In 2014, Valerie Forde approached the police for help after her ex-partner threatened to burn her down her house – with Valerie and their 23-month-old daughter, RJ, inside. Police recorded the call as a “threat to property”, and no safeguarding procedures were put in place.
Weeks later, Valerie and RJ were murdered.
A review that followed outlined a number of flaws in the reporting. Changes were recommended but on International Women’s Day – and as we approach the seventh anniversary of Valerie and RJ’s death this month – we must wonder what changes have actually been made.
The number of African heritage women, like Valerie and RJ, who have complained of inadequate support by police and the violence against women and girls sector has always been worryingly high.
Ever since we were founded a year after Valerie and RJ’s deaths, Sistah Space has been instrumental in revealing and bringing to public attention the core issues faced by Black women seeking domestic abuse support from mainstream services: institutional racism, classism, ageism, sexism and much more.We have witnessed first hand how the lack of knowledge around African heritage women’s needs can lead to further trauma for victims of abuse.
In our experience, culturally specific training for mainstream providers is essential to ensure that Black women are supported adequately. Our specialist programmes offer that bespoke culturally significant training to individual organisations, charities, police, housing – all institutions in need of understanding that they don’t understand.
There is no data on domestic abuse perpetrated against Britain’s women of African heritage specifically. Currently, all data is grouped under "BAME"
Crucially, there is no data on domestic abuse perpetrated against Britain’s women of African heritage specifically. Currently, all data is grouped under “BAME” – but to talk about “BAME” women is talk about a multitude of different people, each with a distinct and relevant history. It is a discriminatory title that serves no purpose but to degrade and erase mostnon-white experiences, history and cultures.
But that might be about to change. We have recently been granted £10,000 funding by Black Lives Matter UK, and with that money we will begin to collect the data ourselves. The data will be gathered both by Black women – who know the right questions to ask and how to ask them – and from Black women, will be more comfortable telling their truth without apology and without fear of reprisal, contempt or ridicule when relaying their truth.
We plan to use that information that will come in the form of questionnaires, personal stories, video and audio recordings to effect changes at policy level as well as inform our specialist training programmes.
This grant will help us achieve two additional vital goals. First, In Valerie Ford’s memory we will be relaunching our campaign for Valerie’s Law, which would compel police, housing, NHS and local authority services to give specialised care to Black women and ensure that never again will Black women be failed to the point it costs them their lives. We aim to ensure that every organisation dealing with violence against women and girls must have minimum training around the specific needs of African heritage women and girls.
Those women will have endured domestic violence and much more, and suffered in silence through fear of deportation if they speak out.
Second, we’ll be purchasing a canal boat from where we plan to invite survivors of domestic violence to learn about abuse and staying safe. Why a boat? Well, this is in memory of those of us denied, by our economic status, access to the water which we African women enjoyed in our African and Caribbean homelands.
Marcus Garvey vision of the Black Starliner, bringing independence and self-reliancefor Black people, will be given life once again in the shape of what we will call our Black-SisStah-liner. Priority will be given to those who have, for too long, been denied what others have taken for granted, such as those who came over from Africa and the Caribbean in the 50s and 60s but have never again had access to the sea.
Those women will have endured domestic violence and much more, and suffered in silence through fear of deportation if they speak out. The Windrush scandal has shown that this has happened time and time again to those who have worked their whole lives in Britain, only to be threatened with, and even face, deportation.
Our campaigns, and most vitally the data we gather, will finally give a voice to the Black womenwho have gone through domestic violence, but whose stories have never been heard.
Ngozi Fulani is CEO of Sistah Space
If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police. If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:
- The Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run by Refuge: 0808 2000 247
- In Scotland, contact Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234
- In Northern Ireland, contact the 24 hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline: 0808 802 1414
- In Wales, contact the 24 hour Life Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800.
- National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428
- Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
- Respect helpline (for anyone worried about their own behaviour): 0808 802 0321