Domestic violence: still a hidden problem for many migrant women

Dec 18 2017

Mirela Sula* – The Guardian

Women who come to the UK as migrants are at higher risk of abuse, but shame and isolation prevents them receiving the support they need

With no family support, no friends, no finance, no confidence, and often feeling isolated, many migrant women feel totally alone and do not know where to go for help. One woman who came without her husband’s permission to a workshop I ran on domestic abuse told me she was not allowed to go out on her own, even to buy food for her three-year-old son. She had to wait for her husband to come back from work and go with him.

This woman said her husband would punish her if he found out she had attended the workshop. She felt she had no choice but to accept the situation because he had sponsored her visa; if she didn’t do what he said, he could send her home.

It is shocking that almost 2 million people a year in England and Wales – 1.2 million women and 713,000 men – experience domestic abuse, and that two women in England are killed by a partner or ex-partner every week. But an even greater number of people experience abuse without reporting it – and many of them are migrant women.

In my PhD research study on the experiences of migrant women who had experienced of domestic violence in the UK, all the participants had migrated, when they were over 18, to the UK in the past 20 years and were separated or divorced because of domestic violence. I also run workshops for Solace Women’s Aid, a charity that last year supported more than 10,000 women and children affected by domestic and sexual abuse.

Domestic abuse is not limited by borders, culture, class, education or migration status. But there is now considerable evidence to show that migrant women, women of colour and women with low income are often at higher risk of domestic abuse. Of this group, migrant women, in particular, are far less likely to seek support.

Most of the women I speak to blame themselves, feel ashamed and are reluctant to share what has happened (or is happening) to them. This is not unique to them, but several studies have shown that migration is a stressful and traumatic experience, and that factors such as not speaking the local language and a lack of family and social support puts these women at higher risk of domestic violence.

When migration law gives a spouse control over the immigration status of family members, it forces many women to endure violence, as they are too afraid to seek help. The perpetrators reinforce their power by using women’s immigration status to threaten them.

The six stages of domestic violence

Sociologist Liz Kelly, professor of sexualised violence at London Metropolitan University, has identified six stages of domestic violence.

At the beginning, women try to manage the situation and hide it. They hope their partner will change.

By the second stage, when they realise he (and it is often men) will not change, they blame themselves and find excuses for him, saying he is stressed, or working hard, or they themselves need to be better. This distorts their reality – women do not perceive the behaviour as abuse, but believe they have marriage problems. Many women from developing countries see this as normal behaviour.

At the third stage, women recognise the abuse and understand it is serious. In my research, I have found that migrant women arrive late to this stage, often when their children start school and they break their isolation by meeting other parents.

By now, many women will start to make plans to find a way out. Again, at this stage, migrant women face challenges. Many don’t have anywhere to go. It’s not until women see a real threat to their lives or those of their children that they reach stage five and decide to end the relationship and flee.

This stage is often complicated because it does not mean the end of abuse. Even when women find a way to escape, they still feel threatened by their abusers. Sometimes the perpetrators find them, even at refuges. Many perpetrators keep texting or use charm to convince their partners to return. Women often go through repeated relapses before abuse ends for good.

The final stage is the end of the abuse. This can often feel like an illusion, particularly for women who need to keep in touch with the perpetrator for the sake of their children, and who must continue to manage an abusive relationship of the past.

I have found that migrant women feel they get valuable support from the police and charities, but not enough from local authorities. More also needs to be done by community leaders to reach out to women who are more isolated. Many community leaders in this country are sceptical about the scale of the problem, even when statistics confirm how widespread this issue is. We all need to be more aware, more responsible and more receptive to the signs of domestic abuse. And we need to be ready to provide the help needed.


*Mirela Sula is the founder of the Migrant Woman Association and is doing PhD research into violence against migrant women in the UK.



Half of UK sees The Sun tabloid as ‘negative influence’

by Shafik Mandhai – Al Jazeera

As report shows public faith in tabloids plummeting, activists seeks to hit newspapers where it hurts – in the budget.


Half of Britons see one of the UK’s largest tabloids, The Sun, as a negative influence on society, according to a new poll.

The YouGov survey, published on Monday, commissioned by the campaign group Stop Funding Hate, comes amid concerns the media is stirring up anti-Muslim, anti-migrant, and anti-EU sentiment.

The poll said just five percent see The Sun’s influence as positive.

The findings revealed low public faith in tabloid newspapers, with 38 percent of respondents also holding negative opinions of the Daily Mail, The Sun’s popular right-wing rival.

In comparison, 31 percent of respondents were disappointed with the left-leaning Daily Mirror tabloid, while 12 percent thought poorly of the liberal Guardian newspaper.

