Black Minority Ethnic Women Experiencing Domestic Violence in Uk



According to the Institute of Race Relations (2012), Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) is term that is used to describe people of non-white descent. Contextually, BME widely refers to persons who belong to non-White British Communities (Office for National Statistics, 2014). Ethnicity or ethnic are terms used to describe people who identify each other through a common heritage, common language or, common culture which can include a religion or an ideology which stresses a common ancestry. Most countries and people choose these terms as opposed to the outdated and biological idea of race as an identity (Femi-Ajao, Kendal and Lovell, 2018). Still, there are countries like Canada that do not use the above term and instead refer to ethnic minority groups as migrant community.


Generally, there is domestic abuse against women in the UK. There are commonalities and differences in the experience and impact of abuse on BME women and White British women. BME women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence compared to their White counterparts; domestic abuse is two to three times more prevalent in in the former than the latter community (Crenshaw, 2018). This has been attributed to certain unique factors that predisposes women in BME communities to domestic abuse including intimate partner violence. Cultural practices, inclinations and norms is responsible for the differential domestic violence. Additionally, there has been a difference in response from statutory services. In fact, a study has shown that half of women from Asian, Arab, African and Caribbean communities are likely to take up to five years before they report or seek help from the authorities (Siddiqui, 2016). The above situation is attributed to the poor state policies and responses to domestic abuse in BME communities.

Domestic violence has a physical, emotional, mental and economic effect on the victims. Regardless of race, religion, sexuality and age, domestic violence occurs to anyone, however, statistics suggest that the vast majority are women (Crenshaw, 2018). High levels of domestic abuses have been reported in the UK between 2014 and 2015, 8.2% of women and 4% of men were recorded as being victims of domestic violence. On authority of a Crime Survey Report for England and Wales f 2017, 1.2 million women and 713,000 men were victims of domestic abuse (Crenshaw, 2018). While there are a number of studies on domestic violence in BME communities, the same has been too general and have not deeply delved in to key factors like culture, language and immigration as barriers. This research will thus be cantered around the above three factors.

This research project examines domestic violence of Black minority ethnic women in United Kingdom and their lived experiences. This research hopes to create awareness among BME women experiencing domestic violence considering that the number of BME communities in England and Wales has increased from 6 per cent in 1991 to 19.5 per cent in 2011 (Office for National Statistics, 2014). Then it will go on to assess effects of domestic violence and its impacts on BME women. Further, it will also identify the barriers that precludes the victims from leaving abusive relationships with the perpetrators. Studies have shown that while some victims admit abuse in in BME communities, they are unwilling to not only report but also reluctant to leave the perpetrators for cultural reasons (Siddiqui, 2016). In other situations, the victims will take a long time to come out and report abuses, and by the time they do, the abuse has taken a toll on them both emotionally and physically, at least in most cases.

Despite the existence of state policy and legislations to alleviate the situation of domestic violence on BME women, there are still instances of victims concealing the perpetrators and exhibiting reluctance to leave abusive relationships (Anthias, 2014). Besides legislations and legal systems implemented by the United Kingdom government like the Serious Crime Act 2015, there are also support agencies that can help BME women such as Women’s aid UK and BAWSO (Gill and Anitha, 2017). Notwithstanding the existence of statutory systems for support and reporting domestic abuse among the BME communities, there are still incidences of bureaucracy in these systems that rolls back the milestones achieved in the fight against domestic violence.

This research will focus on the challenges the victims face when attempting to access legal and support systems. This research also aims to find out how perpetrators influence the victims not to leave them, the threats from the family, community and even those in support agencies such as interpreters. The study will examine data from four primary research papers where most of the participants have had an experience of domestic violence as immigrants. Additionally, this paper will outline the limitations of previous research on the same subject in relation to the drawbacks of the informal help, culture and language barrier.

Language Barrier

A study by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research carried in 2015 suggests that language and communication is a major challenge to provision of services to BME communities (Femi-Ajao, Kendal and Lovell, 2018). Although this particular research was specifically targeting Nottingham, it largely reflects the scenario in the rest of the UK. In 2012 Black Association of Women Step Out (BAWSO) reported that there are a number of women who have migrated into the UK but cannot communicate effectively in English being that it is not their first language (Bagness and Donovan, 2016). This has undermined the efforts to have such women who face domestic violence to access tailored support. Because, such victims cannot communicate to the support services providers, they are at a greater risk of repetitive abuse by perpetrators who take advantage of such barriers.

