Community pressures stop women seeking help

Published: 7 September 2022 at 17:00

Lord Ashcroft Building in Cambridge

New research investigates domestic abuse of Asian women in East of England

New research has found that Asian women in the East of England struggle to speak out against domestic abuse due to several barriers, including pressures from within their communities and gaps in services, while the support provided to victims must be better tailored to their specific needs.

The research, led by Dr Mirna Guha of Anglia Ruskin University, was presented at an event at ARU in Cambridge on Wednesday, 7 September.

The event brought together representatives from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Domestic Abuse Sexual Violence Partnership, Cambridge Community Safety Partnership, Cambridgeshire Constabulary, Cambridge and Peterborough Rape Crisis Partnership, Women’s Aid Cambridge, Women’s Aid Peterborough, Hertfordshire County Council, Cambridge Women’s Resources Centre, Community First Peterborough, and women from Asian communities in Cambridge, Peterborough and Huntingdon.

Dr Guha interviewed 15 women of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian backgrounds living in the East of England about their knowledge and experiences of domestic abuse, as well as the help that is available. The research team also analysed 530 police records, provided by Cambridgeshire Constabulary, focusing on domestic abuse involving victims from Asian backgrounds. 

The researchers found that women feel silenced by community norms around the sanctity of marriage, the stigma of divorce, and the fear of community gossip. When they do speak out, they can feel misunderstood and unsupported by service providers due to linguistic and cultural barriers.

Of the cases studied, Asian women were found to have experienced coercive control, psychological/emotional abuse, physical/sexual abuse, financial/economic abuse, harassment, and stalking. 

Analysis of the police records shows that most cases were categorised ‘without injury’ and charges were often dropped because victims withdrew support due to family pressure and fear of consequences. 

In response to the findings, the researchers have suggested a number of recommendations, including:
- Create and strengthen peer support networks by offering Asian women formal training and public recognition as ‘community safety ambassadors’. Women in the study said that a peer who is fluent in English, formally trained, and of a similar cultural background, would be the most valuable form of support. 
- Acknowledge that victims might be reluctant to take actions that alienate them from their communities, and instead work with them to create sustainable pathways out of abusive situations.  
- Offer options for safe spaces which include ‘in situ’ forms of support and protection. Victims want to feel safe without being forced to leave for refuges in unfamiliar places.
- Police must listen to how victims want to proceed with cases. This could reduce the disappearance of cases from the police’s radar. 
- Provide consistent care and support. Many victims shared experiences of supportive service providers whom they lost contact with because their cases were transferred to someone new. 

Dr Mirna Guha, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said:

“A Domestic Homicide Review by the Cambridge Community Safety Partnership in 2018 into the murder of a Pakistani woman by her husband found that gaps persist within screening and service provision around domestic abuse, particularly for women with immigration backgrounds and low fluency in English. 

“The women we spoke to said that the presence of women from similar backgrounds could play a crucial role in helping them seek assistance, for example through a peer support network of trained community safety ambassadors.

“Understanding the specific experiences of Asian women is crucial to designing and implementing effective and sustainable interventions in a part of the UK that is currently marked by low participation and integration of Asian communities within local policymaking and governance.”

The pilot study has been funded by ARU’s Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and as part of the project, Dr Guha organised an event at Cambridge Central Mosque to introduce its women visitors to the services of Women’s Aid Cambridge.