Domestic violence charity Sistah Space is calling on the government to do more to protect Black victims of abuse.
According to Sistah Space, a domestic abuse charity supporting women of African and Caribbean heritage, a staggering 86% of women of African and/or Caribbean heritage in the UK have either been a victim of domestic abuse or know a family member who has been assaulted.
However, only 57% of victims said they would report the abuse to the police.
The charity also recorded a 400% rise in calls during the pandemic, yet said they were disappointed there was not more public support for black women at risk.
“For too long African and Caribbean heritage women affected by domestic and sexual abuse have been treated like nonentity unimportant people,” Ngozi Fulani, its chief executive tells Stylist. “We just don’t get the same care and attention as our white counterparts.”
“There is a lack of trust because the police are not taking black women who have been assaulted seriously,” Fulani also told The Guardian. “They are not always believed and there is a pervasive stereotype of black women being tough and not as in need of protection as white women.”
Now, the charity is calling for an implementation of Valerie’s Law, which would introduce mandatory training for police and agencies supporting black women who are victims of domestic abuse.
Actor and writer Michaela Coel, singer FKA Twigs and the Women’s Equality party have all backed the Valerie’s Law petition, which currently has over 26,000 signatures. The law is named after Valerie Forde, who was murdered by her former partner in 2014 alongside their 22-month-old daughter. She had previously asked the police for help after her ex had threatened to burn down the house with her in it, but this was recorded as a threat to property.
“Too often black women are failed by law enforcement, paying with their lives for mistakes that can be avoided simply by implementing Valerie’s Law,” Fulani explains.
“Without mandating this life-saving training, Black women are left to gamble with their lives on whether the officer responding to the scene is able to spot the unique signs of abuse in Black environments on Black skin,” she told The Guardian.
And in the charity’s latest video campaign, narrated by FKA Twigs, they highlight how Black women are at increased risk of being left with their abusers after police are called due to an incident of violence.
In the film, Foundation actor Leah Harvey plays a woman left with her abuser after a police officer fails to acknowledge her assault – a chilling warning about the over-reliance on the appearance of physical injuries, which can be less obvious on dark skin.
“We’ll look after you from here now, we’ve taken him into custody,” a police officer tells a visibly bruised white domestic abuse victim, played by Call The Midwife’s Megan Cusack.
When the camera switches to Harvey, she’s told “I’m sorry, without more evidence, there’s not much we can do.”
“There is an example of what happens when Black victims of domestic abuse do go to the police for support,” Fulani says, citing the murder of sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, where two police officers were charged with misconduct after taking selfies with their bodies.
Mina Smallman, their mother, had also previously told the press that the police did not instantly react when the two sisters were first reported missing due to officers “making assumptions” based on the race and class of her daughters.
Fulani explains that, as in the case of Henry and Smallman, but also after the disappearances of 21-year-olds Joy Morgan and Blessing Olusegun, “families often have to put it in their own hands and search for them” because “the police were reluctant” and “didn’t take it seriously.”
Fulani compared these efforts to the police and public response to the disappearance of Sarah Everard in March 2021, whose murder also sparked a national conversation around how equipped the police are to protect women.
“When Black women report abuse or are reported missing by their families, the result is the same,” she said. More often than not, they are ignored, or it’s too late.
As reported by The Guardian, a response to the petition from the government said it was not necessary to mandate training because current training on domestic abuse should include recognising the specific needs of victims due to their ethnicity or cultural background. It added that the Domestic Abuse Act brought in earlier this year was a “gamechanger” that would strengthen the response to victims across agencies.
But Fulani doesn’t believe this is enough.
“Last year, we were saying that Black Lives Matter. Was that just a trend? We need to prove that they matter by making Valerie’s Law compulsory.”
Mandu Reid, the leader of the Women’s Equality party, also told The Guardian that a mandate requiring relevant organisations to address racial or cultural barriers to reporting violence and abuse was long overdue. She said: “It is an essential step in building trust between communities of colour and the police and criminal justice system.”
Sign Sistah Space’s Valerie’s Law petition here.
The 24-hour National Domestic Abuse helpline can be contacted on 0808 2000 247 and further support can be accessed online via their website.
Images: Getty/Sistah Spaces