Leading women’s rights organisations have today (20th April 2023) launched a report exposing how public bodies, particularly the police, are failing to comply with their obligations under the Equality Act 2010 to eliminate discrimination, harassment, and victimisation when interacting with survivors facing communication barriers – negatively impacting their experiences of safety and access to justice.
Listen to us! Communication barriers: How statutory bodies are failing Black, Minoritised, Migrant, Deaf and Disabled women and girls victims/survivors of VAWG finds that victims and survivors with communication needs are more likely to be afraid to contact the police for fear of discrimination and violence based on their previous experiences and interactions.
Within the violence against women and girls (VAWG) sector, we know that women and girls who are Black, minoritised, migrant, Deaf, disabled, refugee and asylum seeking, or Gypsy, Roma and Traveller face complex barriers in accessing services they’re entitled to.
Communication barriers include those faced by women who are:
- Blind or visually impaired
- Speakers of languages other than English
- Deaf or hard of hearing
- Have communication impairments
- Have learning difficulties
- Have basic or no access to literacy
However, women can encounter multiple, intersecting communication barriers; creating unique communication needs. For example, a migrant woman who is also disabled will face specific barriers to accessing services.
Responses to a call for evidence found:
- More than half of the survivor respondents had experienced police failures to communicate at an appropriate level or make reasonable adjustments
- Nearly half were not informed about the process or their rights after contacting the police to report abuse or violence
- 44% had prior experience of discrimination, including racism, ableism and xenophobia, from the police
Isabel Ros López, Membership Manager at the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) and member of the VAWG Sector Communication Barriers Working Group, said:
“This latest evidence echoes what specialist ‘by and for’ specialist organisations have long raised the alarm about. The police and public bodies need to do much more to fulfil their duties under the Equality Act 2010.
Specialist services led by and for Black, minoritised, migrant, Deaf or disabled women are best placed to provide the tailored support women need. However, these services are chronically underfunded and facing increasing demand as well as soaring running costs during the cost of living crisis.
We call on the police and all public bodies to listen to us, implement our recommendations and ensure access to safety, adequate services and justice for all women.”
In order to improve access to support and justice for victims and survivors with communication needs, the report provides recommendations for police forces, public bodies and government.
- The Victims and Prisoners Bill should include a legal duty to ensure victims and survivors’ rights to communication support, similar to those accused of a crime
- The police and other criminal justice agencies should ensure all resources are produced in accessible formats and available in other community languages
- Police training should include more in-depth equalities work; addressing discrimination, myths and stereotypes about sex, race and ethnicity, social class, disability and other protected characteristics concerning victims and survivors
- The government should commit to creating a sustainable funding model for the provision of specialist user-led Deaf and disabled organisations and ‘by and for’ services which are independent, trauma-informed and offer advocacy and ‘wraparound’ support for all victims/survivors of VAWG
- Police and Crime Commissioners should proactively engage and work with specialist domestic abuse and sexual violence services and conduct local needs assessments to ensure that specialist ‘by and for’ services are appropriately resourced.
R is a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual violence. Her first language is not English. When R attended a meeting with the police, no support or interpreting service were provided. She was handed a ‘no further action’ letter that provided no rationale, with no understanding of what the letter meant, and had to struggle to use Google Translate to understand the decision that had been made. (Rape Crisis South London)
L was married to a perpetrator who became aggressive and controlling. When he learned she wanted to leave him, the abuse escalated. He threatened to cancel her visa application as an EU spouse and have her deported. She went to the police and tried to report him. Without providing an interpreter, the police officer tried to communicate with her using google translate. The survivor could not understand anything and she was unsure whether the officer understood her either. (LAWRS)
A Deaf person needed police assistance. However, she did not want her family to be involved and requested to make her disclosure outside the home. The police officer asked if they could go into the car as they were cold. In the car, they proceeded to take a statement from the BSL user with a pen, paper and gestures. The client was left exceptionally vulnerable in this scenario, unable to fluently express herself and exposed to further distress as a consequence of not being able to communicate at an appropriate level. (SignHealth)
Y was experiencing domestic abuse, and her mental health was suffering hugely. The police were unaware that 85% of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers live in bricks and mortar housing and did not identify her ethnicity correctly. The police failed to safeguard and support Y appropriately as a result Y died by suicide a few days later. (The Traveller Movement)
Sinead Geoghegan, Communications Manager, End Violence Against Women Coalition: firstname.lastname@example.org 07960 744 502
- The report is the outcome of the Communications Barriers Working group, formed two years to evidence communication barriers and ways to overcome. The group is comprised of Deaf Ethnic Women’s Association, Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s Office, End Violence Against Women Coalition, Imkaan, IRISi, Karma Nirvana, Latin American Women’s Rights Service, Rape Crisis England & Wales, Sign Health, Stay Safe East, Solace Women’s Aid, The Traveller Movement and Women’s Aid Federation of England.
- A total of 50 victims/survivor case studies were collected from 19 organisations working with victims/survivors which submitted evidence in response to the Communications Barriers Working Group’s call out. Over 40% of the submissions were from specialist led ‘by and for’ Black and minoritised, Deaf, disabled, migrant and Gypsy, Roma & Traveller women.
- We are unable to facilitate any interviews with victims/survivors.