Centre for Women’s Justice and Tackling Double Disadvantage Partnership

MPs to debate action needed to address racism and sexism faced by Black, Asian, minoritised and migrant victims of violence against women and girls (VAWG) who are accused of offending.

Nearly 60% of women in prison and under community supervision by probation services are victims of domestic abuse, and for many this is directly linked to their offending.  Women and girls from ‘minority ethnic’[1] groups are overrepresented at every stage of the criminal justice system, with Black women twice as likely as white women to be arrested. A quarter of girls and nearly a fifth of young women prosecuted in 2021 were from ‘minority ethnic’ groups.

Today (Wednesday 5 July 2023 from 9.30 to 11.00 am) MPs will debate action needed to ensure the fair treatment of Black, Asian, minoritised and migrant women and girls who are victims of domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence, and who find themselves in the dock as a result.

Kate Osamor MP (Lab, Edmonton) has applied for the debate and will call on the Government to explain how it intends to tackle gaps in law and practice that lead to unfair treatment of Black, Asian, minoritised and migrant victims of VAWG.

Specialist charities supporting the debate argue that effective defences are needed for victims of domestic abuse who use force against their abuser, and for those who are coerced into offending.  They are calling for culture change, improvements in training and guidance for police, prosecutors, judges and magistrates, and safeguards to ensure victims’ experience of VAWG is properly taken into account in decisions to arrest, prosecute, convict or sentence them for offences linked to the abuse.  They point out that Black, Asian, minoritised and migrant women can receive particularly unfair treatment.

The debate will draw attention to the wider inequalities faced by Black, Asian, minoritised and migrant women in contact with the criminal justice system, as highlighted in a report published today by the Tackling Double Disadvantage partnership.

[1] The Tackling Double Disadvantage partnership aims to use language that challenges and does not contribute to racist ideas, actions and policies. We use the terms ‘Black, Asian and minoritised women’ or ‘racially minoritised women’ and we aim to be more specific where we can. Where we are referring to data collected by others using different terminology, we use that terminology in quotation marks in order to ensure accuracy.

Kate Osamor MP (Lab, Edmonton) said:

“This debate is a real opportunity to draw attention to how many victims of domestic violence who due to their abuse themselves are accused of offending are unjustly drawn into the criminal justice system.

“I look forward to seeing many other Parliamentarians at the debate to raise awareness and urge the Government to undertake reforms to stop this unfair criminalisation.”

Ghadah Alnasseri, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Hibiscus Initiatives, said:

Encountering gender inequality and racism is all too common for Black, Asian and minoritised women, as well as migrant women who have experienced Violence Against Women and Girls and are in contact with the criminal justice system. However, I firmly believe that these challenges can be overcome.

“We have provided recommendations to ensure that these women receive equal and fair treatment and outcomes. We have collaborated with policymakers and practitioners to press for implementation of these recommendations and have placed the lived experiences of these women at the forefront of our efforts to improve policy and practices that affect them. Our goal is to enable these women to share their stories and experiences at a strategic level.

“Despite some progress in addressing these issues, the efforts have been limited and disjointed. A comprehensive strategic approach is necessary to create meaningful improvements in outcomes for these women.”

Sofia Buncy MBE DL, Director, Muslim Women in Prison project, said:

“Our work with Muslim women in the criminal justice system clearly points to an overwhelming prevalence of domestic abuse, violence and coercion in the lives of these women. There are very few outlets for safe disclosure without being deemed to be dishonorable or understanding how to confidently access support. These experiences continue to blight Muslim women’s life chances to move forward to a place of safety without fear of reprisal.”

Indy Cross, Chief Executive, Agenda Alliance, said:

“The inequalities experienced by Black, Asian, minoritised and migrant women in the criminal justice system are unacceptable. At every stage of the system these women are overrepresented, let down and their needs are overlooked. Agenda’s research shows that it is too often women’s experience of trauma and abuse which drives women’s criminalisation, yet survivors of violence accused of offending do not have their experiences of violence taken into account by law. Instead, Black, Asian, minoritised and migrant women face further abuse and vulnerability within the criminal justice system as they tackle the ‘double disadvantage’ of gender inequality and racism. Although steps have been taken to address this, our briefing shows that not enough progress has been made. Serious and urgent action is needed now to ensure the fair treatment of Black, Asian, minoritised and migrant women who are victims of domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence.”

Farieissia (Fri) Martin, a woman with relevant lived experience, said:

“If you live in a black community like Liverpool 8 where there is a bad history with the police it makes it very hard to report domestic violence.  When you have children there is often a fear that social services will take them away. When I was arrested for stabbing my partner after he tried to strangle me, I was too frightened to tell the full history of abuse I had experienced and there were no records to support me.  Because I lied at the beginning this worked against me in court and I was convicted of murder, despite the history of abuse and the fact I was defending myself.”

(Fri Martin was convicted of the murder of her boyfriend in 2015; she successfully appealed in 2020. A retrial was ordered and she was convicted of manslaughter in 2021.)

Other women with relevant lived experience said:

“When you encounter the criminal justice system, you feel ashamed by your race and colour because you are never taken seriously. That leads to isolation, resentment, and guilt.”

“I hope to receive fair treatment from the police and staff members when we face them.”