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Why does violence against black women get ignored?

IMKAAN: From left to right - Leah Cowan, Kafayat Okanlawon, Marai Larasi and Bethel Tadesse

ON AVERAGE two women are killed by their partners or former partners each week in England and Wales. But despite these stark figures, many women have encountered authorities who fail to take the issue of domestic violence seriously, and that’s one of the major reasons why women and girls do not engage with the authorities.

This reluctance to come forward and report violence, or even seek help from other services, is often amplified for black women.

The majority of organisations delivering support for domestic abuse lack specialist services or staff to respond adequately to the specific requirements of black and ethnic minority women, the understanding of the various unique cultural and social factors that play into their abuse such as shame, their attitudes towards it and the aftermath.

Such support providers commonly adopt a one-size-fits-all approach when helping survivors and in doing so can alienate black and minority ethnic (BME) women.

Imkaan, a black feminist organisation addressing violence against BME women and girls, is one of a number of groups working to ensure that this changes.

Marai Larasi, executive director of Imkaan, said that for many women from BME backgrounds the conventional criminal justice system isn’t viewed as an option.

“Survivors very often don’t want to engage with the criminal justice system – they want the harassment to stop, they want the violence to stop. There are loads and loads of women who have no faith in the system,” she told The Voice. “A lot of BME women are saying to us the criminal justice system wasn’t designed around me, and I’m not interested in a system that is criminalising our communities.”

Women’s Aid chief executive, Katie Ghose, echoes Larasi’s comments on the difficulties black women can face in such settings.


PICTURED: Katie Ghose

Ghose said: “Black and minority women sometimes face additional challenges or obstacles in getting the support they need or escaping abusive partners. For example, they may experience institutionalised racism from statutory agencies such as the police, social services or housing authorities.” At the beginning of March, London mayor Sadiq Khan launched a new strategy to tackle violence against women and girls. In part, the strategy, which was announced against the backdrop of the MeToo and Time’s Up movements, seeks to address the issue of authorities not taking survivors seriously and to improve their services.

STRATEGY

Imkaan led the survivors’ consultation for the mayor’s new strategy, ensuring that the needs of BME women were addressed and catered to.

However, Larasi says more still needs to be done. Some women’s distrust of authorities can be increased because of their immigration status. Leah Cowan, who works at Imkaan, said: “If we’re thinking about encouraging women to report violence, we need to know that when we go to the police – particularly as migrant women or undocumented women – that that information and data isn’t going to be shared with other agencies like the home office.”

Kafayat Okanlawon, a member of Imkaan’s board, said that institutions need to work with groups and individuals with expertise of BME communities. She also emphasised the importance of acknowledging that some women will not want to report their abuse.

“It’s okay that you don’t want to report. You have the right to not want to report and it’s a situation where if you do feel like you want to report and you change your mind, that’s also okay too. I think the system in terms of reporting isn’t necessarily accessible to everybody and people find it quite a long, daunting process.”

Despite efforts to pay greater attention to victims of domestic violence by government and politicians, BME women’s needs are still underrepresented. Earlier this month, prime minister Theresa May announced the draft Domestic Abuse bill. But councils have reduced funding for refuges since 2010, and the Government’s housing reforms mean refuges are in danger of losing further funding.

Shelters that deliver tailored support to BME women face an increased risk, as Ghose explains: “Sadly, our specialist member services are at greater risk of funding cuts as a result of commissioning practices that sometimes prioritise one–size-fits-all providers that may be cheaper but don’t offer that level of expertise that black and minority ethnic women tell us that they need.”

Regardless of the decisions and actions taken by the authorities, and whether or not the passion of the prominent #MeToo and Time’s Up movements fade, Imkaan will continue to passionately advocate for BME women and girls who have survived violence. Larasi said: “We’re black feminists. We’re interested in actually pushing the boundaries that aren’t contained within the political constraints. We’re going above and beyond [to end] violence against women and girls. We want it over.”

A list of contact details for specialist support agencies providing services for and by black and minority ethnic women can be found at www.imkaan.org.uk

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