How women and children rebuild their lives after domestic violence
Since there was no single, shared story there is no set formula for rebuilding lives. Yet within this diversity
we identified the foundation stones that help facilitate the building of a new life. These were:
having opportunities to explore domestic violence and its legacies through counselling, but also with
trusted family and friends;
being and feeling safe;
becoming settled and able to make a new home;
Improved health/ability to manage health conditions;
children in new schools and less anxious, able to make and see friends;
(re)entering employment and/or education and training;
a tight, but trusted, network of family and friends; and
Rebuilding lives and remaking selves are lengthy processes in which women and their children face a
number of obstacles and challenges. Not everyone was able to put all of these foundation stones in place
by the end of three years and the changed legal and policy context not only made this more difficult but
increased the costs to women and their children.
Our findings provide an evidence base that can be used to improve support for women and their children
in the process of rebuilding their lives and which will also be used to influence local and national policy
It would be possible to make a lengthy list of recommendations, linked to the research findings and
the international obligations national and local governments have to protect women from violence.
Instead we have chosen to highlight five key themes and some, but by no means all, of the actions and
implications that flow from them. Ultimately, the question we face is whether it is just and equitable that
so many women and children are left to pay the costs of safety and freedom, especially when so many
of the perpetrators are not held to account.
1. This study shows that ending domestic violence, dealing with its legacies and rebuilding lives takes
time; some women and children were still facing post separation abuse three years on, and many faced
complex legal and practical challenges across the study. The holistic wrap around provision Solace
created, through a variety of funding sources, has not been sufficiently recognised, since we have
neglected to pay attention to the process of rebuilding lives.
We recommend therefore that all women and children who have experienced domestic violence are in a
position to access support for a minimum of two years after separation, and this should include:
refuge and floating support;
legal advice and advocacy;
short courses on understanding domestic violence;
specialist counselling and group work for women and for children;
skills and confidence building workshops; and
workshops and individual support orientated to (re)entering employment.
2. Understanding of domestic violence, pre and post separation, in statutory agencies is poor, meaning
that too often they hinder, rather than support, the progress of women and children rebuilding their lives.
Some of this could be addressed through basic training which focuses on coercive control, rather than
incidents of physical assault; and which alerts them to the reality that leaving does not necessarily
In addition, given the repeated evidence of failure to implement existing policy and guidance, and the shift
to localism, a system of monitoring the delivery of sensitive and responsive services to domestic violence
survivors needs to be developed. A key component would be regularly convened (at least twice a year)
panels of survivors whose recent experiences of service use – good and bad – is considered
3. Having a safe home was crucial to the rebuilding process, since it was the reason for separation in the
first place. The housing situation in London has led to a critical situation for those fleeing domestic abuse.
Women cannot find refuge spaces and those in refuges are forced to stay for unnecessarily long periods
due to the lack of move on accommodation. We concur with the findings of Janet Bowstead (2013) that
refuges should be considered a national resource, given the needs of many women to move away to be
safe, but delivered locally. Similarly many women ended up in inappropriate, and sometimes unsafe,
temporary accommodation and private rentals for lengthy periods.
Women and children made homeless through domestic violence should be recognised as a unique
group fleeing crimes that take place in the home. This needs to be recognised through special
measures including the offer of a social housing tenancy.
4. Many women suffered financial abuse within the relationship, and for some this continued and even
intensified when they separated. This will be exacerbated by proposed Universal Credit regulations
where one partner will receive payment for the whole family. The ending of crisis loans and community
care grants makes the rebuilding process even more complex, and other benefit reforms created
Universal credit payments should be made to the woman where there are children involved.
A specific fund for families having to relocate due to domestic violence should be created by central
Women should not have their housing benefit reduced for an empty bedroom for at least two years
following the perpetrator leaving the family home and then the situation reviewed.
5. Community resources hold the potential to be enablers or barriers to women re-building their lives.
Whilst friends and families were the most significant sources of support, neighbours, work colleagues,
faith communities and community organisations also featured. However, many women also encountered
being discouraged from ending the relationship, and when they chose this course of action they were
too frequently met with blame and judgment. What they sought was recognition of abuse and its harms,
respect for their decisions and safety needs, and a sense of belonging to strong networks. National and
local awareness raising work needs to expand understanding of what domestic violence is, including
post-separation abuse, alongside clear messages about listening to and respecting survivors and offering
support when needed.