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Nicola Laver

Editor, Solicitors Journal

'Culture of disbelief' towards BAME domestic violence victims in fear of the law

'Culture of disbelief' towards BAME domestic violence victims in fear of the law


Multiple barriers including racism face black and minority ethnic (BAME) women raising domestic abuse, research into the family courts revealed

Multiple barriers including racism face black and minority ethnic (BAME) women raising domestic abuse, research into the family courts revealed.

A report follows an independent review on family justice and heard evidence of a “continuing pervasive culture of disbelief, indifference and hostility towards victims of abuse” in the BAME community.

The final document, Assessing Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law Children Cases, published by the Ministry of Justice, makes recommendations for change after finding “deep-seated and systematic issues” affecting how risk to children and adults is identified and managed in the family justice system.

Many submissions of evidence, both from BAME mothers and professional groups, said their negative experiences of the court process were felt to be compounded by racism, according to the report.

The panel received “powerful” accounts of the “vulnerabilities and sense of powerlessness” experienced by BAME female victims, from domestic violence charity Southall Black Sisters.

The barriers they face were multiplied by cultural stereotypes; and barriers may further be magnified when the perpetrator is white.

Evidence from BAME women showed experiences of being socialised into enduring domestic abuse; not telling outsiders; and being isolated within the family where abuse was “being colluded and participated in by multiple family members”.

Some victims also feared deportation.

The panel heard from a mother with a BAME background who had a long history of domestic abuse at the hands of her “white, well-educated and well off” partner.

Her experience of the legal system was that she would not be protected.

Having called the police many times her partner always made counter allegations so she sought help from the criminal justice system and child arrangement proceedings.

However, she was compelled to return to home.

She told the panel that the “system doesn’t believe you” and that the court demonstrated little understanding either of her culture or her children’s need to be aware of both aspects of their cultural heritage.

Another BAME mother, who said she never felt confident the judge would listen to her and that she was afraid of the judge’s power, “was already living in fear of her husband, and was now living in fear of the law as well”.

Kiran Beeharry, a family law partner of SA Law, said the barriers to BAME women in accessing the family justice system are significant and underreported.

He said: “Not only do BAME women face the worry of how their partner will react to proceedings being commenced, they often have to deal with the pressure of children (both minors and adults) who may not agree with proceedings and the separation of their parents.

“Because of the stigma of proceedings, BAME women are often pressurised into believing that it is better to remain in an abusive relationship rather than to pursue a separation and the overall best interests of children.”

The report said: “The specific difficulties of BAME women navigating the family justice process should not be overlooked.”

The panel recommended training in the family justice system covering (among other issues) the particular experiences of, and institutional barriers faced by BAME women.