Why does Black women’s trauma need to be seen to be believed?

Why does Black women’s trauma need to be seen to be believed?

Beyond the entertainment industry, Black women’s trauma is continuously ignored and pushed to the sidelines – regardless of whether it’s seen, heard or documented, including here in the UK, where Black women are not only more likely to have experienced physical and sexual abuse than their white peers, but are also less likely to be referred by police to specialist services such as Refuge for support.

A 2023 report from Imkaan and the Centre for Women’s Justice reported systemic failures when it came to protecting Black and minority ethnic women facing domestic violence.

“Not only is our trauma not taken seriously, but the same institutions and systems that are supposedly here to “protect us” perpetrate and reinforce this violence.”

The report, which looked into the murders of 44 Black and minoritised women as a result of domestic homicide or suicide, stated, “the debate on racism within the criminal justice system remains mostly silent on the under-protection of Black and minoritised women, which exists alongside the over-policing of Black and minoritised communities.”

Not only is our trauma not taken seriously, the same institutions and systems that are supposedly here to “protect us” seemingly perpetrate and reinforce this violence, further traumatising us.

We see this in the Metropolitan Police’s appalling response in the case of Jocelyn Agyemang, a Black woman who was both wrongfully arrested and assaulted in front of her son, with the officer manhandling her and referring to her as a “daft cow”. Despite the officer being found guilty, the Met shared they would “continue to support the officer.”

In my own experience, when I finally made a report to the police – armed with extensive evidence of the abuse I had experienced and testimonies from multiple individuals, I was recommended not to pursue the case and told (in no uncertain terms) that I would be unlikely to get any justice.

Even within feminist communities – particularly those online with large platforms – our narratives remain ignored, there is a lack of outrage for our trauma, our abuse, our mistreatment. As bell hooks states in sisters of the yam, “white women still do not understand the interconnectedness of systems of domination, of racism and sexism.”

Despite the challenges, organisations like Sistah Space, The Cassandra Centre (which is currently fundraising for a new home) and The Maya Centre are doing phenomenal work to bring about change.

In November 2023, Sistah Space announced the creation of the first refuge in the UK to provide specialist support for women of African and Caribbean descent. They also continue to campaign for mandatory cultural competency training for police and other government agencies, known as Valerie’s Law, in memory of Valerie Forde, who was murdered with her 22-month-old baby Real-Jahzara by an ex-partner in 2014.

To understand why Black women’s trauma goes ignored, or why we need to see it to believe it, we need to address misogynoir – and how it is embedded into every inch of our society. Misogynoir, the term coined by feminist professor Dr Moya Bailey, describes the “specific hatred, dislike, distrust, and prejudice directed toward Black women.” Misogynoir is personal, political, institutional and global – and it can’t be solved overnight, but if we acknowledge it, we can start to challenge it.

As bell hooks says, “we must be ever vigilant to our efforts to resist devaluation… that struggle continues.”

For more information about emotional abuse and domestic abuse, you can call The Freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge on 0808 2000 247.

For more information about reporting and recovering from rape and sexual abuse, you can contact Rape Crisis on 0808 500 2222.

If you have been sexually assaulted, you can find your nearest Sexual Assault Referral Centre here. You can also find support at your local GP, voluntary organisations such as Rape Crisis, Women’s Aid, and Victim Support, and you can report it to the police (if you choose) here.

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