Press release: Home Office Review on data-sharing on migrant victims is not fit for purpose, say women’s rights and civil liberties groups

Southall Black Sisters (SBS), Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) and Liberty have condemned the Government’s refusal to institute a firewall that would protect victims and witnesses of crime.

Liberty and SBS filed the first ever police super-complaint in December 2018, over the systematic sharing of victim data with immigration enforcement. The super-complaint, accompanied by 50 pages of evidence, showed that this practice was preventing victims of crime, particularly migrant women, from speaking to the police and putting them at risk.

In response, police watchdogs, HMICFRS, the College of Policing (CoP) and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) called for immediate action to stop this practice. Their report made clear that data-sharing acted as a deterrent to victims reporting crime, and that data-sharing caused significant harm to the public interest because of victims’ inability to seek protection or justice.

Today, Wednesday 15 December, the government announced the outcome of a Home Office Review[1] on data sharing between the police and Immigration Enforcement concerning migrant victims and witnesses of crime. The review makes no reference to police watchdogs’ response to SBS’ and Liberty’s super-complaint.

Pragna Patel, director of Southall Black Sisters said“As organisations that work with some of the most vulnerable and deprived migrant victims of domestic abuse, we reject this Review and its findings.

This Review is the outcome of three years of engagement with the Home Office that has proved itself to be untrustworthy. We have been compelled to engage in meaningless consultations and meetings on data sharing with the Home Office (which we did in good faith) only to be told that the immigration system – in its present cruel, discriminatory and inhuman form – must be maintained at any cost. It makes us question not only the Home Office’s dubious claims to support all victims of abuse but also the very purpose of police-super-complaints mechanism since the outcomes are casually disregarded by the very institutions that we seek to hold accountable.”

Gisela Valle, director of the Latin American Women’s Rights Service said: “We are deeply disappointed to see that once again immigration enforcement takes precedence over the security and support needs of survivors of domestic abuse.  It is contradictory for the Police and the Home Office to reiterate that survivors of domestic abuse are treated as a victim first and foremost but only insofar as it doesn’t affect the enforcement of immigration laws.  Considering the ample evidence of the manipulation of survivors’ insecure immigration status by perpetrators of domestic abuse, we consider prioritising immigration enforcement over the safety of victims the state amounts to complicity in the coercion and control of migrant victims of domestic abuse.”

Liberty lawyer Lara ten Caten said“It has never been clearer than during the pandemic – when countless people have been shut off from health services due to the risk of having their health data shared with immigration enforcement – that this practice puts lives at risk.

“The super-complaint brought by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters sought a firewall between police and the home office for immigration enforcement purposes so that victims and witnesses of crime would feel safe in coming forward. This decision by the Home Office not to implement a firewall ignores or plays down the fact that routine police discrimination already makes it harder, even dangerous, for people from marginalised backgrounds to interact with the police. This practice actively puts them, and everyone in society, at risk of crime.

“No one is safe until everyone is safe. We urge the government to reconsider their decision and implement a firewall.”

Pragna Patel, director of SBS, and Gisela Valle, director of LAWRS, added“The Home Office is trying to re-brand Immigration Enforcement as a ‘safeguarding’ service when data sharing is a key plank of the Government’s hostile environment policy - which we say must be scrapped. This is why we strongly disagree with the proposal to create an Immigration Enforcement Migrant Victims Protocol which will in fact consolidate the sharing of domestic abuse victims' data between the police and immigration enforcement as a standardised practice across all police forces nationally.  Safeguarding is clearly incompatible with the Home Office’s immigration enforcement role which is its primary purpose.

The Government told us that it was committed to a full review of the ‘hostile or compliant’ environment following the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, but the outcome of the Home Office Review provides further evidence of its unwillingness to soften let along dispense with the harmful and discriminatory impact that its immigration policies have on the those who are most in need of protection. The impact of data sharing has been particularly damaging during the coronavirus pandemic when migrant women experiencing domestic abuse have faced the double threat of being trapped with their attackers but unable to go to the police.”

