Domestic abuse from a BME perspective

The position of BME women in confronting violence is distinct. Domestic abuse may not be condoned by all family members but it is too infrequently questioned or challenged. For many BME women it is not possible to differentiate between violence experienced as a woman and violence experienced as a black and minority ethic person.

Most BME women suffering domestic abuse are not employed and have no separate disposable income, live in poor housing, and lack the education and opportunities to progress. Their isolation is made all the greater by language and cultural differences and they are ill equipped to escape abuse.

  • Socio Economic
  • Language Constraints
  • Housing
  • Immigration Status
  • BME Women Ostracised
  • BME Women's Social Isolation
  • Lack of understanding of BME issues by agencies
  • Lack of Knowledge and Welfare Benefits by BME Women
  • Managing diversity-cultural / religious needs
  • Lack of confidentiality, empathy and support


Socio Economic
Most Black Minority Ethnic women fleeing Domestic Abuse experience all social exclusion issues, such as high unemployment, poverty, poor housing and lack of access to education and training. Most of them are either dependent on their husband for income or are working for their husband.
For those BME Women, who migrate into the UK, especially from Asian Sub-Continent, their qualifications are recognised therefore, they are not able to access the job market and have to re-train. When they have obtained the UK qualifications, they still face barriers in the UK job market.


Language Constraints
Possibly the greatest contributing factor to the social isolation of BME women in the U.K. is language. If a woman experiencing Domestic Abuse cannot make even a telephone call for assistance because she cannot speak English, then her chances of obtaining help from an outside agency are low. One woman, who had reported her situation to the police, had had to communicate with officers through her ten year old daughter.


Inefficient, ineffective housing policies and substandard accommodation disproportionately affect BME Women. The direct negative impact that bad housing practices generally have, are particularly acute when race and gender dynamics are also brought into play, as they are in case of Black Women.
Access to housing does not function on its own, but in accordance with economic power. Therefore the fact that more BME Women come from social, economic deprived background has an impact on accessibility to decent housing.


Immigration Status
Many visible minority women who leave their homes face a particular risk unknown to most white women. In this country every Black and Minority Ethnic person is seen by government agencies to be subject to immigration control. Black and Minority Ethnic women who have fled their homes without being able to take their passports, nationality documents, marriage certificates etc, have often found themselves refused benefits, and because their security in this country is usually dependent on their marital status, some have been threatened with deportation. Most refuges are not equipped to give expert counselling and advice needed by women in this position.

Immigration Law, for example, has consequences in all aspects of welfare and housing provision, not only through No Recource to Public Funds', Clauses that apply to some BME Women who live in Britain, but more insidiously through the policing of Immigration Law by schools, hospitals, social security officers, housing departments, etc.
Many of these apparently unrelated organisations and services may conduct passport checks on citizens and are more likely to do so when Black people request services.

Imported wives are isolated not so much by tradition as by migration away from families and communities. However "tradition" may also make it quite impossible for the women to return to her point of origin, should they be deported when their British husband brutalise or otherwise reject them.


BME Women Ostracised
When a BME woman leaves a violent home, she has made a devastating and often irreversible decision. She may have left the only family she knows in the country. There is a strong possibility that she and her children will be unable to return to her community or locality, due to threats, being dishonoured and stigmatisation. Her feelings of pain, fear and isolation, can only be acknowledged through additional support and sympathetic understanding from staff.


BME Women's Social Isolation
For BME women, especially from Asia Sub-Continent and parts of Africa, the lack of knowledge of their rights, restrict them of their personal freedom outside the family home. In addition, they lack English language skills and this possibly is the greatest contributory factor to social isolation. This makes it extremely difficult for some of the women to seek help from outside agencies, on their own, without assistance of their key worker.

BME Network systems of extended family are strong, therefore, once they flee Domestic Abuse, they are isolated from family and the community, and for the first time seek additional support.

Quite often the support workers present a lifeline to these women, who until now have been totally dependent on their abusive husband and family.


Lack of Understanding and Knowledge of BME Issues by Agencies
Although Domestic Abuse is recognised as a problem among BME communities, there is some lack of understanding on the part of the relevant statutory and voluntary agencies about the specific culture concerns of the women. These women experiencing Domestic Abuse cannot even take a telephone call for assistance because they cannot speak English. This means their chances of obtaining help from an outside agency are minimal. The key worker, therefore, acts as language support and relies on volunteers to back this up. This has implications on volunteer's and interpreter's time and resources.


Lack of Knowledge and Welfare Benefits by BME Women
In addition to language, which is a prerequisite to any support and counselling, many of the women are ignorant of their rights and entitlements. The belief that a husband is responsible for looking after family affairs, has resulted in women not knowing their position with regards to, for example, visa applications, immigration status, welfare benefits. Therefore, there is a high dependency on the key worker support.


Managing Diversity-Cultural / Religious Needs
Often, the perception/experience of BME women is that they are shunned and shunted around statutory agencies. They often end up in BAWSO, not only suffering Domestic Abuse but have related health and mental problems, which we have to deal with. BAWSO also caters for the needs of larger families, i.e. Families with 4 or more children.  There is a large cultural diversity of the women in our refuges. Over the past ten years we have seen women from a variety of different cultural backgrounds, e.g. Asian, Africans, Spaniards, Turkish, Venezuelan, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Philippine, French, Arabian, Middle Eastern, South American and White British. We also work with white women who have converted to Islam, white women with children of mixed parentage, some of whom choose to come to our refuge after experiencing racism in mainstream refuges or find it preferable to be in an environment where empathy from other women and specialist workers are on hand.


Lack of Confidentiality, Empathy and Support
For BME Women leaving the "protection" of the Community just to seek help is an enormous step to take which may result in unstoppable consequences that will impact on the rest of her and her children's life.

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