Black Lives Matter: Supporting the work of specialist domestic abuse organisations supporting women of colour
Violence against women is a global problem which affects women from all racial groups. However, for many women from the African, Caribbean or Asian diaspora, or women with refugee status, the process of seeking support for abuse is compounded by structural and cultural racism. This post will spotlight the work of three charities providing specialist support to women of colour who are victims of domestic abuse and violence, and outline ways to support their work.
Sistah Space is a specialist community-based non-profit initiative based in Hackney, dedicated to supporting African and Caribbean heritage women and children affected by domestic abuse and violence. It was founded by Ngozi Fulani in 2015 in response to the murder of Valerie Forde and her 22-month-old daughter. The perpetrator was Valerie’s ex-partner and the father of her child. A domestic homicide review by Hackney Council revealed that, seven weeks prior to her death, Valerie Forde had reported to the police that her partner had ‘threatened to set fire to the house and kill them after she asked him to move out of the house’. The police officer filed this as ‘no threats to life’ and it was recorded as a ‘threat to property’. The Independent Police Complaints Commission concluded that the case was mishandled and Valerie and her daughter were prevented from accessing vital support structures. The case highlighted the need for an organisation to tackle domestic abuse in African heritage families and Sistah Space was formed to bridge this gap. It is a safe, healing space for African women where they feel their specific needs heard and understood. The charity states that “Black women often feel unable to report abuse for many reasons, including, the fear of not being believed, the Windrush scandal and the fact that we feel that black men are not safe in police custody”. This is enlightened by a study conducted by Thiara & Roy in 2012, who found that large numbers of women from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds were trapped in abusive relationships for a prolonged period of time, with 26% having been in a violent relationship for over 20 years and 18% for five years or more. They concluded that this was the result of added barriers when reporting abuse to the police.
Sistah Space are currently fighting a decision from Hackney Council which expects them to relocate from their current premises. The relocation would see them move back to their previous shop front building that has proved unsuitable for those who use their service. Hackney Council claim they have “invested £35,000 in refurbishing and modernising their premises in Lower Clapton Road – providing safer, more secure and modernised facilities for staff and women seeking help.” However, Sistah Space feels the changes have failed to address their major concerns specifically pertaining to victims seeking support. The premises are too small to accommodate the charity’s volunteers with new social distancing regulations, the building is in a desolate area with drug use being exceptionally high, and the close proximity to the pavement would make it easy for perpetrators to see and access them.
How to help?
You can sign the petition here: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/extend-dv-specialist-sistah-space-s-hackney-tenancy-until-march-31st?source=twitter-share-button&utm_medium=socialshare&utm_source=twitter&share=7e72879f-7f75-46c4-a62c-6ff4239a38a0
You can donate to their Crowdfunder here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/a-safe-space-for-african-heritage-dv-survivors
You can stay up to date with the charity’s work via their Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/sistahspace_/
Karma Nirvana is a national charity specialising in supporting victims of honour-based abuse and forced marriage. It was founded in 1993 by survivor and activist Jasvinder Sanghera CBE, who ran away from home at 16 to escape a forced marriage. Forced marriage is ‘when you face physical pressure to marry (e.g. threats, physical violence or sexual violence) or emotional and psychological pressure (e.g. if you’re made to feel like you’re bringing shame on your family)’. It is important to make the distinction between forced marriage and arranged marriage. Arranged marriage is when two partners willingly consent to enter marriage.
Honour based violence is defined as ‘a collection of practices used to control behaviour within families in order to protect perceived cultural and religious beliefs and/or honour’. The charity recognises that honour-based violence is not exclusive to one faith or ethnicity as every micro society or group holds perceived beliefs about ‘honour’, but the charity does provide essential specialist support to those from the South Asian diaspora who may be experiencing these forms of violence as a result of their specific religious or cultural background. Many domestic abuse charities that offer specific support to people of colour such as BAWSO also provide specialist services in Forced Marriage and honour-based violence such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Karma Nirvana established National Memory Day, an annual day of remembrance on July 14th, dedicated to remembering the lives of those lost to honour based violence. The charity states: ‘where some families feel dishonoured, shamed and choose to forget, Karma Nirvana remembers and celebrates the victims’ lives.’ The day was inspired by the murder of Bradford-born Shafilea Ahmed, who was killed by her parents in 2003 after suffering long-term abuse for ‘becoming too Westernised’. Though the exact figure is not known, it is estimated that around 12 honour-based killings occur each year in the UK.
How to help?
You can stay up to date with the charity’s work via their Instagram page where they regularly post resources here: https://www.instagram.com/knfmhbv/
You can donate via the charity’s JustGiving page here: https://www.justgiving.com/karmanirvana
Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) and Step Up Migrant Women:
LAWRS are a feminist organisation founded in 1983, addressing the ‘practical and strategic needs of Latin American migrant women displaced by poverty and violence’ who ‘directly support more than 5,000 women annually through culturally and linguistically specialist advice, information, counselling and psychotherapy, advocacy, development programmes, and workshops’. Specialist work like this is vital in addressing the language barriers that some migrant women face when reporting abuse.
On 1st November 2019, LAWRS launched Step Up Migrant Women, a collaborative, women-led campaign with over 50 frontline services offering specialist support to women of colour, which demands a separation between victims’ rights to safety and protection and immigration control. It aims to secure safe reporting routes for victims of crime with insecure immigration status. The necessity for the campaign is highlighted by a 2012 study by Imkaan which revealed that ‘92% of women with insecure status have received threats of deportation from perpetrators.’ A recent freedom of information request evidenced that ‘from 45 police forces across the country, 27 of them share details with the Home Office if the victim has insecure immigration status, this includes women who seek support when fleeing domestic violence and abuse’. This has serious consequences for migrant and refugee women who are faced with the prospect of deportation, losing their children, homes and livelihoods.
Currently, if a victim of domestic violence has a spousal visa, they can access support for three months. Women on any other visa with a stipulation of ‘no recourse to public funds’ cannot access support. Women’s Aid’s No Woman Turned Away project reported in 2017-18 that 23% of the women supported by the project had no recourse to public funds. No recourse to public funds means the victim has ‘no entitlement to welfare benefits, to home office asylum support for asylum seekers or to public housing’. Access to public funds is necessary for gaining access to refuges, where migrant women currently only have access to 5.8% of refuge beds.
The campaign called for vital amendments to be made to the National Domestic Abuse Bill that would tackle these issues including:
- Protection to be provided without discrimination based on migrant status
- A guarantee that women who report abuse to the police or other services will be treated as victims and will not face immigration such as detention of deportation as a result
- Migrant victims of abuse can apply to regularise their immigration status independent from their abuser, and can access public funds while the application is considered
However, these amendments were voted against by MPs in early July. As it stands, the Bill leaves migrant women trapped in abusive and dangerous relationships and blocked from accessing vital services.
How to help?
You can show your support by adding your name to the petition to amend the Domestic Abuse Bill and signing up for email updates: https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/domestic-violence-bill-migrant-women-surviors/thank-you
Sign the Step Up Migrant Women open letter: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScB9r_enCzRLnTcQgG62T57sOH00KR_KlBu0YOVn_NaXRFJog/viewform
A resource list provided by Step Up Migrant Women: https://stepupmigrantwomen.org/resources/
You can also write to your local MPs and representatives, demanding justice for migrant victims of domestic abuse and insisting that the amendments be made to the Domestic Abuse Bill. You can find the contact details for your MP by typing in your postcode to this website: https://members.parliament.uk/members/Commons
Author: Bethan Gilson, CWA volunteer blogger