most common violent crime against women in England and Wales, and occurs across all social classes, all ethnic groups and all age groups. Although frequently hidden and difficult to quantify, it appears to be a global phenomenon, and one which is increasing.

This small-scale project contributes to research into the geographies of fear, looking in some depth at the spatial aspects of domestic violence in parts of southern and eastern England. Empirical work involving interviews with residents across 15 East Anglian refuges found that if space is envisaged as a series of nested rectangles (see below), then a woman suffering sustained domestic violence may be spatially and socially restricted to the inner rectangle, rarely venturing outside the home environment. She may have contact with those in the immediate neighbourhood, with close female friends or relatives. If she considers leaving her partner, she is likely to have contact with formal agencies outside the neighbourhood, who may help her to gain access to a refuge. A refuge, however, although situated in the wider community, and often some distance from her home, is still a closed environment. Only if she leaves the refuge and moves to a new home is she likely to build up new social networks, but even there fear of further attack may restrict her movements outside the home.

Diagram as described adjacent

A second aspect of the research has focused on the changing nature of women's refuge provision. The early 1970s saw the emergence of a new social movement of feminist activists, who became concerned to assist victims through the development of refuges or safe houses, to challenge women's position in society, and to engage in lobbying, marches and negotiating with local agencies. The core philosophy was one of empowerment, of enabling women to see they had choices in their lives, and supporting them in making choices. In-depth interviews with ten refuge workers, some of whom had been involved in the early movement, showed an evolution of the principles and philosophy structuring the early refuges, leading to a gradual shift from a social movement to a social service model of provision. Insecurity over funding arrangements, the demand for more formal management structures and changes within the women's movement itself, have begun to transform the nature of refuges, with consequent impacts upon the women who seek shelter.

The most recent strand of the research is to explore more fully the impact of a change in funding for refuges, following the introduction of the government's 'Supporting People' initiative. Working with a network of refuges in central southern England, Dr Warrington is exploring the spatial variation in the application of this new funding regime, and looking at the implications for those who are reliant on refuges as a sanctuary from the violence which permeates their lives.


  • Warrington, M. 2003 'Fleeing from fear: the role of refuges', Capital and Class, 80, 109-136
  • Warrington, M. 2001 "I must get out": the geographies of domestic violence', Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 26.3, 365-382