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.

Hi, this is Julia from LAWRS, is it safe for you to speak?

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and the beginning of the 16 days of Activism. We’re kicking off a series of activities to increase awareness of the barriers and needs of the Latin American women experiencing VAWG in the UK with this blog post about the unique journey that every victim/survivor has and the support our team of VAWG caseworkers can offer them.

 

Being a Latin American VAWG caseworker

There are procedures and guidelines that we follow when calling a survivor of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) for the first time. But survivors of abuse have different experiences and they might be in distinct moments of their journeys. Even though we are prepared for this, what happens after a survivor picks up the phone is quite unpredictable.

Women experiencing VAWG sometimes feel there is something wrong in their relationship but they cannot quite name it. So they come to LAWRS to have someone listen to them and to perhaps learn more about violence against women and girls as a whole. Usually, once we start the conversation about the types and cycle of abuse, they recognise themselves as victims of domestic abuse. This can be a very difficult moment. What happens next depends on what their needs and priorities are.

Others come to our service fully aware of their situation and able to name it: I’m a survivor of domestic abuse. They might not be ready to leave their perpetrator, but they want to understand their options. They come to LAWRS in search of advice on different issues: how to report a crime to the police, protective orders, parental rights and consequences to their children, how to get a divorce, what happens with their immigration status, emotional support, English lessons, booking an appointment with their GP, access to interpreters and so on.

In some cases, women come to us at the point where they need to flee the house and escape the abuse because the violence has escalated. They might be homeless, destitute, in need of medical help and feeling like they are stuck in a horrible and endless situation. We explore their options together and discuss their plans.

In the Latin American community, due to a lack of support network, structural inequalities, the language barrier, the lack of knowledge of the system, the isolation and insecure immigration status, many women endure violence and abuse for  extensive periods, and often until it becomes a high risk situation, because they think they don’t have other options. Perpetrators will exploit the victim’s vulnerability, including in some cases their insecure immigration status, to manipulate and further abuse them. 

“If you report me to the police, I will report you to the Home Office”

“If you leave me, you will be deported and I will keep the children”

“If you don’t do what I want, I will call immigration control on you”.

Our role at LAWRS is to listen to the victim/survivor, to remind her that this is not her fault and that we believe her. We also connect them with relevant services for further necessary information and support.  We walk alongside them in their journey, always understanding and accepting that what happens after that initial phone call, depends on the survivor’s needs and priorities. This means that she decides what to do with the information she now has. Women are experts of their experience; they know what’s best for them. Our duty is to support them to get there and to make sure they don’t walk alone.


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.


LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Supporters Domestic Abuse During Isolation

Domestic violence during isolation

Isolation as a result of the COVID-19 emergency could increase incidents of domestic violence. At LAWRS, we want you to know that you are not alone. If you are experiencing or are at risk of domestic violence, follow these steps to keep yourself and your family safe.

 

Stay safe at home

During this isolation, your home may not be a safe environment. If you are at risk of domestic violence, take these steps to keep yourself and your family safe:

  • Keep your cell phone charged and with you at all times.
  • Agree on a code word with friends or family you trust to call the police in case you contact them.
  • Talk to your children about where to go if your partner becomes aggressive. Ask them not to intervene as they could put themselves in greater danger.
  • Ask your children to dial 999 only until they are in a safe place. They should know how to say your full address in English.
  • If your neighbours are aware of the situation, let them know that they should call the police if they hear an altercation.
  • If your partner becomes violent, avoid the kitchen, the garage, or any place where there may be objects that can be used as weapons.

If you need advice, call the LAWRS team

0771 928 1714

Monday to Thursday from 10am to 1pm

0759 597 0580

Monday to Friday from 10am to 1pm

  • If you can’t call, email us at referrals@lawrs.org.uk with your name, phone number and a safe time to call you.
  • In case of imminent danger you should always call 999. Regardless of your immigration status, remember that you can always ask the police for help.

Always remember that you are not alone.


LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Supporters Voices Of Resilience

Voices of Resilience: short documentary

Migrant and refugee women face multiple barriers when arriving in the EU and the current political anti-migrant climate has made their situations direr. Experiences of gender-based abuse, exploitation at work and isolation have been exacerbated by the progressive erosion of migrant and women’s rights.

