E-petition 578416, Valerie’s Law: Compulsory Training for Agencies Supporting Black DV Victims, calls for the following:

Make specialist training mandatory for all police and other government agencies that support black women and girls affected by domestic abuse. Police and agencies should have culturally appropriate training to better understand the cultural needs of black women affected by domestic abuse.

Too many African and Caribbean heritage women have not been afforded the same level of support that is offered to others. This can only be addressed by Cultural Competency training being rolled out across the police and other government agencies. Without specialised training, it is practically impossible to support, or risk assess black women. This often puts black victims at increased risk.

The petition closed on 30 October 2021 with 106,519 signatures.

The ‘Valerie’s Law’ campaign

The e-petition calls for ‘Valerie’s Law’, after the 2014 murder of Valerie Forde and her baby daughter by Valerie’s ex-partner. The e-petition was set up by the charity Sistah Space, which works with African heritage women and girls who have experienced domestic or sexual abuse.

On its Valerie’s Law campaign page Sistah Space says the police and other agencies have “a severe knowledge gap when it comes to the black community and its domestic violence victims”. The organisation calls for “mandatory Cultural Competency training that accounts for the cultural nuances and barriers, colloquialisms, languages and customs that make up the diverse black community”. Sistah Space says such training is needed for the following reasons:

  • Black skin complexions vary across an extremely wide spectrum and because of that, not all Black people’s skin will bruise the same as their white counterparts. As such, bruises cannot be used as a benchmark of the scale of an injury or how violent a situation is.
  • Culturally, a threat can be communicated in a variety of ways in Black culture. Colloquially and contextually; the same words said amongst white communities can be and will be shown with very different intentions and received with very different understandings​

  • Risk assessment questions should reflect the cultural environment of black women to better understand the danger they are facing

  • Common stereotyping and unconscious bias of Black people must be understood and learned so that it is not reflected in a service providers’ ability to help DV victims.

  • Distrust of police officers and government agencies within the Black community due to historic institutional racism that must be recognised and addressed

Sistah Space notes that some agencies have already started to implement cultural competency training on a voluntary basis, but argues that it could “easily be integrated as a part of service providers’ standard training”.

The campaign has received support from a range of other organisations and individuals.

The Government’s response

The Government first responded to the e-petition on 15 June 2021, before issuing a revised response (at the request of the Petitions Committee) on 6 July 2021. In its revised response, the Government says that current training on domestic abuse “should include recognising the specific needs of victims due to their ethnicity or cultural background”, and the Government does not therefore feel it is necessary to mandate it.

The response refers to Authorised Professional Practice on Domestic Abuse issued by the College of Policing, which “sets out that victims may have specific needs or issues relating to their cultural background or immigration status which should be considered when understanding risk and vulnerability of the victim”.
The response goes on to refer to a number of other policy developments, including statutory guidance and funding for specialist support services. 

Statutory guidance

The Government response refers to draft statutory guidance on the definition of domestic abuse due to be issued under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. It notes that the guidance “will provide further detail on how specific types of abuse can be experienced by different communities and groups, including ethnic minority victims”. The draft statutory guidance was published for consultation in August 2021. It included the following guidance on race:

115. Those from ethnic minority backgrounds may experience additional barriers to identifying, disclosing, seeking help or reporting abuse. This may include:

  • a distrust of the police and other statutory agencies
  • hostility towards the police due to lack of perceived or real support for their community historically and/or currently
  • concerns about racism and fear of racial stereotyping
  • fears about immigration and/or asylum status and risk of deportation
  • language barriers
  • being disproportionately impacted by certain forms of VAWG, including forced marriage, staying within an abusive marriage, so called ‘honour’-based abuse and female genital mutilation (FGM)
  • concerns about family finding out; and
  • fear of rejection by the wider community

116. There is often under-reporting of domestic abuse by minority communities, with many victims reporting that stereotypes and assumptions were made about them coming from ‘cultures where VAWG was normalised and accepted’ or their experiences of domestic abuse were treated as housing and immigration cases by public authorities. Professionals working with minority communities should be aware of barriers and actively seek to ensure the right support is made available to overcome them.

117. There are distinct structural barriers that minority communities face in accessing support. The involvement of specialist ‘by-and-for’ services is key to ensuring a local area can meet the needs of victims from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The Government is currently analysing feedback on the draft guidance.
The Government response also refers to statutory guidance for local authorities on the delivery of support for victims in domestic abuse safe accommodation services, as required under Part 4 of the 2021 Act. This guidance states that victims with relevant protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 “must be able to access the support that they need”. Where local authorities identify gaps in such support, “commissioning authorities should explore the use of training for services already commissioned to ensure needs are being adequately met”. 

Specialist support services

More generally, the Government response acknowledges the need for specialist domestic abuse services and sets out some recent funding announcements:
We recognise the importance of specialist “by and for” domestic abuse services to understand the specific issues which Black victims face and who have the necessary skills and experience to provide appropriate support. That is why, when allocating some of our emergency funding packages to support the most vulnerable in society during the pandemic, we specifically encouraged bids from organisations who support minority groups, including Black victims of domestic abuse.
The Home Office provided £150,000 to the Karma Nirvana helpline in 2020/21, and an additional £85,682 was provided to boost their services during the Covid pandemic. Additionally, the charity Southall Black Sisters was provided with £80,951 in funding during the Covid pandemic. This funding has supported predominantly ethnic minority victims of honour-based abuse and forced marriage.
In 2021/22, the Ministry of Justice will provide just under £151m for victim and witness support services. This includes an extra £51m to increase support for rape and domestic abuse victims and will specifically fund over 700 new ISVA and IDVA posts. We have also announced a £2m fund for specialist ‘by and for’ victim support organisations who support ethnic minority, LGBTQ+ or disabled victims.
Further details of Government funding and policy announcements are available on GOV.UK.

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