In October the UK’s domestic murder rate reached a five-year high. 173 people were killed in domestic violence related homicides over the last year, with women most often the targets (making up more than 60% of victims) and men most often the perpetrators (making up 93% of the defendants).
Domestic murder — often referred to as domestic homicide — refers to a case in which a person is killed by someone they are/have been in a personal relationship with. This is most commonly a partner, ex-partner or close family member.
Disturbingly, this year’s crime statistics are not abnormal or unexpected. The domestic murder rate has been steadily accelerating since 2014 and the last three years have seen the toll jump from 139 in 2016, to 141 in 2017, to last year’s 173 — a leap of 22% in just one year.
Domestic homicide is usually very closely tied into ongoing domestic violence — it is unusual for a domestic murder to occur without some form of abuse preceding it. This is because most perpetrators of abuse and violence gradually “escalate” their behaviour, with abusive and violent behaviours becoming more and more extreme as time goes on. According to University of Salford law professor Maureen O’Hara this escalation is incredibly common in the lead up to domestic homicide, as it is used as a tool to normalise abusive behaviour for both the victim and the perpetrator themselves.
“[Domestic] killings are often the culmination of years or months of domestic abuse,” O’Hara writes, “the severity of which has escalated during the period leading up to the woman’s death”.
In practice, this means that the longer abuse cycles are allowed to continue, the more the risk of domestic murder increases.
This is particularly worrying when considering patterns within communities of migrant women living in the UK. A report by SafeLives found that Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) migrant women stay silent 1.5 times as long as white British women when they are the victims of domestic abuse.
Although there are many factors which could play into this, one important consideration is the infamous hostile environment — a policy which targeted “illegal” migration by making undocumented migrants feel as unwelcome in the UK as possible which was originally rolled-out in 2012.
The policy ultimately impacted the lives of tens of thousands of legal migrants, refugees, and British citizens, including more than 1,000 Windrush-generation citizens who were harassed, deported and put under immense psychological and physical stress because the Home Office had lost their documentation decades earlier.
Among other things, the hostile environment policy encouraged authorities and service providers — including landlords, hospitals, and social services — to act as unofficial border control officers, refusing support to and reporting migrants who were unable to produce official documents on demand. This created a distrust within not only migrant communities, but also black and minority ethnic British communities as racial profiling became particularly rife as a result.
At the end of 2018, an investigation by human rights organisations Liberty and Southall Black Sisters revealed an enormous data sharing agreement between English & Welsh police services and the Home Office, with officers sharing the identity of victims and witnesses of crime to immigration officials across almost every police force in the UK.
This history plays into the distrust felt within migrant communities towards the police and means that many migrant abuse and crime victims stay silent for longer periods, for fear that they could lose their refugee status or UK Spouse Visa.
Unbeknownst to many in the latter position, the law protects victims of domestic abuse, granting them leave to remain in the UK once their partner visa has been curtailed — a fact which makes their continued silence even more tragic.
As a result of this, migrant abuse victims are far more susceptible to domestic murder than most, as they are likely to stay silent for longer and risk their abuser escalating their behaviour further.
This is particularly concerning as the issue is still not fully acknowledged by the latest draft of the government’s Domestic Abuse Bill, which fails to discuss or offer support for women who are stuck between an abuser and hostile immigration policies and attitudes.
Following a Queen’s Speech which included commitments to help more women who are suffering at the hands of abusers, a fresh wave of criticism has been raised against the Bill, with several human and women’s rights campaigners hitting out against it.
Andrea Simon, of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, argued that the Bill and the Queen’s promises do not do enough to tackle the issue at hand — which is public funding cuts to women’s services.
“Women are being turned away from refuge services every day,” she told the Independent. “We have seen a huge rise in homelessness for migrant victims of abuse. They can’t access housing benefits and often can’t access private rental options because of immigration checks on private landlords. Specialist services for black and minority women have experienced the most cuts”.
In July 2019 the Domestic Abuse Bill was reviewed by Theresa May and her cabinet, with the aim of improving its support for migrant women. However, this review was incredibly rushed, with May submitting it just days before she stood down as Prime Minister.
This has meant the issue has not been addressed or resolved, and migrant women continue to fall through the cracks of a failing system.
When considering the increase in domestic homicide it is clear that this must be treated as an urgent issue; we cannot continue to allow vulnerable women living in the UK to lose their lives.
Domestic abuse legislation must be rectified to create a support-network for these women, and funding must be increased for local and national refuge and social services. What’s more, hostile immigration policies must be dissolved, so that we can start to rebuild trust between the UK’s protective authorities and migrant BME communities living in the UK. Action must be taken, and it must be taken now.
~ Luna Williams is political correspondent at the Immigration Advice Service, a team of immigration solicitors based around the UK which offers free and full legal aid to migrant domestic abuse victims.
This article was written for the Winter 2019/20 issue of Freedom Journal.