Forced migration in the United Kingdom: women’s journeys to escape domestic violence

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This paper examines a process of forced migration within the United Kingdom: that of women (often with children) escaping violence within relationships. Studies of internal migration in the UK have rarely examined forced migration or emphasised gendered processes, and studies of migration and relationship breakdown have under-recognised abuse in forcing migration decisions. This study used administrative, survey and interview data to identify and explore processes at a range of scales, from individual to national. The empirical analysis reveals that there are high rates of forced residential mobility within many local authorities as well as migration across local authority boundaries, with over 18 000 journeys a year by women to access formal services in England. The migration is distinctive from other internal migration in the UK because of its gendered and forced nature: women are relocating to escape violence and had not otherwise intended to migrate. Journeys are therefore typically focused on trying to minimise disruption either by staying as local as they can, but avoiding friends, family and known locations, or by travelling to a similar type of place to the one left. The primary concern is safety, and journeys are often complex and segmented into multiple stages over time and space. However, despite such disruption at the individual scale, the journeys do not aggregate into net migration flows at the local or national scale and the overall process is one of spatial churn. The multi-scale analysis of this research reveals the turbulence beneath the surface, and highlights a forced migration process which had previously remained invisible to studies of internal migration in the UK.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-320
Number of pages14
JournalTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Issue number3
Early online date25 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015


  • internal migration
  • residential mobility
  • violence against women
  • spatial churn
  • segmented journeys
  • scale

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