On International Migrant Day 2018, LAWRS launches the short documentary titled: Voices of resilience: Migrant and Refugee women in Europe” which highlights the experiences of migrant women in the UK, Spain, Poland and Italy and sharing their experiences and calls for change.

The short documentary was made as part of the  Women, Empowerment, Integration and Participation project (WEIP) run by LAWRS (UK), Differenza Donna (Italy), KARAT Coalition (Poland) and Red Acoge (Spain) and brought the voices and experiences of migrant and refugee women to the forefront. The documentary was first screened in November at the WEIP’s international conference in London, where more than 20 migrant and women organisations in Europe highlighted the role of migrant women’s lived experiences and provided recommendations to uphold their right to integrate and to live free of violence and discrimination.

Sophia Gomez Pelaez, a migrant woman in Spain, interviewed in the short documentary states:

“We come looking for other opportunities, especially as women as we are searching to cover family needs. However, it is difficult to find shelter as we often face rejection”

Moreover, Cathrine Nsamba, a migrant woman in Italy also interviewed (and photographed above) recommends:

“I was supported by the organisation to learn more and to understand more […]and my advice for women like me are to go inside leadership and campaign for these leaderships”

Finally, Alma Gatica, the WEIP Coordinator at the Latin American Women’s Rights Service stresses the importance of a migrant and gender perspective in our work.

“We, migrant women, have to get access to decision-making spaces where policies are discussed so we can fully participate in the host country: socially, politically and economically. We are the leaders of our own empowerment journey, both as migrants and as women”

Watch the full short documentary:

Co-funded by the Asylum, Migration and Integration fund of the European Commission


LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Supporters We Can't Fight In The Dark

We can’t fight in the dark: Brazilian women facing violence

A research by the King’s College in partnership with LAWRS found out that VAWG among Brazilian women in London is “alarmingly widespread”, with 4 in every 5 Brazilian women in London have experienced some kind of violence.

The study, published in March 2018, shed a light on cases of violence suffered by Brazilian women in London, provided data and offered policy recommendations to tackle the issue. According to the study emotional/psychological violence was the commonest type of violence experienced in London (48%), followed by physical violence (38%), with 14% experiencing sexual violence.

The study also found that cases of VAWG are intersectional as women of mixed race were more likely to experience violence (63%) than white women (44%). Insecure immigration status prevented women from coming forward and reporting the cases of violence to the police. Apart from highlighting the need for the Domestic Violence and Abuse (DVA) Bill to set standards for the protection of migrant victims’, some of the proposed solutions to prevent VAWG cases with Brazilian women are extending ‘recourse to public funds’ to domestic violence victims, specialist training for agency officers; and increased collaboration between support organisations and government authorities. The study reinforces the need for safe reporting mechanisms to be implemented as we campaign in Step Up Migrant Women.

 

LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Supporters We Can't Fight In The Dark
LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Supporters We Can't Fight In The Dark
LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Supporters We Can't Fight In The Dark
LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Supporters We Can't Fight In The Dark
LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Supporters We Can't Fight In The Dark

LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Stand Up Migrant Women

Step Up Migrant Women: Mayor of London calls for safe reporting for migrant victims

Prompted by our Step Up Migrant Women UK coalition, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan urged the Home Office to protect domestic abuse victims who are vulnerable due to hostile environment policies. Migrant women with undocumented status are denied access to support and remain trapped in abusive relationships.

LAWRS worked with the Mayor’s office in drafting his letter to the Home Secretary, with measures and guidelines to ensure victims have access to justice and support services.

The Mayor’s demands were backed by Victims Commissioner Claire Waxman, who has been hosting a series of roundtables on the issue, and MP Jess Phillips.

“Both the mayor and I are clear that all victims of abuse must have full confidence to report crime and their abusers to ensure justice is done, no matter what their status might be,” said Claire Waxman

The current lack of safe-reporting mechanisms creates a barrier for migrant women to flee violence and gives greater impunity to perpetrators. An Imkaan study has shown that 92% of women with insecure status have received threats of deportation from perpetrators.

LAWRS’ Director, Lucila Granada, commented:

“The hostile environment policies have led to this extremely dangerous situation where many victims of severe crimes are too afraid to go to the police. Their perpetrator is dangerous, but the police can be even more dangerous to them. Perpetrators are hiding behind these policies and using them to abuse their victims.”

