Monday, 7 December 2015

Triple Jeopardy: Being an abused woman from minority ethnic background (7 December 2016)

Parveen Ali

Domestic violence and abuse (DVA) is a widespread problem intersecting age, social class, ethnicity, religion, nationality and culture. DVA is associated with severe physical and psychological consequence, and victims/survivors need help and support from appropriate professionals and services. However, experiences of women from minority ethnic communities, in any country, could be different. Immigrant women are at higher risk of DVA related morbidity, mortality, and experience additional barriers, than the majority of native women in any country (Briones-Vozmediano,2014) due to a combination of factors including gender, ethnicities and marginalisation (Briones-Vozmediano 2014, Anitha 2010). There are service user (victim/survivor) and service provider (practitioners/health care professionals) related factors affecting provision of appropriate services to women victims of violence who are already marginalised.

Many of these women may also be experiencing violence from other family members such as in-laws. Factors such as lack of social networks and appropriate family support system, lack of personal income adds to their vulnerability to experience further abuse and coercive control by intimate partners and other family members. Not knowing who to ask for help, lack of knowledge of available services, limited ability to access health care and other services independently and language barriers mean that they have to endure such abusive relationship longer.

One of the biggest factors contributing to social isolation and inability to access appropriate support for women from minority ethnic communities is their inability to communicate in mainstream language of the country for example English. Language barriers limit their ability to develop contacts and social relationships. Such barriers make it difficult for women to disclose their experiences of abuse, as in most situations women are accompanied by their family members who may function as interpreters making disclosure impossible. Use of interpreters and translators is one way of minimizing the impact of language barriers (Flores 2005), though, risk of communication errors and difficulties in establishing rapport limit the effectiveness of these services. Preparedness of interpreters to work with DVA victims is another important issue that remains under investigated. Other issues, such as not having travel document, fear of children being taken away, fear of being sent back to family and country of origin may add to additional pressure for women victims of DVA.

In addition to language barriers, there are many other issues associated with practitioner’s ability to explore DVA and provide appropriate services to DVA victims from minority ethnic communities. For instance, practitioners may fear appearing ‘racist’ or offending when asking DVA related questions (Khelaifat et al. 2014). They may assume that DVA is part of the victim’s culture or religion and, therefore, they may not explore DVA. Findings of my own research reveal that practitioners do not feel comfortable in challenging cultural and religious justification of DVA and, therefore, do not explore DVA (Burman et al. 2004, Puri 2005). Practitioners often ‘otherise’ minority ethnic women’s experiences of abuse or may impose their own perceptions, values and belief about DVA and what abuse is. While it is important to understand how DVA is conceptualised in different groups to ensure development of appropriate preventive approaches, it is also necessary to be mindful of accepting culture and/or religion as an excuse for DVA. This may contribute to ‘otherisation’ which further marginalise already marginalised groups.

Practitioners needs to be aware of such challenges when providing care to victims of DVA from minority ethnic communities. Spending appropriate time with the victim to develop rapport and trust, active listening, provision of privacy, ensuring confidentiality is necessary.


Anitha, S. (2010). No recourse, no support: State policy and practice towards South Asian women facing domestic violence in the UK. British Journal of Social Work, 40(2), 462-479.

Belknap, R. A., & Sayeed, P. (2003). Te contaria mi vida: I would tell you my life, if only you would ask. Health Care for Women International, 24, 723-737.

Briones-Vozmediano, E., Goicolea, I., Ortiz-Barreda, G. M., Gil-Gonz├ílez, D., & Vives-Cases, C. (2014). Professionals’ Perceptions of Support Resources for Battered Immigrant Women Chronicle of an Anticipated Failure. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 29(6), 1006-1027.

Burman, E., Smailes, S. L., & Chantler, K. (2004). ‘Culture’as a barrier to service provision and delivery: domestic violence services for minoritized women. Critical Social Policy, 24(3), 332-357.

Khelaifat, N., Shaw, A., & Feder, G. (2014). Why are Clear Migrant Definitions and Classifications Important for Research on Violence Against (Im-) Migrant Women. Arts Social Sci J S, 1, 2.

Puri, S. (2005). Rhetoric v. reality: the effect of ‘multiculturalism’on doctors’ responses to battered South Asian women in the United States and Britain. Patterns of Prejudice, 39, 416-430.

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