How Sweden's housing crisis is impacting domestic violence victims

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How Sweden's housing crisis is impacting domestic violence victims
File photo from a women's shelter in Sweden. Photo: Drago Prvulovic/TT

New statistics show the impact Sweden's housing crisis is having on women fleeing domestic violence, who are being forced to spend longer and longer living at women’s shelters.


In four years, the time on average that women are spending living at the shelters has increased by over 20 days, and the result is that shelters are being forced to reject seven out of ten newcomers looking for support.

That's according to figures from Swedish women's shelter association Unizon, which show that it is becoming more difficult for women to progress from the shelter to permanent housing. Last year women spent an average of 61 days living at their shelters compared to an average of 40 days four years ago.

According to Unizon Secretary General Olga Persson, the housing shortage in Sweden is the explanation:

"It's to do with them not being able to move out when they are ready to, because there isn't a permanent home for them. A consequence of that is that all of their everyday life stops. It becomes difficult to start a life free from violence, to look for a new job or start to study."

When their time at the shelters runs out, the choice for many women is between going back to the man who has abused them, or becoming homeless.

Previous studies have shown that eight out of ten Swedish municipalities are providing insufficient support for that group, with insecure sublets or places in hostels some of the solutions currently being offered. Some in the end see no other alternative than to return home, which can have catastrophic consequences.

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When women have to prolong their stays at shelters, it also creates a lack of places, meaning fewer support is available for new women and children. Last year only three out of ten who sought shelter at Unizon’s shelters received it.

"Rejecting so many is bad in various ways. When there is an emergency situation and the woman is motivated to leave a violent man it is important that society acts quickly, so that she isn’t persuaded into going back to a violent man who threatens and pursues her," Persson explained.

Political action is needed to solve the problem, and it is not only a question for social services, according to the Unizon secretary:

"The issue definitely needs to be raised at a different level. Both with private and municipal housing companies, and also of course the politicians who make decisions about how we build homes. So single mums who want to start a life without a violent man actually have the possibility to live somewhere."

Suggestions from Unizon include cooperation between municipalities and housing companies on the matter, rental guarantees, and a special preference system for victims of violence.

According to figures from the National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå) and National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen), between 6,500 and 7,000 adults and children live in shelters across Sweden. Around 21,000 cases of assault against a woman where the perpetrator has a close relationship to the victim are reported annually in the country.

But the real figure could be much greater: it's thought that around 80 percent of victims of abuse in relationships never report it.


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