Migrant Family Support

The Experiences of Adult and Child Migrant Victims of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence and abuse: new definition

The cross-government definition of domestic violence and abuse is:

any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional

Controlling behaviour

Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive behaviour

Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.

Domestic Violence in Migrant Communities

The experiences of migrant child and adult victims of domestic violence are influenced by many factors but two of the dominant features are

  • Religion and culture
  • Immigration control

While gender is a key factor in shaping women’s experiences of violence, the forms, meanings, and impact of such violence as well as women’s capacity to resist, contain, or end it are shaped by particular contexts. One such crucial context is the immigration and welfare policy of the state.

The entwined evolution of immigration and welfare policy in the UK

Women who come to the UK to join their husbands or fiancés are subject to a five-year probationary period of residency. If their marriage breaks down during this period, they no longer have the right to remain in the UK and face deportation to their country of origin. In the interim, they are barred from accessing public funds by the No Recourse to Public Funds [NRPF] requirement. The NRPF stipulation is part of an array of measures intended to prevent marriage from becoming a means of settlement and has a gendered impact on women facing domestic violence.

In the past, women who left abusive relationships within the probationary period were routinely deported to their country of origin, often to face further abuse from their families for not ‘making the marriage work’. The situation changed in 2002, when the then Labour government passed the Domestic Violence Rule in response to campaigns from women’s rights organisations. This made it possible for a woman to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK if she could prove that her marriage had broken down because of domestic violence.

The prohibition on access to public funds, however, remained in force even for these women. Women’s refuges could not house them, and thus they were left destitute while they were expected to apply for ILR. Southall Black Sisters, Amnesty International, and allied organisations campaigned to change this, resulting in the Destitute Domestic Violence (DDV) concession of 2010. This gives women access to benefits, and thus women’s refuges, for three months while they apply for ILR.

Many women, however, remain excluded from the DDV concession. A survey conducted by the Campaign to Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds, for example, showed that for the period between 1 November 2012 and 31 January 2013, 64 percent of 242 victims of domestic violence with insecure immigration status (with 176 children) did not qualify for the DDV concession.

Barriers to Protection

Recent marriage migrants often face additional barriers to accessing protection,

  • Such as low proficiency in English,
  • Lack of knowledge of services,
  • Social stigma associated with the breakdown of marriage.
  • For women who manage to seek assistance, the restrictive immigration and welfare policies may mean that help available to resident women facing domestic violence is not available to them.
  • Cultural pressure
  • Religion

Breast Ironing

A form of mutilation where girls’ breasts are beaten and burned to stop them developing could be spreading in the UK, campaigners have warned.

Breast ironing, which is traditional in Cameroon and widespread in several other West African countries, is usually carried out by relatives as an attempt to stop sexual harassment, rape and pregnancy by delaying the signs of puberty.

Female genital mutilation (sometimes referred to as female circumcision)

An estimated 137,000 women in the UK are affected by female genital mutilation (FGM). However, the true extent is unknown, due to the “hidden” nature of the crime.

The girls may be taken to their countries of origin so that FGM can be carried out during the summer holidays, allowing them time to “heal” before they return to school. There are also worries that some girls may have FGM performed in the UK.

Forced Marriage

A forced marriage is where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with learning disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used. It is an appalling and indefensible practice and is recognised in the UK as a form of violence against women and men, domestic/child abuse and a serious abuse of human rights.

The pressure put on people to marry against their will can be physical (including threats, actual physical violence and sexual violence) or emotional and psychological (for example, when someone is made to feel like they’re bringing shame on their family). Financial abuse (taking your wages or not giving you any money) can also be a factor

Domestic servitude

Left behind older children joining the family and being used as slaves and as domestic servants.

Privileging the perpetrators

It is also important to recognise how state policies can construct particular vulnerabilities for women facing domestic violence that increase the potential power of perpetrators. Research conducted for Oxfam in 2008 indicates that women with insecure immigration status face specific patterns of abuse—such as domestic servitude, slavery-like conditions, forced labour, and more intensified forms of domestic violence—that are underlined with threats of arrest and deportation. Men explicitly utilise threats related to women’s immigration status to prevent them from seeking help and to reinforce their absolute power and control over them. These techniques of control and forms of violence can be attributed to the imbalance of power between the perpetrators and the women, an imbalance created by immigration laws that leave women with very few viable alternatives and reinforce the patriarchal structures within their communities.

Call for Reform

For women experiencing domestic violence, the immigration policies of the UK create additional sufferings and ‘human wrongs’. There is an urgent need for legal reforms that adequately accommodate their rights. While the DDV concession has had a significant impact on certain categories of marriage migrants, a long-term solution to the problem requires challenging the very structures of inequality that make space for individual acts of abuse. Canada has been able to legislate to remove this inequality by giving marriage migrants the right to apply for permanent residence at the point of entry. Following the Canadian example, removing women’s dependency on ‘sponsors’—aka spouses—is surely the most effective way to take away the power that enables perpetrators to carry out their abuse.

Migrant Family Support helps Migrants who are experiencing domestic violence. We signpost to agencies that assist and help you to find the help that you need. Contact us today for assistance via our email or Facebook Page.

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