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Social Justice

MPs debate support for Black women affected by domestic abuse after high-profile campaign

The ‘Valerie’s Law’ petition by charity Sistah Space was backed by Michaela Coel and FKA twigs – and signed by more than 100,000 people. Campaigners are now asking people to write to their MPs to show support.

A high-profile campaign calling for specialist training to protect Black women affected by domestic abuse will be debated by MPs on Monday.

A petition calling for the introduction of ‘Valerie’s Law‘ was signed by more than 100,000 people last year, and backed by Michaela Coel, FKA twigs, charity Refuge and the Women’s Equality Party.

It was created by Sistah Space, a community organisation in east London that supports African and Caribbean heritage survivors of domestic violence.

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The debate, which was opened by Labour MP Abena Oppong-Asare and attended by Sistah Space organisers, saw speeches in support of Valerie’s Law from a number of MPs including Diane Abbott, Apsana Begum, Holly Lynch, and the Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, Taiwo Owatemi.

Many MPs raised personal stories from their constituents regarding domestic violence and their interactions and treatment by agencies and institutions, namely the police.

Abbott even recalled a personal experience involving her mother being subjected to coercive control by her father, adding that “although Valerie was a victim of domestic violence, she was not just a victim. We should also remember her for who she was and her contributions to our community.” A sentiment echoed by the Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities who ended her speech with, “there’s no better way to honour the memory of Valerie and her daughter than by standing here today and advocating for this much needed law.”

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Rachel MacLean MP, the Minister for Safeguarding at the Home Office, was responding for the government in this debate and set out the current actions it will be taking to tackle violence against women and girls, which includes the soon-to-be published Domestic Abuse Plan. A plan that was referred to regularly throughout her speech, even when pressed for specific references to Black women by Oppong-Asare.

MacLean did, however, round off her remarks by agreeing to arrange and facilitate a meeting between Sistah Space organisers and the College of Policing, in order to open up a dialogue around the specific issues that Black women face when it comes to domestic violence.

Valerie’s Law advocates for police and government agencies to undergo mandatory cultural competency training that ‘accounts for the cultural nuances and barriers, colloquialisms, languages and customs that make up the diverse Black community.’

The government has indicated it will not back the law, and campaigners are now calling on people to write to their MPs asking them to attend the debate and express support.

The debate comes three days before the eight-year anniversary of the deaths of Valerie Forde and her baby Jahzara, who the law is named in honour of. 

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Forde and her 23-month-old daughter were murdered by her ex-partner Roland McKoy in 2014.

McKoy was known to police six weeks earlier as he had threatened Forde with burning down their house in east London, with the family inside. The Metropolitan Police recorded this incident as a threat to property as opposed to a threat to life, which the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) heavily criticised the force for in its 2016 investigation, finding the “inaction” of officers meant Forde was left alone with her murderer

The law would see all relevant government agencies trained to ‘acknowledge and protect Black women in abusive situations.’ Sistah Space says Forde’s case highlighted the lack of knowledge and understanding that institutions, like the police, have when it comes to Black communities and domestic violence victims, and how the two intersect. 

The charity recorded a 400 per cent increase in calls during the pandemic and according to its research, 86 per cent of women of African and Caribbean heritage have either been a victim of domestic violence or know a family member who has.

In light of the recent case of Black schoolgirl Child Q being strip searched at her Hackney school, Sistah Space says it will ensure that Black children would also be protected under the new law.

Campaigners are currently rallying support by asking members of the public to write letters to their MPs in an attempt to get as many MPs as possible to attend the debate and support Valerie’s Law, with the view to eventually passing it into legislation.

To write a letter to your MP, Sistah Space have created a template you can use to ask your MP to attend and support the debate.

In response to the petition, the government said: “Current training on domestic abuse should include recognising the specific needs of victims due to their ethnicity or cultural background; Government does not feel it is necessary to mandate it.”

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