Language difficulty has been highlighted as a significant factor for the low uptake of support services among BME communities (Almark et al., 2010). Groups with language barriers therefore prefer approaching care providers that can understand their language and may sometimes avoid those that may require the services of an interpreter to e explain their issues. The use of interpreters although helpful, can dilute and fail to properly convey emotional abuse on the part of the victim. Therefore, the failure to incorporate language in communication of campaigns, support and health materials will exclude a substantial number of women within the BME groups who may have challenges with the English language.

There have also been instances of care providers that are insensitive to the language barriers present in BME communities. When such barriers are not acknowledge by the care providers, it leads to mistrust by the victims who are in need of help. As a result most women in need of support have in most cases turned to their religious leaders as the first stop regarding domestic abuse and health matters (Anthias, 2014). The inclination towards religious leaders is caused by the fact that they understand their language and can relate to their troubles. This has been the case for BME women especially those of Sikh, Hindu and Muslim heritage (Arafat, 2016).

Cultural impacts

Domestic violence in BME communities has been exacerbated by cultural practices that in many ways condone and promote the vice. Research shows that women from BME groups are at a greater risk of suffering abuse from family members and from intimate relationships (Femi-Ajao, 2018). Some cultural practices supported by the community and family members make it extremely difficult for victims to come out in fear of ostracization and stigma. In extreme cases, women who have been brave to report and leave abusive relationships have subsequently been punished by their family and community, according their customs. Consequently, some cultures have been a barriers to helping women overcome domestic violence.

In light of the above, there are culture specific practices that have been used in BME communities to frustrate alleviation efforts. Practices like female genital mutilation, forced marriages and honour based violence are identified as the key challenges. In some cultures, a woman who reports domestic violence or leaves their abusive family is taken to have dishonoured the name and reputation of the family and must therefore be punished (Gill and Anitha, 2017). Still, women who have decide to identify as of a different sexual orientation have also been victims of domestic violence as a result of strong cultural beliefs. It becomes even more difficult where these vices are not reported by victims who suffer silently under pressure from their family or community.

Unfortunately, perpetrators of domestic violence in BME communities are also aware of these challenges. Thus, they take advantage of the same to take complete control of their victims since they are aware that the community and family will support their actions. They continue to suppress the rights of women who are incapable and afraid of family backlash for going against their ‘values’ (Siddiqui, 2016). Again, certain cultures has created scenarios where it is only men who provide for the family. Hence, a victim who is dependent on the perpetrator for her daily needs is left with little choice. They would rather stick with the devils known to them than the alien angels.

Immigration status

The number of BME community immigrants in the UK has increased steadily for the past two decades. People are moving to the UK mostly in pursuit of a better life and to provide for themselves and their families. Majority of women in BME groups are dependent on men even as immigrants in the UK (Siddiqui, 2016). This dependency scenario creates a loophole for perpetrators who take advantage to abuse their partners. A victim who depends on the abuser for food and upkeep is likely to endure the violence for fear of being thrown out and not having a place to run to for help and support (Femi-Ajao, Kendal and Lovell, 2018). Again as immigrant, most BME women are ignorant of existence of support services that can help them leave and bring to book the perpetrators.

In addition to the above, BME women whose citizenship depends on their marriage to perpetrators are more than unlikely to come out or seek support. This is because of the fear of retaliation by divorce thus leaving them in an immigration crisis. Social isolation becomes a problem where one is an immigrant and they do not speak English (Anitha, 2011). They are therefore disadvantaged in terms of seeking support from care services.

The case of undocumented immigrants is even more serious. Women within this insecure immigration status may not seek help from the authorities for fear of arrest and deportation to their home countries. Asylum seeking women in BME communities also face similar challenges since their grounds can be rejected by the Home Office and subsequently be returned to the dangerous situations they had escaped. In the same breath, government actions on immigrants like the ‘Windrush Scandal’ has led to loss of jobs, deportation and detention (Batty, 2019). Such government actions have only made worse, the situation of women in BME communities.

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