Domestic Abuse: ‘The Police Didn’t Believe Me…’ Black Women Disproportionately Affected.
In March 2014, Valerie Forde and her one-year-old daughter Jahzara were murdered by her ex-partner. He attacked Ms Forde with a machete and a hammer and slit Jahzara’s throat.
Six weeks earlier, he had threatened to burn down their house in Hackney, east London, with everybody inside. This was recorded as a threat to property rather than a threat to life. The police watchdog was heavily critical of the Met Police’s failures, finding that officers’ “inaction” left Ms Forde alone with her killer.
Domestic violence affects black women disproportionately, according to campaigners who want the law changed to compel police to undergo training that might help address this. A petition for a “Valerie’s Law” has now attracted more than 100,000 signatures – the first step for the plans to be debated in Parliament.
As the 100,000-mark was reached, the BBC went to meet activists and police at an event in Croydon, south London, which had the highest number of domestic violence reports of any borough in the capital last year.
Woman after woman stood up in the Croydon Voluntary Action building to tell the Met officers gathered there that they weren’t listening enough.
A common theme among campaigners and victims at the public meeting was that black victims still felt a lot of judgement when they tried to report abuse.
One woman explained how the police had failed to take her reports seriously, which allowed her abusive situation to spiral.
She said: “The police were never concerned about me, like when I was telling them – they don’t believe what I was saying. And things escalate, escalate. They didn’t listen to me, even when I’ve been to the police so many times, and they disregarded my concern.
“The pain will never go away, the trauma will never go away.”
Stella Bolt, chair of the BAME domestic abuse partnerships forum, said it was “high time” Valerie’s Law was brought in so that black women could get the support they needed.
Ms Bolt said there were “complex reasons” why black women were still being failed too often, and that a mixture of cultural, physical and socio-economic factors were at work. “The impact is twofold, as for some there will still be scepticism about whether we will see any change, but for others this will bring real hope,” she said.
She added: “A lot of communities have police officers that are coming from parts of the city where people don’t look like them and a lot of cultural context is missed: things like how to speak to a person of colour, how to relate to people from different cultures, how to avoid making assumptions and judgements.”
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Safer Neighbourhoods chair Donna Murray-Turner, who has been giving training to Met Police officers, said some communication issues were class-based as well as racial and gendered.
“The police are an incredibly middle-class institution delving into the lives of working-class people,” she said. “There is a relationship between white males and black female bodies, and women perceive they’re being viewed as almost like animals.”
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Nicole Godetz, campaigner and director of consultancy Noo Thinking, agreed there could be communication issues between victims and police.
She said: “In Croydon, a lot of officers have moved in from Surrey and could take the slightest thing as aggressive when it’s normal behaviour round here.”
Det Insp Tom Revell, who is the head of the Met’s community safety unit, apologised to the gathering. He pledged to tackle the issues that had been highlighted and said he wanted to continue to improve the response of officers.
There was some impatience from activists, who said they had been calling for change for years without success.
“It disappoints me if anyone feels they haven’t got the right response from me or my officers,” Det Insp Revell told the meeting.
“We’re aware that the police are a bit burly, a bit brisk, and a bit to the point,” he said. “As somebody who is committed to public protection and [tackling] domestic violence against women, I want to make sure every woman has the support they deserve.”
A Met Police spokeswoman added a specialist predatory offender unit had been launched just over a year ago to tackle the most high-risk offenders and in that time had made 1,312 arrests for domestic abuse offences.
She said: “Tackling domestic abuse is an absolute priority for the Met and we are committed to protecting those who are at risk wherever and however we can.”