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22 May 2019

New study finds migrant women experience high levels of violence but are often too afraid to report it

A new study finds that migrant women in London who seek support as survivors of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) are being penalised because of their insecure immigration status.

Photo credit: Luciana Whitaker Aikins
New study finds migrant women experience high levels of violence but are often too afraid to report it. Photo credit: Luciana Whitaker Aikins

Photo credit: Luciana Whitaker Aikins

The study found that 78% of migrant women residing in London, who have insecure immigration status, have experienced psychological intimate partner violence within the home since moving to the UK. Yet almost one quarter of these women fear deportation, so do not report it.

Meanwhile, of the migrant women that did report their experience of violence to the police, more than one quarter had their residence status questioned, with four women reporting having been arrested themselves.

The study conducted by Professor Cathy McIlwaine from the Department of Geography, King’s College London provides the evidence base for the Step Up Migrant Women campaign, in partnership with the Latin American Women’s Rights Service and funded by the Lloyds Bank Foundation.

It includes interviews, surveys and focus groups with migrant women from 22 different countries from across Asia, Africa and the Americas, as well as specialist migrant organisations in London.

After he cancelled my [spousal] visa, he booked my ticket, he called me and said ‘don’t come to my house, I cancelled your visa, you are illegal in this country.

Aisha, India

Why migrant women need a voice

The project and campaign aim to influence key decision-makers at London and national levels in order to improve the lives for migrant women who have experienced Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). It also seeks to recognise their rights independently of their immigration status and to deliver a sustainable funding model to support specialist VAWG frontline services and refuges led by and for migrant and BME women.

The data will be used, for example, to lobby and inform the Government’s forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill, to ensure the protection for all women without discrimination on any ground, such as race, religion, nationality, migrant and refugee status, and to ensure the legislation fully complies with the provisions of the Istanbul Convention.

Professor McIlwaine argues: “The ultimate goal of the research and campaign is to ensure safe reporting pathways for women and girls by advocating and demonstrating the need to separate these women’s insecure migrant status and their right to receive support as survivors of VAWG.”

“The women interviewed have often experienced incredibly severe forms of abuse, and have the right to receive support from the country they are living in. These women shouldn’t feel afraid to report domestic violence to the police, social services or to other statutory services.”

The Step Up Migrant campaign launched a report titled ‘The Right to be Believed’ on Tuesday, 21 May at City Hall. Amongst its recommendations is the introduction of a firewall to end data sharing between victim support services and the Home Office for immigration control purposes.

This would ensure that human rights are upheld above immigration enforcement, which includes the universal right to access refuge and safety, healthcare, housing, specialist support and education without discrimination.

“As the title suggests, all women have the right to be heard and believed, and not penalised because of where they come from. We want to influence the way in which the police report and deal with migrant women when they come for support. This includes equipping them with an understanding of the cultural context of what is going on at home.”

Read the full research:

View the report here

Visit for more information on the Step Up Migrant Women campaign, which seeks to guarantee that reporting to the police is not more dangerous than staying with the perpetrator.

In this story

Cathy McIlwaine

Vice Dean (Research), Faculty of Social Sciences and Public Policy