On Wednesday, 5th July, MPs in Westminster Hall debated action needed to address the criminalisation of Black, Asian, minoritised, and migratised survivors of violence against women and girls (VAWG).
The debate was secured by Kate Osamor MP (Lab, Edmonton), acting with the support of the Centre for Women's Justice and the Tackling Double Disadvantage partnership, made up of Agenda Alliance, Criminal Justice Alliance, Hibiscus Initiatives, Muslim Women in Prison, Women in Prison and Zahid Mubarek Trust. Caroline Nokes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North, chaired, with Sarah Dines MP (Con, Minister for Safeguarding) responding on behalf of government.
The debate received coverage by the Mirror Online and Police Professional.
Kate Osamor MP began with a speech describing the experiences of women who are survivors of domestic abuse, so-called honour-based violence, sexual violence and other forms of VAWG and are criminalised as a result, and the additional barriers for Black, Asian, minoritised and migrant women that arise from systemic racism and sexism and the ‘hostile environment’ policy.
"[T]here is a continuing failure to take domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls seriously. Victims continue to be prosecuted and convicted for offences directly resulting from their experience of abuse." - Kate Osamor MP
Apsana Begum, MP for Poplar and Limehouse, shared her own experience of criminalisation in this context, saying, "The matter of domestic abuse was actually used against me by the prosecution." She emphasised the need for statutory defences for survivors of domestic violence, as well as a firewall to end the sharing of survivors' and witnesses' data between the police and the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes, stating, "It really quite literally can make the difference between life and death for migrant survivors of domestic abuse."
"I really strongly feel that what happened to me must never happen to anyone ever again, but I do fear that it is still happening to many people in this country." - Apsana Begum MP
We also heard from Florence Eshalomi, MP for Vauxhall, who called for the government to improve data collection and analysis about the involvement of young women and girls in gangs, who are subject to sexual violence and criminal coercion and are criminalised by police, resulting in a lack of faith in the justice system.
Jess Phillips, MP for Birmingham Yardley and Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding, cited research from Refuge showing that Black women are 3% more likely to report abuse yet 14% less likely to receive a referral to specialist services. She argued, "This is not a hard-to-reach cohort of people, this is a group of people asking for help and not being provided with it."
The response from Sarah Dines MP, Home Office Minister for Safeguarding, focused on funding for services, the Immigration Enforcement Migrant Victims Protocol and the Ministry of Justice’s Female Offender Minority Ethnic (FOME) policy group which is trying to address inequalities for Black, Asian and minoritised women in the criminal justice system.
Thank you to Kate Osamor for applying for the debate, everyone who took part and the supporters who attended on the day. We have asked for a follow up meeting with the Minister for Safeguarding and the Minister for Prisons and Probation and look forward to continuing conversations. With 57% of women in prison having suffered domestic violence, it is imperative that the government take serious steps to prevent the criminalisation of women whose lives lie on the intersection between multiple disadvantages.
Please click here to download a copy of the Tackling Double Disavantage's 'One Year On' progress report about the inequalities faced by Black, Asian, minoritised, and migratised women in contact with the criminal justice system. You can find out more about the Centre for Women's Justice's work to tackle the unjust criminalisation of survivors of domestic abuse here.