Title: “I can’t tell people what is happening at home”. Domestic abuse within South Asian communities: the specific needs of women, children and young people
Author: Shyma Izzidien
Institution: When undertaking the research, Shyma Izzidien was policy researcher at the NSPCC. She is now research officer at the Institute of Education, University of London.
Available: The study is available from the NSPCC website
This study focuses on the specific experiences and needs of women and children from South Asian communities who have been affected by domestic violence. The NSPCC commissioned the research following concerns about the impact of domestic abuse on ethnic minority children and the lack of support available to them.
The report asked five key research questions:
● What are the experiences of South Asian children, young people and women of domestic abuse?
● What barriers prevent South Asian victims of domestic abuse from seeking help in domestic abuse situations?
● What interventions are effective in supporting South Asian children, young people and women experiencing domestic abuse?
● What are the gaps in service provision?
● What is the role and position of faith and community groups in relation to domestic abuse within South Asian communities?
The study will be used to raise awareness and increase understanding at government level in England and Wales, as well as offering examples of good practice to policy makers and service providers at a local level.
Over the past two decades there has been increasing recognition of the harmful effect on children of living in a home where there is domestic abuse. The Adoption and Children Act 2002 amended the legal definition of significant harm to include “impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another”. Official data does not identify figures for South Asian children but the research review concluded there is no evidence to suggest that South Asian women are more likely to be subjected to domestic abuse than other groups in Britain.
All types of abuse – physical, sexual, financial, psychological and emotional – occur across ethnic groups. However, the research also identifies the importance of understanding the unique experiences and specific needs of women and children from South Asian communities. This report provides a detailed analysis of how issues such as culture, language, family structures, racism and insecure immigration status affect women, children and support services.
South Asian family structures and relationships emphasise a sense of connectedness and interdependence with wider family and community networks. This study identified the involvement of extended family members in the abuse of many South Asian women and children.
Examples include the use of children to control women, where in-laws would withdraw children from their mothers or the extended family turn children against their mothers.
The report also discusses the lack of consent and duress to push through forced marriages. They are different from arranged marriages in which choice is exercised and consent given.
Also for some young women of South Asian origin who are living in homes where there is domestic abuse, early marriage can be a way of escaping their home environment without having to face rejection from their wider family. Practitioners expressed concerns that these marriages were often unsuitable and the young woman’s ability to exercise choice and give consent was limited.
The report said fear and a lack of awareness were significant barriers in seeking help. It identified two patriarchal concepts – Izzat (honour) and Sharam (shame) – being used to control and silence women and children. Both men and women are supposed to uphold family and community honour, but women are most often held responsible. Leaving a marriage can lead to dishonour and rejection by wider family and some in the community.
Children can also be burdened with the thought of being responsible for family dishonour if they speak about abuse. Asian cultural practices are, however, frequently over-simplified and seen as a problem by professionals who often ignore the strengths within cultures and the positive role that religion plays in many women and children’s lives.
A fear of racist stereotyping acts as a barrier to many women and children reporting domestic abuse. In addition, many women with insecure immigration status have no recourse to public funds, limited entitlement to support services, including refuges, and risk being deported.
Other barriers faced by South Asian women include a lack of awareness of services, limited ability to communicate in English, fear of being relocated to an unfamiliar area, and concern about being separated from their children.
Racism from other service users and staff is also a barrier. The study suggests a lack of cultural knowledge and fears of being labelled as racist can lead to a reluctance on the part of professionals to intervene or where they do intervene, it is done poorly.
The report makes many recommendations about improving service provision and gives examples of good practice, including multi-agency work and the engagement of faith groups.
It suggests the lack of awareness about services and reluctance to seek help can be addressed through more accessible information, including through community and school-based initiatives.
It also identifies ways in which cultural and religious beliefs can be used to challenge the views and actions of perpetrators.
Health professionals are often well-placed to identify domestic abuse, and routine enquiries could increase the chances of identifying South Asian, as well as other women, who suffer domestic abuse.
Specialist family support services, such as Asian women’s groups, that provide easily accessible, culturally sensitive, safe and confidential environments, can also assist in raising awareness, identifying and supporting women and children experiencing domestic abuse.
Specialist refuges are a vital resource, but are chronically under-funded. One of the recommendations of the report is for increased funding for these services. Therapeutic support, counselling and groups developed within a culturally sensitive framework are identified as important to promote the well-being of South Asian children and young people affected by domestic violence.
Another recommendation of this study is for the government to abolish the “no recourse to public funds” requirement, which leaves many women and children from South Asian and other ethnic minorities extremely vulnerable.
Domestic abuse adversely affects the lives of many women and children from all ethnic backgrounds in Britain today.
This study provides an insight into the experiences and specific needs of women and children from South Asian communities. The lack of information about the experiences of people from other ethnic minorities is even greater and so further research is required to help understand commonalities and differences in women and children’s experiences.
The ultimate aim must be the provision of culturally sensitive and effective services for all families affected by domestic abuse.
Anna Gupta is at the Department of Health and Social Care, Royal Holloway, University of London
Links and Resources
Southall Black Sisters is an organisation that provides support and information for Black and minority ethnic (BME) women experiencing violence and abuse, as well as campaigning for effective services.
A Vision for Services for Children and Young People affected by Domestic Violence was developed in 2005 by the Local Government Association, Association of Directors of Social Services, Women’s Aid and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. It offers guidance for service development in relation to children affected by domestic violence.
The forced marriage unit provides information and guidance for individuals affected by forced marriage, as well as professionals.
Early intervention Specialist family support services which offer universal services with a domestic violence focus are well-placed to both identify women and children affected by domestic abuse, as well as being able to offer appropriate support. These should be easily accessible (e.g. drop-in services or mother and toddler groups for South Asian women) and provide a culturally-sensitive, confidential and safe environment.
Services for young people School counsellors and youth organisations can provide South Asian young people with access to supportive adults outside of their family. Children and young people should be given the opportunity to participate in the development and delivery of services.
Work with perpetrators Services need to be made available for perpetrators of domestic violence, with the aim of changing the behaviour of violent men, whilst also ensuring safety for the women and children.
Reflective practice Professionals need to reflect on the interplay of race and culture on their assessments and decision-making processes .By employing a strengths perspective, practitioners can explore how parents and children draw on culture as a resource, whilst, at the same time, not excusing behaviour that is harmful to women and children.
This article is published in the 14 August edition of Community Care magazine under the headline Support for South Asian Women and Children