By Janet Bowstead
How does a piece of land become more like a landscape? How does it change from a fragment, a piece, a glimpsed backdrop that does not make sense as a whole – to become a meaningful, coherent vista? A landscape is an area that you can navigate through, that has maps and paths and alternative routes; that provides viewpoints and restpoints. Others can understand the landscape too – and help you by suggesting routes, waypoints, milestones and features to look out for to reassure you that you are going the right way. Even if you are on your own at that moment, you can have a sense that you’re somewhere that others have travelled before – and know that they reached their destination.
This is the thinking behind research to change journeys into “journeyscapes”. The journeys in question are women’s journeys – often with their children – to escape an abusive partner. All too often, beyond the original escape, the journeys continue to be fragmented and disorientating over both time and space. Women have little control over their mobility – where they go, how long they stay in temporary accommodation, whether they have to keep on moving.
They have escaped a controlling situation – to quote a research interviewee:
“I felt forced into everything really; because it was just such a very controlled house. Everything had to be done in a certain way; and just – I don’t know – the only person who seemed to be able to come and go as they pleased was him [ex partner]. You know, everything else had to be like the way he wanted it.”
[Louise – Age 28, with 7 year old girl. White British ethnic origin. Journey from rented social housing in a city in Wales to private rented in a town in a Rural area.]
However, their domestic violence journeys often have further multiple stages required by services, policies and authorities, over which they have no say; and for which they cannot plan:
“I feel, when I move now, it’s going to be harder for me to settle down – because I’ve gone round and round. So just to get my mind in one place and think – yes: if I know I’m going to be in one place for more than a year then I’ll be happy! Because it’s just been eight months here, eight months there, and I’m thinking – I might as well get a caravan and just ride around in it! [laughs] At least it’s on wheels and I can move – and I’m in one house! So it’s just – and for my daughter as well – different areas, different nurseries and stuff like that – I just want her to be in one place with me.”
[Jenny – Age 21, with 3 year old girl. Mixed White/Black Caribbean ethnic origin. Journey from private rented to rented social housing within London.]
The issue is not that women should not make these journeys. For many women, staying put would mean their lives continued to be restricted and unsafe, and relocation brings positive gains:
“I’m in a different world – completely! I’m free. I feel like I’ve come out of prison in a sense; where I was completely dictated to – now I’m free! If I want to go down town – I go! I haven’t got to worry about anybody. Not so much worrying about their meals and such; but I haven’t got to rush back in case he gets annoyed that I’m not here. If I want to stay out all day – I can. I’m not controlled – I’ve got the control; I’ve taken the control back – which is important.”
[Elizabeth – Age 56, with an adult son. White British ethnic origin. Journey from owner-occupied in London suburbs to rented social housing in a very Rural area.]
However, at present, in the UK, domestic violence journeys are made more fragmented by the lack of recognition – in law and practice – that they are these complex journeys; and this makes them more risky, costly and disruptive for the women and children involved. This can be contrasted with the concept of a functional scale for domestic violence journeys – “journeyscapes” – whereby women and children travel as far as they need to escape the abuse, but are not forced any further due to administrative boundaries or services. Changing these journeys into journeyscapes could enable more effective responses so that women only make the journeys that are strictly necessary, and are more smoothly and swiftly able to move to where they can settle and rebuild their fragmented lives. A society which thinks and responds more coherently in terms of policy, services and rights could journeyscape women’s experiences and help them re-establish control over their sense and reality of home.
Janet Bowstead is British Academy Post Doctoral Fellow in Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London.