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Spaces of safety and more-than-safety in women’s refuges in England

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Many women escaping domestic violence spend time in women’s refuges (shelters) whilst they deal with practical and emotional issues in a safe space. Such spaces are therefore an important place for women’s recovery and empowerment after abuse, but are also complex spaces of displacement. In the UK, there is a wide range of refuge providers, and different models of accommodation and support provision in refuges. Differences, such as those between refuges providing self-contained flats and those with communal facilities and communal activities, can provide very different experiences for the women and their children who live there. In addition, there have been shifts in the policy context of refuges, and increasingly individualistic models of service provision. This article explores women’s refuges as spaces of safety, and of more-than-safety, drawing on interviews with women in the Midlands, South Coast and London, and on participatory creative groupwork with women in the Midlands and South Coast. Refuge spaces require, but also enable, contact and encounter between women; and communal living and group processes can enable interaction and collaboration between women. The article draws on women’s words and images to exemplify these experiences, concluding that the safe spaces of women’s refuges can enable processes of more-than-safety. These collective processes begin to counteract the isolation of abuse and to help prepare women for their lives after the refuge.
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Keywords: Communal; displacement; domestic violence; groupwork; safety

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey, UK

Publication date: January 2, 2019

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