Life or death
A new (16 November 2023) report from the Centre for Women’s Justice takes a deep dive into the murders and suicides of Black and minoritised women linked to domestic abuse. The report, ‘Life or Death’, highlights how barriers to reporting and failures by police and other services, against a backdrop of intersecting race and sex discrimination have contributed to the tragic deaths of women from these communities.
Sadly the report was launched less than a week after another horrifying murder of a Black Woman is reported. On 10 November, 35-year-old Perseverance Ncube was stabbed to death in her home in Salford in front of her two small children. The suspect was reported to be on licence following release from prison and the police have referred the matter for a Domestic Homicide Review.
The report was created through a partnership project between Imkaan and the
Centre for Women’s Justice and examines the obstacles faced by Black and minoritised women who lose their lives in domestic homicide and suicide in the context of domestic abuse.
Whilst these women may face many of the same barriers and state failings as all other women experiencing domestic abuse, their deaths are bound up with many issues over and above those faced by white women.
The researchers built a dataset of 4370 post-death investigation reports into the deaths of Black and minoritised women who have died in the last 10 years (since January 2013) which fall within the remit of the research. These included Domestic Homicide Review (DHR) reports, reports by the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) and inquest outcomes. They identified 44 Black and minoritised women who died by domestic homicide or suicide in the context of domestic abuse within this cohort (certainly an under-estimate) and analysed the key themes in the official reports relating to these deaths.
The research uses a feminist intersectional analysis, recognising gendered and racialised norms as the social fabric in which the women lived and that contributed to their deaths. The researchers say that these are not isolated tragedies, but reflect social patterns, and the deaths are a lens through which to look at the wider response to violence against women and girls (VAWG), with these fatal cases the tip of the iceberg.
The case studies in the report make for harrowing reading and I have reproduced one of these below.
The report examines the many different ways in which Black and minoritised women can face barriers and state failings when seeking protection from domestic abuse. It highlights that much of the narrative about criminal justice and race is focussed on over policing, with little focus on the experience of victim/survivors which may also be affected by racial stereotyping.
The report identifies many barriers to reporting faced by the women featured in the report including:
- Pressures in some communities not to disclose outside of the family
- High levels of police racism and fear of reporting as a consequence of mixed loyalties and community pressure
- Fear of social services becoming involved leaving such women caught in a double bind between fear of the perpetrator and fear of losing children
- Fear experienced by women with insecure immigration status that if they report their information may be shared with immigration enforcement.
The report identifies specific failings by the state which can contribute to fatal outcomes including:
- Police and other services accepting the perpetrator’s narrative because of his better English
- Subjective assessments of credibility of accounts that can be influenced by racist assumptions
- Stereotypes, assumptions and tropes that influence the response from police and others
- Those with No Recourse to Public Funds may face a stark choice between destitution and returning to an abusive partner
- The failure to understand the nature of so called ‘honour based abuse’ can inhibit recognition by authorities of severely heightened risk
- Criminalisation of survivors through counter allegations
- Failures of GP and health services to pick up domestic abuse indicators.
Similar issues exist in the six case studies of suicide caused by domestic abuse and the two case studies where women survived abuse only because they were driven to kill their abuser.
The report underlines the need for a reversal of funding cuts to the specialist by and for sector and shows how a number of deaths could have been avoided if such services had been available to some of the women in the study.
The report examines the adequacy of the current post death investigatory process and highlights inadequate and inappropriate use of ‘cultural expertise’ in the domestic homicide review process and serious weaknesses in the investigation of policing failures through the IOPC investigation process.