Ahead of Black History Month, Refuge calls for better protection for Black women experiencing domestic abuse
Refuge data shows Black women experiencing domestic abuse less likely to be referred for specialist support by police
New data from Refuge, the UK’s largest single provider of domestic abuse services, shows that Black women are less likely to be referred by police to Refuge for support.
Between March 2020 and June 2021, Black women were 14% less likely to be referred to Refuge for support by police than white survivors of domestic abuse.
However, Refuge also found that Black survivors were 3% more likely to report the abuse they experienced to the police than white survivors of domestic abuse, over the same period.
This data suggests that the police are routinely failing Black women. By not referring them to specialist domestic abuse services, the police are effectively cutting Black women off from a lifeline that is crucial for their safety. Refuge, a frontline organisation, which supports more than 7,000 women and children on any given day knows just how important access to frontline services is for women experiencing domestic abuse.
The police are often the first professional agency to be alerted to cases of domestic abuse and as a result have a unique insight into the abuse taking place behind closed doors. It is crucial that the police refer survivors to specialist agencies, ensuring women don’t have to face abuse alone and that they can access the support they need swiftly and easily.
Prior research from SafeLives also suggests that survivors who are referred to specialist domestic abuse services by the police or health services will experience abuse for a significantly shorter period than if they self-refer (2.1 years vs 4.9 years).
Sistah Space, an organisation set up to support African heritage women and girls who’ve experienced domestic or sexual abuse, have also highlighted the many ways police fail to recognise and address abuse against Black women in their campaign for Valerie’s Law. Valerie’s Law would ensure that police and specialist agencies undergo mandatory, culturally appropriate training to better understand the needs of black women affected by domestic abuse.
Refuge’s data also shows that during the pandemic, Black women supported by Refuge were 3% more likely to have experienced physical abuse and 4% more likely to have experienced sexual abuse than white survivors of abuse. This suggest that Black women are more likely to reach Refuge’s services when they are experiencing the most visible and extreme forms of abuse and may not be taken as seriously when reporting more hidden and insidious forms of abuse such as psychological and financial abuse.
Erica Osakwe, a campaigner and survivor of domestic abuse, said:
“Coming forward to the police about the abuse I experienced was an extremely difficult thing to do, made even harder by the response I received. I’m a Black woman and was accompanied to the police station by a white friend. One of the officers involved in my case immediately assumed that it was my friend who’d come to report a crime. What does this say about how seriously the police take abuse against Black women?
My case was mishandled and delayed from the beginning, resulting in no charge being brought against my abuser. Nor did the police refer me for additional support to an organisation like Refuge, or even inform me that support is out there. The experience made me feel like my story wasn’t valid, like the police didn’t believe I was a victim.”
Ruth Davison, CEO of Refuge, said:
“Time and again, Refuge hears about the additional barriers Black women face when coming forward to report domestic abuse. We know that Black women’s concerns are less likely to be taken seriously and this new data from Refuge shows that they’re also less likely to be referred for the lifesaving support that our organisation provides. What message does that send to Black women experiencing domestic abuse?
We wholeheartedly support the tireless campaigning of Sistah Space for Valerie’s Law, which would mandate culturally specific training for police officers, ensuring signs of abuse are not ignored when Black women come forward. We must ensure all agencies work better to protect Black women and ensure they are able to access support swiftly and easily.”
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Refuge supports more than 7,000 women and children on any given day, and runs the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, which is the gateway to accessing specialist support across the country. More than one in four women in England and Wales experiences domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, and two women a week are killed by a current or former partner.
Please signpost to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week for free, confidential specialist support. Or visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk to fill in a webform and request a safe time to be contacted or to access live chat (live chat available 3pm-10pm, Monday to Friday). For support with tech abuse visit refugetechsafety.org.
About Sistah Space:
Sistah Space work with African heritage women and girls who’ve experienced domestic or sexual abuse or who have lost a loved one to domestic violence. Their mission is to encourage African heritage survivors to report abuse by providing a safe cultural venue, in a confidential environment, and to encourage community integration.
Sistah Space is campaigning for Valerie’s Law to make specialist training mandatory for all police and other government agencies that support black women and girls affected by domestic abuse. Police and agencies should have culturally appropriate training to better understand the cultural needs of black women affected by domestic abuse. Visit the Sistah Space website at https://www.sistahspace.org/ and sign the petition for Valerie’s Law at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/578416