Step Up Migrant Women is a campaign led by LAWRS and supported by over 30 women’s and migrants’ rights organisations. We campaign for the implementation of safe-reporting mechanisms and the end of data-sharing policies when victims approach the police.

Photo by Angeles Rodenas


LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service Supporters Domestic Abuse During Isolation

Love Does Not kill, Violence Does

Love Does Not kill, Violence Does is our zero tolerance to violence against women and girls campaign, which aims to bring awareness to the longstanding problem of violence affecting Latin American and other migrant women in the UK.

This campaign also highlights the importance of recognising Latin Americans as an ethnic minority in order for women in our community to be able to access appropriate services targeted to respond to their needs.

We call on central government and local authorities to:

  • Provide appropriate and targeted services to migrant women victims of violence and abuse.
  • Officially recognise Latin Americans as an ethnic group.
  • Secure funding for specialist community organizations responding to the needs of migrant women and other minorities victims of violence and abuse.

This campaign was launched with the screening of our short film ‘Invisible Women’ with an audience of over 130 Latin American community leaders and activists. ‘Invisible Women’ is based on the experiences of 3 of our users. Their stories sadly reflect the situation of abuse, exploitation, and poverty facing many Latin American women in the UK today. Produced by Literally Films and Media Trust, you can watch it here:

The screening was followed by a roundtable with Labour MP Stella Creasy, Crime Prevention and Champion of the One Billion Rise campaign; Katharine Round, Director of Literally Films and Director of the video ‘Invisible Women’; and Carolina Gottardo, Director of LAWRS. The debate was chaired by Professor Maxine Molyneux, Director of the Institute of the Americas, University College London.

Our anti-violence posters in Spanish and Portuguese are displayed at Latin American organisations, shops, churches, and other community spaces. Our work towards demanding official recognition and appropriate funding for support services continues, but Latin American women need you to support their fight for equality.


LAWRS Latin American Women's Rights Service No Recourse to Public Funds

No Recourse to Public Funds

LAWRS is a Steering Group member and one of the precursors of the No Recourse to Public Funds Campaign, currently made of over 30 women organisations.

On 1 April 2012, the Campaign to Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds achieved a major victory when the Home Office introduced the Destitution Domestic Violence (DDV) concession for victims of domestic violence on spousal visas. The concession, however, does not cover victims with other legal statuses. We remain active in pressing for public funding to enable all women to effectively extricate themselves from violence and abuse, regardless of immigration status.

 

One of the areas that still needs to be addressed by the UK Government is the case of women victims of domestic violence or abuse without recourse to public funds. At Latin American Women’s Rights Service all too often we have cases of women who are subjected to physical, psychological or financial abuse, but who don’t have access to any help. They also face cultural and language barriers and find it even harder to ask or access help. These women should also be able to protect their lives, integrity and safety.

Carolina Gottardo – Director at LAWRS

 

The Campaign continues to fight for those still not covered by these concession and calls for the Home Office and other relevant bodies to:

  1. Ensure effective implementation of the DDV concession. This includes:
    • Extend the scheme from 3 to 6 months
    • Fast tracking applicants through the benefit system
    • Tracking of applicants by the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) for monitoring purposes
    • Training of professionals, including officials within the Job Centre Plus (JCP), DWP, the UKBA and local authority housing departments on the new scheme, delivered in conjunction with campaign members
    • Applicants having access to telephone, rather than online-only application processes, in the UKBA and JCP/DWP.
    • Professional interpretation services are provided by the Home Office and JCP for applicants who need this service
    • Women’s organisations, particularly specialist BME women’s services, are adequately funded to provide advice and assistance to enable victims to access benefits and housing under the new scheme.
  2. Provide benefits and public housing, and the right to permanent settlement, for all victims of gender based violence and exploitation. In the interim, a Home Office pilot should be established similar to the former Sojourner Project (which provided limited housing and subsistence costs for domestic violence victims on spousal visas from 2009-12).
  3. Provide legal aid for all victims of gender based violence and exploitation with immigration problems.
  4. Abolish the probationary period as it keeps victims in vulnerable and abusive situations for prolonged periods.

The Campaign to Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds is currently made of 27 member organisations. It is chaired by Southall Black Sisters and hosted by the Women’s Resource Centre.