By Nadeem Badshah
AN INCREASING number of Asians are suffering financial and mental abuse during lockdown and need additional support, campaigners have said.
Charities have seen a rise in people seeking help for different forms of domestic violence since the UK went into lockdown in March, as victims have found themselves forced to live with their abusive partners and family members.
A campaign called #FaithsAgainstDomesticAbuse, backed by a number of charities, has called on the government to provide more help for services, particularly to those supporting survivors from ethnic minority backgrounds.
It comes as new figures showed just four per cent of Indians in the UK, 4.5 per cent of British Pakistanis and 1.1 per cent of people of Bangladeshi origin reported being victims of domestic abuse from April 2018 to March 2019. The figure rose to 5.6 per cent for white Britons and 7.1 per cent among black people, the latest Crime Survey for England and Wales showed.
Rani Bilkhu, founder of charity Jeena International, told Eastern Eye, “We have had an increase in women coming forward who can’t escape in terms of refuge.
“In three days, we had eight referrals, mainly from Slough and Southall. One Punjabi mother was kicked out by her in-laws with her five-year-old child, but because of her immigration status, the local council cannot help.
“After she went to drop off her child to school, they locked her out. She has [suffered] emotional and psychological abuse as well as physical violence. Police said it was a civil matter.
“Another woman suffered financial abuse from her partner. She cannot get away, she has to let him back in. It is under reported.”
The Domestic Abuse bill going through parliament will introduce a definition which, for the first time, includes a reference to “economic” abuse, where victims are denied access to food, money, clothes and transport.
Years of budget cuts have had an impact on support services across the country. Local authority spending on refuges was cut from £31.2 million in 2010 to £23.9m in 2017.
Bilkhu added: “Victims used to be able to escape abuse, but living with someone 24/7 in lockdown, everything intensifies. If they escape to the bathroom, they are so scared they will be caught [if they ring for help].
“They [abusers] use either religion or say it’s black magic.”
Yasmin Khan, founder of the Halo Project in Middlesbrough, north Yorkshire, said there are many forms of abuse within south Asian communities and these are compounded by ‘honour’.
“This type of abuse is damaging not only to the individual but to the family and wider community,” Khan said.
She told Eastern Eye: “The Halo Project charity has supported many cases of spiritual abuse whereby perpetrators use religion and belief to either persuade their victims to stay in abusive situations or exploit victims using religion as a healing intervention for particularly young people.
“It takes considerable courage and repeated incidents for victims within the BAME community to come forward and make a disclosure of this type of abuse. It is imperative we help and support and we do not become bystanders for this abuse of human rights.”
The #FaithsAgainstDomesticAbuse campaign has been supported by groups including Sikh Women’s Action Network and Violence Against Women and Girls Coalition. It said BAME women tend to stay with abusive partners for longer than white females and are less likely to access support.
The coalition of groups added: “Sadly, the ideal that our faiths provide does not always materialise.
“In all our communities, we hear reports not only of physical abuse but other forms of abuse which may be financial, psychological and emotional in nature.
“There are also instances of spiritual abuse, whereby abusers use religion to persuade people to stay with an abusive partner. Children are often the hidden victims of this kind of abuse.”
Amjad Malik, a solicitor in Greater Manchester, said, “Being a lawyer from an ethnic community and dealing with immigration and family law issues, [I know that] this problem is affecting victims of every faith and ethnic background.
“It can only be resolved in a public and private partnership backed by the state with continuous funding required. People often remain in domestic abuse longer than normal as they have less access to counsellors and referral services.
“Religion plays a part to try and save a marriage, but the level of access to services also determines the [outcome].
“It will be conducive if dedicated helplines provide effective listening services in multiple languages so that victims are not left stranded in their houses where the abuse is taking place.”
Earlier this month, homelessness minister Luke Hall announced that more than 100 successful charity bids across England will receive a share of £8.1m government funding to provide life-saving services during the pandemic, in June. The cash will fund more than 1,500 beds for survivors.
Victims could also be entitled to paid leave under a government proposal that would help them keep their jobs and have economic independence while trying to escape violent partners.
The plan would give victims time to seek help, attend police or court appointments, move house and support their children, officials added.