Domestic Violence Month Series: A 24-hour multilingual helpline connects with British Indian victims

Domestic Violence Month Series: A 24-hour multilingual helpline connects with British Indian victims

Amid growing concern for ethnic minority and migrant domestic violence and forced marriage victims in the UK, Birmingham charity Roshni partnered with Panahghar and SWAN to introduce a 24-hour multilingual helpline for help in the victims’ own first language.

The freephone line is accessible at all hours, seven days a week as one of a series of steps taken to combat the problem in the West Midlands region of England.

“We worked closely with the police and crime commissioner’s office, and as a consortium applied for funding. The 24-hour helpline is crucial as sometimes the only opportunity a victim has is when everybody is asleep,” explains Surwat Sohail, CEO of Roshni Birmingham, which has been able to use the helpline successfully to repatriate victims stranded abroad back to the UK.

Complexities of abuse

The UK government’s Domestic Violence Bill is designed to provide efficient and better protection for domestic abuse victims and includes:

  • A first statutory definition of domestic abuse

  • The legal duty for local councils to provide safe accommodation for victims

  • Children are now identified as victims of domestic abuse

  • The appointment of a domestic abuse commissioner

However, the bill has faced some criticism for its failure to address and support the needs of migrant victims of domestic abuse, including Indian women who come to the UK on spousal visa without any recourse to public funds.

Claire Waxman, London’s victims' commissioner, and Nicole Jacobs, the domestic abuse commissioner, are pushing towards an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill, which would allow migrant victims to report their abuse to police, social services, and health professionals in the knowledge they would be treated as victims and without fear of immigration enforcement.

As specialists in this area, Sohail reflects: “We have a very good track record of working with women with no recourse to public funds. We have managed to support at least 80 per cent of the women who walk through our doors (who are refused by other refugee centres due to not meeting criterion requirements) and they have also got indefinite leave to remain.

“The process is difficult as victims cannot apply for benefits straight away, thus the first couple of weeks are crucial in ensuring we are giving them full support. Through our network links with several organisations and a variety of fundraising supporters, we use that money to support women up to the time they get their benefits, which can take between three to four weeks. But whatever the scenario, we never say no to them.”

Breaking barriers

According to experts, shame and honour are two of the biggest barriers faced by victims of domestic abuse within Britain’s Indian communities.

Sohail notes: “Indian women are continuously thinking about what we call izzat (honour) and ‘log kya kahenge’ (what will people say). When your own family turns against you, that is a big trap. There you are trying to flee a violent relationship, but your parents will pressure you to make it work and believe that things will get better.

“It is that level of tolerance expected from the woman and so-called izaat which traps women.”

Through its workshops, Roshni aims to tackle and challenge these views and beliefs in a number of constructive ways.

“It is that kind of realisation we have been working towards within local communities, that just by suppressing and forcing somebody to stay in a violent relationship isn’t going to solve the issues,” she explains.

Police support

The Metropolitan Police Service is among the police forces supporting National Domestic Violence Month 2020 this October – a worldwide campaign to raise awareness of domestic abuse.

As part of the drive, the Met Police’s new Lead Responsible Officer (LRO) for domestic abuse has been highlighting why it is important for officers and the public to understand the prevalence and various aspects of coercive control, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic as controlling and coercive behaviour is still not fully understood by everyone.

Acting Detective Superintendent William Hodgkinson, Safeguarding LRO for domestic abuse, stalking, and harassment explains: “Controlling 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 a victim. The acts are 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 control is particularly of concern at the moment as Covid-19 restrictions mean there are more opportunities for offenders who reside with victims to have a high level of control over their victims. Many victims will fear calling out for help in these uncertain times.

"There are a plethora of reasons as to why victims may not reach out to us. We will provide the links to key partners who can support and advise through these challenges. If you need help, we are and will always be here.”

*This article is the second part of a two-part series to coincide with Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2020

Info: The multilingual helpline can be reached at 0800 953 9666

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