Contact Gisela Valle at gisela@lawrs.org.uk Pragna Patel at pragna@southallblacksisters.co.uk

Notes to Editors:

  1. The Home Office report is available atReview of data sharing: migrant victims and witnesses of crime - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). The Review arose out of the first ever police super-complaint that was jointly submitted by Southall Black Sisters and Liberty in 2018 which highlighted how data sharing between the police and Immigration Enforcement deterred migrant women subject to domestic and sexual abuse and other vulnerable victims or witnesses of crime from reporting to the police. Findings from an HMICFRC investigation into the police super-complaint upheld the complaint and made clear that data-sharing was a deterrent; that there were inconsistencies and confusion across police forces about how to deal with victims and witnesses who have insecure immigration status and most significantly that harm was caused to the public interest by the victim’s inability to seek protection or justice. Despite this, the government refused to introduce statutory measures of protection including a fire wall between the police and Immigration Enforcement for migrant victims during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill (now an Act) in Parliament and instead committed to undertaking a Review of the matter.

Do you know how to identify sexual harassment in the workplace?

Almost every woman, trans or non-binary person you know can, unfortunately, tell you about an experience in which they have been a victim of gender-based violence – from being catcalled to sexual assault. If you are a woman, trans or non-binary person yourself, this is most likely not news to you. 

Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG)  is embedded in our society’s patriarchal structure in which men have traditionally controlled the power. It is present in all the spheres of our lives, especially in our relationships – whether they are with family members, partners or colleagues. It affects all of us, but its effects can be more harmful for those who are part of minority groups (migrants, women of colour, LGBTQ+, undocumented people, etc.). 

Sexual harassment is a form of VAWG which may also occur in the workplace.

It can manifest itself in sexist practices, ranging from “casual” and seemingly harmless habits – such as a joke or a gesture – to sexual assault and even feminicide – the killing of a woman on the basis of her gender. Certain behaviours have become so normalised that, sometimes, we fail to recognize that they are acts of violence.  

So, what is sexual harassment in the workplace?      

It is any unwelcome sexual behaviour that creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading or humiliating working environment and which has the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a worker.

To better understand the presence of these elements, you should also take into account that: 

  • A sexual behaviour may comprise physical, verbal, and non-verbal conducts (e.g., texts and images);
  • It doesn’t matter if the perpetrator alleges they didn’t intend to make the victim feel uncomfortable; 
  • Free and valid consent is key in any adult sexual contact;
  • The victim doesn’t need to have a written contract from their employer to receive protection;
  • When one’s dignity is affected, it may lead to feelings of shame, humiliation, fear, frustration, vulnerability; and
  • A hostile environment may be intimidating, degrading, humiliating or offensive.

Can you recognise sexual harassment in the workplace?

Sexual harassment in the workplace can be a serious incident of sexual assault, but it can also be a less obvious conduct which makes you uncomfortable. It may be sexual comments or jokes about yourself or a colleague; physical behaviour, including unwelcome sexual advances – such as touching, hugging or kissing, and various forms of sexual assault. It also includes displaying pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual nature – such as circulating  pornography, by email or WhatsApp, or having pictures of naked/semi-naked women in the workplace. It could be, as well, requests or demands for sexual favours, or even leering or staring inappropriately. 

If you are unsure whether you have been a victim of sexual harassment, or you want to protect yourself or a colleague from it,  you can ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Have I been exposed to a conduct of a sexual nature in the workplace coming from a superior or colleague? 
  2. Has such behaviour been undesired and/or unrequested by me? 
  3. Has such behaviour affected my dignity as a person?
  4. Has the situation created a hostile environment in my workplace?

It is important to know that sexual harassment in the workplace, and other forms of abuse of power and VAWG, are illegal – most of them punishable by law. The UK has a legal system containing rules that protect you from these behaviours, and that enshrine your rights, especially those ensuring you can live your life with dignity and free of violence.

