Barriers to transportation for domestic violence survivors

Transportation is vital in connecting people to the essential services they need, such as healthcare, education, and jobs. But for many domestic violence survivors, transportation can be life-saving— a critical part of getting to safety. Access to safe, affordable, and dependable transportation is paramount in a survivor’s journey and yet is a common barrier many people impacted by domestic violence face, especially when attempting to leave an abusive relationship. Every day at the National Domestic Violence Hotline (The Hotline), we hear from survivors that transportation is a  huge barrier for domestic violence survivors seeking safety and can hinder survivors from moving forward toward a life free from violence. In 2022, The Hotline saw an uptick in need for emergency transportation services—8,541 people reaching out to The Hotline needed emergency transportation, an increase of 117% compared to 2021.



barriers to transportation
barriers to transportation

Transportation is important

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, public transportation provides people with mobility and access to employment, community resources, medical care, and recreational opportunities. It benefits those who choose to ride and those who have no choice: over 90 percent of public assistance recipients do not own a car and must rely on public transportation. Public transit provides a basic mobility service to people without car access. In studies, transportation has positively influenced societal activities, the environment, socioeconomic factors, and health. However, we must ensure that safety is considered in public and app-based transportation.

Dependency and barriers to transportation 

Domestic violence is extremely complex, and a lack of dependable and affordable transportation leads to survivors’ lack of independence and need to ask for help which can be tiring and time-consuming. It often involves the survivor telling their story multiple times and contacting multiple people or places to find help. This can be even more difficult for survivors with limited resources, including time, and who don’t have the technology, privacy, or transportation to seek support safely.

Common barriers to transportation

Often, the lack of transportation forces victims to choose between their welfare and returning to their abusers. Exiting a relationship can be one of the most dangerous times for victims and survivors. On average, it takes a victim seven times to safely leave an abusive relationship before staying away for good. As the abusive partner senses they’re losing power and control over the victim or survivor, they act dangerously, often causing more harm, to try to regain control over the victim. Here are some common barriers to transportation that domestic violence survivors may experience:

Common transportation barriers

Flexibility: Inadequate public transportation

In a study, researchers found that abusive partners use control and coercion among intimate partner violence (IPV) partners. After exiting the IPV relationship, survivors need on-demand transit whenever possible. First- and last-mile obstacles proved challenging, particularly when the survivors relocated to IPV shelters intentionally located in discrete neighborhoods away from their regular travel routes and less proximal to public transit stations.

Reliability: Rural areas lack transportation

Restricting or denying access to personal transportation is a common tool of abusive partners to isolate women from basic needs and services. In addition, abusive partners isolate women from potential support networks. Public transportation, or the lack thereof, can play a disproportionately influential role in survivors’ lives.

Barriers to transportation in urban and rural communities

According to an article by the National Institutes of Health, women in small villages and isolated areas reported the highest IPV prevalence at 22.5% and 17.9%, respectively. Compared to 15.5% for urban women. Additionally, rural survivors reported significantly higher severity of physical abuse. The nearest IPV resource was three times greater for rural women than urban women. Over 25% of women living in rural and isolated areas lived 40 miles from the closest program.

Safety: Influences on transportation

COVID-19 impacted all of us, especially vulnerable populations such as survivors. The pandemic created new threats and intensified existing ones. Many survivors of intimate partner and sexual abuse were being forced into closer proximity with their abusers, and for survivors in unsafe situations, transportation and export support were critical services.

Sense of isolation

Many of us felt isolated and fearful after COVID-19, and that’s understandable – these feelings are amplified for domestic violence survivors. The COVID-19 stay-at-home orders exacerbated the issue of loneliness. These measures were severely limiting. Female IPV survivors in three countries suggest COVID-19 increased individual stressors, such as financial stress or unemployment, mental health complications, household work and caregiving burdens, and increased severity and incidence of IPV associated with increased alcohol consumption, control tactics, and confinement within the home. Additionally, survivors interacting with shelters and IPV service agencies suggest a lack of shelter support during the pandemic and exacerbating feelings of isolation stemming from a combination of strict shelter rules and stay-at-home orders that mirror control or isolation tactics enacted by abusive partners.

Experience of abuse during transit

According to an article by Metro Magazine, transit riders, especially women, are commonly victimized by sexual offenses on buses, trains, and bus stops. Sexual harassment includes sexual comments, kissing noises, whistling, or being asked for sex. Non-verbal harassment includes indecent exposure, pornographic images shown, and stalking. Experiencing abuse, harassment, or harm is never acceptable, and the safety of riders should always be a central focus.

Perceived ability to leave

Statistics like these show us that relationship abuse is a startlingly common phenomenon, affecting people of all ages, races, nationalities, genders, sexualities, religions, and socioeconomic groups. Ending an abusive relationship does not usually mean the end of abuse. Emotionally abusive behaviors such as stalking and threats may increase after a survivor leaves.

Get help

Every person’s situation is unique, and you may be unable to leave a situation due to various reasons.

Safely leaving an abusive situation requires careful preparation and planning. Simply leaving an abusive situation without considering both immediate and long-term safety and emotional support needs can put a survivor in more danger.

If you are contemplating leaving an abusive relationship or struggling in one you cannot leave, consider contacting The Hotline to speak confidentially with an advocate. Our advocates are available 24/7 or 365 days a week via phone, chat, or text. Visit

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