“As a tall Black woman, they don’t think as much care needs taking over you.”

Domestic abuse victims are reporting abuse to the police upwards of three times before appropriate action is taken, with Black and ethnic minority victims being disproportionately dismissed and side-lined, according to new research by Victim Support.

The research, released to mark 16 days of action on violence against women and girls, reveals that almost half (48%) of Black and ethnic minority respondents felt the police treated them differently because of their ethnic background or heritage.

One victim told of feeling repeatedly judged and let down by the police, describing how as “a tall Black woman” officers “don’t think as much care needs taking over you”.

It comes after recent data published by the Office for National Statistics showed that police recorded 912,181 offences related to domestic abuse in the past year, up 8 per cent compared with the year before.

The research, which consulted over 1,000 domestic abuse victims, found:

  • Over half of all respondents (53%) reported an instance of domestic abuse at least twice before they felt appropriate action was taken by the police.
  • Nearly a quarter (24%) reported an instance of domestic abuse to the police three times or more before appropriate action was taken.
  • More than one in ten (12%) of respondents said that they do not feel appropriate action was ever taken.
  • When reporting an instance of domestic abuse, almost half (48%) of Black and ethnic minority respondents felt that the police treated them differently to other people because of their ethnic background or heritage.

Case study

A 30-year old Black woman from London, is a domestic abuse survivor who says her reports of abuse were repeatedly mishandled by the police, over a period of ten years. She feels she was “a million percent” treated differently because of her ethnicity.

She first went to the police about domestic abuse when she was 18.

“The first time round they didn’t take me seriously at all – they judged me off the fact that I was a young mum, they judged me off the fact that I was a care leaver.

“They told me, ‘you’re 18 years old, you should know better. He’s not the father of your child, so why would you be involved with him?’ They told me I should make better choices.”

Her abuser was slim and shorter than her, which she says made officers question whether the abuse was one sided.

“They kept on saying to me, ‘so you didn’t do anything to him, you didn’t retaliate back?'”

The callous treatment and the decision not to prosecute her abuser destroyed her trust in the police. When, years later, she found herself in another abusive relationship, she was reluctant to approach them for help.

“I thought this was going to be the same thing again and I didn’t want to put myself through it.”

As the abuse escalated to life-threatening physical violence, her grandmother made her go to the police station.

Her allegations were taken more seriously this time, but she felt like biases surrounding her height and race impacted how officers handled her case.

“I felt like I was judged off my appearance. I’m a tall 5 foot 10 Black girl, I speak very well, I present myself very well – just because someone presents themselves well, it doesn’t mean they’re not struggling.

“When they issued a warrant for his arrest, I wasn’t notified, so they put me in danger without realising. I was still in my property, I was still in communication with him, he still had access to my phone, and they’re just ploughing ahead and going and doing things without consulting me.

“I think if I’d looked a certain type of way, they’d have been much more cautious in how they dealt with me. Because you’re a tall Black woman they don’t think as much care needs taking over you.”

She says her experiences show how important it is to challenge ingrained ideas about what a victim looks like.

“They need to understand that victims come in all shapes and sizes and colours. Perpetrators are all different shades, sizes and colours – he’s not fully Black, he’s slim, and he’s a little bit smaller than me. Straight away you’d look at him and think, ‘no not him’.”

In court, her ex-partner pleaded guilty. The sentencing was originally scheduled for early July, but was adjourned five times, which has shattered her mental health.

When the sentencing finally went ahead, no one told her it was happening – she was “devastated” at being denied the chance to read her victim impact statement.

Her ex-partner received an 18-month suspended sentence, meaning he won’t spend any time in prison. She feels let down from start to finish.

“They fail people again and again. I wish I had never come forward.”

Since high profile cases, like the murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, police forces have promised to get a handle on violence against women in all its forms. However, recent and ongoing accusations of racism and misogyny, have continued to deteriorate public trust in the police, especially among women and marginalised communities.

Last year, police reportedly made 33 arrests per 100 domestic abuse related crimes.

Valerie Wise, National Domestic Abuse Lead at Victim Support said:

“The police receive a call for help relating to domestic abuse every 30 seconds. It takes a huge amount of courage to come forward – victims need to know that their report will be handled with the upmost seriousness, and not dismissed. The idea that someone’s race or appearance could impact the care they receive, and their access to justice is appalling.

“On average, domestic abuse leads to two women being murdered every week in England and Wales – the stakes are too high for the police to not be getting this right every time.”

Data from Victim Support’s national Homicide Service, which supports the family of all murder and manslaughter victims in England and Wales, showed that over the last three years, around 30 per cent of all their cases were domestic homicides.

Anyone experiencing domestic abuse, including survivors of past abuse, can get help from Victim Support – regardless of whether or not it’s been reported to the police. You can get in touch via live chat or by calling our 24/7 Supportline on 08 08 16 89 111.

About the research
Censuswide polling of 1,004 women who’ve experienced domestic abuse, with a minimum quota of 150 BAME respondents.