You can promote the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace, by requesting your employer to have a clear, comprehensive policy in place against sexual harassment. In case of an alleged sexual harassment case, this policy will alert all parties to their rights, roles and responsibilities. It should also set out how to promptly and efficiently deal with a sexual      harassment claim.

If you think that you or a friend or colleague have been victim of sexual harassment in the      workplace, you can contact your Union’s Women Officer and/ or representative. They can guide you on what to do next. You can also contact specialist organisations such as the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), through our Helpline 0808- 145-4909 or by email: info@lawrs.org.uk.      

If the harassment is very serious, it might also be a crime. If a colleague or supervisor has sexually assaulted you or made physical threats, or you are worried about your safety, you can contact the police or the National Health Service (NHS). You have a right to ask for an interpreter when you speak to them.

Always remember that you are not alone, and that it is not your fault.


The Unheard Workforce

The Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) is launching its latest report: “The Unheard Workforce: Experiences of Latin American migrant women in cleaning, hospitality and domestic work” 

Download report

On the 17th July 2019, LAWRS launched the research “The Unheard Workforce: Experiences of Latin American migrant women in cleaning, hospitality and domestic work”. Funded by Trust for London

The research draws on 326 cases of women supported at the Employment Rights Advice Service of the organisation. It presents an array of deeply concerning labour rights violations experienced by Latin American migrant women employed in three key feminised sectors of London’s manual labour: cleaning, hospitality, and domestic work.

Among the key results arising from these cases, we found that:

  • Over half of the workers faced breaches to their contracts (62%). Unlawful deduction of wages was the most common type of abuse (151 cases, 46%).
  • 1 in 5 (20%) experienced illegal underpayment of the National Minimum Wage.
  • 17% were unlawfully denied the annual leave they were entitled to, and 16% were not paid accrued in lieu annual leave once they left the company.
  • Health and safety issues were present in 25% of the cases – predominantly injury due to the nature of the work (33%), limited or no protective equipment (17%), and lack of training (12%).
  • Over two in five (41%) of women in the sample have experienced discrimination, harassment or unreasonable treatment.
  • 66% experienced bullying or unreasonable treatment as regular occurrences.
  • A large proportion endured verbal and/or faced physical abuse, 37% and 11% respectively.
  • 16% of the women endured a total of 13 different types of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace.
  • Abuse on the grounds of maternity was experienced by 9% of women. This includes failure to pay for hours spent at prenatal appointments and denial of risk assessments during pregnancy.
  • 11 cases of potential trafficking for labour exploitation were identified: 7 were cleaners or hospitality workers and 4 were domestic workers.

“We are not machines or numbers. We are human beings who want to work and to be treated with dignity and respect. We want nothing more and nothing less.”

Watch the full short documentary below:

“Undocumented Latin American migrant woman’s experiences of labour abuse in London”

This documentary was made with the support of Media Trust by the filmmaker Andrew Contreras


LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Anti-Slavery Day

Anti-Slavery Day

On Anti-Slavery day – October 18th – we want to add our voice to raise awareness of the need to eradicate all forms of slavery, human trafficking and exploitation.

In the UK, Latin American women workers are affected by “in- work” poverty and remain concentrated in vulnerable, low-paid, over-exploitative, unregulated jobs. European data also indicates a much worse scenario, as Brazilians are one of the top five nationalities of trafficked victims in Europe.

Research by LAWRS showed that 57% of women experience verbal abuse and threats, 17% of them earn less than the national minimum wage and nearly 40% do not have a written contract.

 

LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Anti-Slavery Day

 

“It is crucial that migrant women who experience extreme labour exploitation in outsourcing sectors like cleaning, catering and hospitality are recognised as victims regardless of the immigration status they hold. Establishing a firewall for safe reporting will ensure that labour enforcement and the police better identify vulnerabilities of insecure legal status used by traffickers and abusive employers,” says Nahir de la Silva, Policy and Communications Coordinator for Employment Rights at LAWRS.