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Hibiscus Initiatives research into the experiences of Black, minoritised and migrant women in contact with the justice system.

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Complex and compounding issues

New (22 June, 2023) research from Hisbiscus Initiatives into the experiences of their service users found that Black, minoritised and migrant women in contact with the
criminal justice system face complex, compounding issues including Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), criminalisation, financial insecurity, inadequate housing, and barriers to accessing healthcare – all of which have detrimental effects on their mental health.

The research

The report outlines findings from a series of six open-ended focus group discussions with ten women, as well as analyses of existing literature, evidence, and policies on the experiences of Black, minoritised and migrant women in the context of the enduring impact of COVID-19, including those in contact with the criminal justice system.


The research found that Black and minoritised women are disproportionately affected by violence, including physical, psychological and sexual violence, and that they often face complex barriers to reporting these crimes.

Migrant women also repeatedly report experiences of hyper-precarious employment and financial instability which greatly inhibits their ability to make sufficient housing arrangements for themselves and their families.

Further to this, women who have been in contact with the criminal justice system are already at a disadvantage in finding stable employment and support in finding work, and since many of these women have experienced violence and may suffer from mental health issues, it can be harder for them to maintain employment and to access financial resources.

Access to healthcare is another area of shared concern, hampered by a digital divide and language barriers, as well as fears of NHS data-sharing and charging. The culture of fear precipitated by discriminatory hostile environment policies creates an environment that is bad for both public health and individual mental health.

The report highlights the urgent need for policy changes and propose practical solutions to address the systemic injustices and inequalities faced by migrant women in contact with the criminal justice system in the UK.

It argues that, by taking concrete actions to improve access to healthcare, stable employment, safe housing, and culturally appropriate support services, we can work towards a more equitable society that values the rights and dignity of all its members.


Hibiscus Initiatives make a large number of recommendations to prevent the further criminalisation of victimised Black, ethnically minoritised and migrant women, and those who may be in contact with the criminal justice system, including specifically:

  • Strengthening the Female Offender Strategy Delivery Plan to better identify and support the differentiated needs of Black, ethnically minoritised and migrant women in contact with the criminal justice system.
  • Urgently amend the Nationality and Borders Act and Modern Slavery Statutory Guidance to ease identification and support of victims of modern slavery.
  • Add a commitment to the Victims’ Code to protect all victims of VAWG from unjust criminalisation, ensuring they have their rights upheld as victims and are not stigmatised.

Cultural mediation

In addition to these recommendations aimed at Central Government, Hibiscus advocates that “Cultural Mediation” should be adopted as a way of reducing the cultural and language barriers experienced by migrant women and improving the accessibility and quality of care for them.

The organisation is careful to make a clear distinction between the role of an interpreter and a cultural mediator. Here is their definition:

“The idea of cultural mediation is to create a space where women can use their own words and languages to express what they are going through. In this context, the cultural mediator is asked to be much more than an interpreter, rather an expert at finding equivalences between languages.

In fact, an interpreter translates verbal communication between two languages. An interpreter may provide an oral translation of a written document, i.e. sight interpretation, under exceptional circumstance.

Instead, a cultural mediator facilitates mutual understanding between a person or a group of people (e.g. the migrant/refugee population and a caregiver such as a doctor) by providing two-way verbal translation (interpreting) and helping them overcome cultural barriers.”

Thanks to Clarke Sanders for kind permission to use the images in this post which were previously published on Unsplash.

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