Domestic violence and minoritisation: Legal and policy barriers facing minoritized women leaving violent relationships

Burman, Erica and Chantler, Khatidja orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-9129-2560 (2005) Domestic violence and minoritisation: Legal and policy barriers facing minoritized women leaving violent relationships. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 28 (1). pp. 59-74. ISSN 01602527

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This article on service responses to women of African, African-Caribbean, Irish, Jewish and South Asian backgrounds facing domestic violence draws on our recently completed study based in Manchester, UK (Batsleer et al., 2002) [Batsteeler, J., Burman, E., Chantler, K., McIntosh, S.H., Pantling, K., Smailes, S., Warner, S., et al. 2002. Domestic violence minoritisation: Supporting women to indepence. Women's Studies Centre: The Manchester Metropolitan University]. We frame our analysis of domestic violence and minoritisation around the question that is frequently posed in relation to women living with domestic violence: ‘why doesn’t she leave?’ In response, we highlight the complex and intersecting connections between domestic violence, law, mental health provision, entitlement to welfare services, which function alongside constructions of ‘culture’ and cultural identifications, structures of racism, class and gendered oppression. All these contribute to maintain women, particularly minoritized women, in violent relationships. Further, we illustrate how leaving violent relationships does not necessarily guarantee the safety of women and children escaping domestic violence.

Despite many recent legal and social policy initiatives in the UK that have usefully brought domestic violence into the public domain, there have also been counter-measures which have made leaving violent relationships correspondingly more difficult, in particular for women from minoritized communities. We offer an analysis of how state practices, particularly facets of immigration law in the UK (although Bhattacharjee, 1997, provides an equivalent U.S. analysis), interact with domestic violence. These not only equip perpetrators with a powerful tool to oppress minoritized women further, but it also indicates how state structures thereby come to impact directly on women’s distress (Chantler et al, 2001). In addition, we highlight how other aspects of state policy and practice which enter into the material well-being of survivors of domestic violence, for example, housing, levels of state benefits, and child-care also pose significant obstacles to minoritized women leaving violent relationships. Whilst women from majority/dominant groups also face many of these barriers, we illustrate how the racialized dimensions of such policies heightens their exclusionary effects. It is argued that legal and psychological strategies need to address the complexity of how public, state and institutional practices intersect with racism, class and gender oppression in order to develop more sensitive and accessible ways of supporting minoritized women and children living with domestic violence.

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