Right-leaning broadsheet papers such as The Times and The Telegraph fared better, with just 10 and 13 percent holding negative views of them, respectively.

‘Toxic climate’

Last week, the Daily Mail’s front page carried photos of 11 MPs from the ruling Conservative party who had voted against the government on a key Brexit vote, describing them as “malcontents” and accusing them of betrayal.

That came little more than a year after the newspaper declared three High Court judges as “Enemies of the People” for ruling that Parliament must issue a mandate for the Brexit process to start.

The Sun, which is owned by billionaire media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, regularly targets Britain’s Muslim minority, migrants and refugees.

In March 2016, the tabloid was forced to admit its headline, claiming one in five British Muslims held sympathy for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) was “significantly misleading”.

This divisive and anti-immigrant rhetoric espoused by politicians and covered within the media created a toxic climate in which the targeting of people on the basis of their identity was seen as legitimate and acceptable. Stevie-Jade Hardy, University of Leicester Centre for Hate Studies

Stevie-Jade Hardy, a criminologist at the University of Leicester’s Centre for Hate Studies, said tabloids contributed to a “toxic climate” during last year’s EU referendum, leading to hate crimes.

“In the build-up to the European Union referendum, we saw the demonisation of particular groups and communities within sections of the British media, which went, and, to some extent, continues to go unchecked,” she said.

“This divisive and anti-immigrant rhetoric espoused by politicians and covered within the media created a toxic climate in which the targeting of people on the basis of their identity was seen as legitimate and acceptable.”

‘Making hate less profitable’

Stop Funding Hate launched in 2016, with the group’s organisers concerned over the media’s perceived role in rising hate crimes following the EU referendum.

Some newspapers “had been running very hostile front-page stories targeting migrants, Muslims, and other groups”, Richard Wilson, the group’s director, told Al Jazeera. “The idea we had was to start to talk to advertisers.”

In fewer than 18 months, Stop Funding Hate has picked up more than 241,000 followers on Facebook and 86,000 on Twitter.

“Demonising minority groups can be a way of boosting sales of a newspaper, which in turn is a way of boosting advertising revenue,” said Wilson.

“Our thinking was that if you can convince enough of these advertisers to pull away and not go along with these hateful news stories, then it would start to make the business models less profitable, basically making hate less profitable.”

The group has gathered tens of thousands of pounds in grassroots funding from supporters.

To date, it has successfully convinced brands including Lego and The Body Shop to stop advertising in papers such as the Daily Mail.

We’ve been getting positive messages all the time from people who’ve been saying they felt frustrated about the hate they’ve been seeing in the media for years. Richard Wilson, Stop Funding Hate

Earlier in December, The Sun ran an opinion piece by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson titled: “Leftie activists trying to silence newspapers they dislike are attacking the very basis of our democracy.”

Johnson said Stop Funding Hate was “attacking the freedom which is the foundation of [British] democracy”.

Wilson said such slurs only help publicise the group’s cause.

“We’ve been getting positive messages all the time from people who’ve been saying they felt frustrated about the hate they’ve been seeing in the media for years, and that they’ve finally found something that they can do,” he said. “Everyone has a little bit of power as a consumer.”

Regulatory response

Stop Funding Hate stops short of calling for a regulatory response to tabloid coverage.

Others argue that flaws in the press regulatory system allow hateful coverage to go unchecked.

Activist Miqdaad Versi said he has personally filed 40 complaints about inaccuracies in coverage of Islam or Muslims by the British media.

That figure excludes “negative portrayals of Muslims, scaremongering, or bias”, which he said are not covered by the press regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).

There is little doubt that the consistent stream of inaccurate articles and the negative narrative plays a role in fuelling the far right. Miqdaad Versi

Versi, who also serves as assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said IPSO has failed to act against newspapers – even when they themselves admit fault.

“(IPSO) has refused to launch any investigations into newspapers’ breach of standards and has chosen, on a number of occasions, not to censure newspapers even when they have admitted fault,” he told Al Jazeera, giving the example of a recent Daily Express story.

The right-wing newspaper published a story with the headline: “New £5 notes could be BANNED by religious groups as BANK CAN’T PROMISE they’re Halal.”

The article, which quoted Hindus and not Muslims voicing concerns over the new currency, was later amended to remove the Islamic reference, but IPSO chose not to take action over the initial inaccurate reporting.

“Many of these stories have been shared by known far-right extremist groups on social media, often to corroborate their own, hateful, anti-Muslim narrative,” Versi said.

“There is little doubt that the consistent stream of inaccurate articles and the negative narrative plays a role in fuelling the far right.”


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