Women’s aid charities aim to assist women fleeing domestic abuse. However, migrant victims of domestic abuse are not only fighting for survival, but for their entitlement to support.
The crime report for England And Wales estimated that 1.6 million women experienced domestic abuse in 2020. According to statistics, 1 in 3 women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, and two women are killed every week by a current or former partner.
Several barriers are preventing migrant victims from receiving crucial help and protection from their abusers. Refuge eligibility is subject to a victim qualifying for public funds. For most migrants, the ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition on their visa excludes them from these benefits without any alternative options. As reporting abuse to the police risks the sharing of information with immigration enforcement, many victims fear coming forward. Language can also be an obstacle to fully comprehending their rights and the regulations they may be subject to.
Domestic abuse victims are subject to an imbalance of power and control exerted over them by their abuser that encompasses not just physical and sexual violence, but emotional, mental, and economic abuse too.
Many victims of domestic abuse stay with or return to their abusers due to the economic instability caused by financial abuse. Like the emotional recovery process from trauma, economic recovery from exploited joint funds, the sabotage of professional development, and ruined credit scores can take years. For migrant victims, this choice is even more extreme. Leaving without the safety net of a refuge shelter often means an ultimatum between abuse or homelessness.
Financial abuse is so common as it limits a person’s independence and means of escape. On top of manipulation and coercion, migrant victims are also subject to the limits of their visa cutting them off from state support. This can feel like yet another abuse from those in power in a system designed to disregard their safety.
On top of manipulation and coercion, migrant victims are also subject to the limits of their visa cutting them off from state support
Women’s aid workers are witnessing this unjust exclusion of some of the UK’s most vulnerable women first-hand. Domestic violence worker Ammaarah Zayna spoke out against the systems her work is subjugated by: ‘It is difficult to know who mimics whom in this situation, but it’s clear that both perpetrators and this government are guilty of inflicting such pre-meditated violence on the most marginalised… For us, every day feels like a war against statutory services, who have been meticulously advised on how to best avoid supporting these women.’
The largest proportion of migrant domestic abuse victims are ethnic minority women facing the additional issue of systemic racism in many cases. Non-profit organization the Southall Black Sisters have been campaigning for changes to the government’s Domestic Abuse Bill to recognise the plight of migrant abuse victims since 2002. Routes to safety for these women trapped in dangerous circumstances are still not in place.
The Domestic Abuse Bill is currently being debated in the House Of Lords with campaigners and aid organisations calling for reforms to services that are already fundamentally lacking. Due to funding cuts, 1 in 6 refuge centres have been forced to close, and local authority spending in this area has dropped by a third in the last 10 years. Women escaping violence are being placed in unsuitable accommodation for trauma survivors, such as mixed-sex shelters also housing violent offenders.
The Southall Black Sisters have criticised the proposed reforms for disregarding the migrant victims that struggle with lack of provisions. The government has previously rejected amending the bill and instead set up the Support For Migrant Victims Scheme which allocated £1.5 million for “building a solid evidence base for the help they need”. However, campaigners have expressed these funds were under-communicated to local authorities and only focused on emergency accommodation, not the full scope of specialist services victims require.
Activists and charity workers would like the Bill to be reformed to include specialist housing and trauma counselling, immigration advisory services, and a non-discrimination clause. In addition to the Domestic Abuse Bill reforms, they are calling for changes to the law that would allow migrant abuse survivors the opportunity to apply for indefinite leave to remain.
“This Bill has been claimed to be a landmark piece of legislation and a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address domestic abuse. But still, they are failing one of the most vulnerable groups of women”Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez of LAWRS
Campaign coordinator for the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez said: “We are trying to ensure that all women, regardless of their immigration status, are protected by this Bill that has been claimed to be a landmark piece of legislation and a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address domestic abuse. But still, they are failing one of the most vulnerable groups of women.”.
With the onset of Covid-19 lockdowns, the crime report found that cases of domestic abuse have increased. With many people furloughed or working from home, victims’ abuse experiences can be intensified. Without action and reform to the current systems, many migrant women are condemned to remain in danger. As the statistics show, domestic abuse kills, and these deaths could be avoided by reforming discriminatory policies.
Header image by Amnesty International