‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.’
Romeo and Juliet (11, ii,1-2)
Shakespeare’s Juliet knew that Romeo’s surname did not take into account all the things she loved about him; he was more than his name. Yet, in order to make sense of our world, we continue to ascribe names and definitions to everything, perhaps forgetting that they can never truly encompass everything that something is.
It is perhaps no surprise then, that naming and defining can exclude people who should, arguably, not be excluded. Take for example, the definition of ‘multiple disadvantage’ – one that often focuses on offending, homelessness and substance misuse. These three categories are often seen to be experienced simultaneously by men, as opposed to women. Yet, homeless women are significantly more likely to have mental health needs than men, and although homeless, are less likely to be viewed as such as they eschew hostels and rough sleeping for reasons of safety. So how can women be identified as having multiple and complex needs? Well, service providers around the country have been considering this closely and there appears to be one factor that is dominating – domestic violence.
www.safelives.org.uk provides some sobering statistics on domestic abuse:
• 1.4 million women a year suffer some form of domestic abuse
• On average, victims experience 50 incidents of domestic abuse before getting effective help
• On average high-risk victims live with domestic abuse for 2.6 years before getting help
• Victims of abuse have a higher rate of drug and/or alcohol misuse; at least 20% of high-risk victims of abuse report using drugs and/or alcohol
• 40% of high-risk victims of abuse report mental health difficulties
More and more research is coming to light that illustrates the link between women who have experienced domestic violence and who have multiple and complex needs. Considering the volume of abuse that victims receive before seeking (or gaining effective) help, some organisations have highlighted the importance of pro-actively identifying domestic violence and offering support before it is requested.
Within this context, Shelter, Homeless Link and London Councils came together on the 22nd September 2015 to place a spotlight on this issue by discussing why housing plays a vital role in tackling domestic abuse. Organisations such as the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) are setting up a national initiative whose aim is to transform the housing sector’s response to domestic abuse. The East London Housing Partnership has set up Pan London Domestic Violence Reciprocal Agreements and is promoting stronger links through joint commissioning. AVA’s Stella project provides refuge for survivors of domestic violence who use alcohol and other drugs or have mental health problems.
If domestic violence is as prevalent amongst women with multiple needs as recent studies are beginning to show, then there is a compelling argument to investigate the links between domestic violence and multiple needs as part of the Fulfilling Lives: Supporting people with multiple needs initiative.