Black and Asian domestic abuse victims less likely to see convictions in court

As part of an exclusive investigation into ethnic disparities in justice for victims of gendered violence, NationalWorld has uncovered evidence non-white victims may be less likely to see their abusers convicted during domestic abuse court cases.

White domestic violence victims may have a better chance of seeing their abusers convicted in court than those from ethnic minority backgrounds, a probe by NationalWorld suggests.

The findings come as part of an investigation into rape, sexual assault and domestic violence outcomes, which also found police are most likely to charge suspects in cases with a white victim.

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NationalWorld sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), asking for data on convictions and prosecutions of domestic abuse-related cases in England and Wales by ethnicity of the victim.

It said it did not collect that data, instead providing figures by ethnicity of the defendant.

This revealed that white defendants were significantly more likely to be convicted than those prosecuted from ethnic minorities.

Between 2016 and 2020, 208,231 out of 266,148 white defendants prosecuted for domestic abuse-related offences were convicted (78.2%). This compared to 13,574 out of 20,880 Black defendants (65%) and 13,360 out of 20,241 Asian defendants (66%).

For mixed-race defendants, 5,505 out of 7,551 (72.9%) were convicted.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows interracial couples are in the minority in the UK.

Fewer than 5% (one in 20) of same-sex married or co-habiting couples in 2018 were mixed-race. The 2011 census also showed only 9% of all couples who live together were inter-ethnic.

Many inter-ethnic couples from the census were of the same race, such as white British people coupled with white Eastern Europeans, so the proportion of mixed-race couples will have been lower still.

This suggests higher conviction rates for white domestic abusers may mean white victims are far more likely to get justice. The disparity was present in both cases at magistrates courts and those at Crown Court, which involve trials by jury.

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White defendants are most likely to be convicted for crime in general in England and Wales, a trend previously noted by the Ministry of Justice, which puts it in part down to white people being more likely to plead guilty.

But the disparity was around two times wider between white and black or Asian defendants when comparing the domestic abuse data with that for general crime.

Analysis of pre-published Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures shows between 2016 and 2020, the conviction rate for white defendants across all indictable offences was 84.9%, compared to 78.2% for black people and 79% for Asian people.

That gives a gap of 6.7 percentage points between white and black defendants, and 5.9 percentage points between white and Asian. For domestic abuse cases, the respective gaps were 13.2 and 12.2 percentage points.

The analysis of MoJ data excludes summary offences – less serious crimes dealt with by magistrates. This is consistent with the method used by the Government’s Race Disparity Unit to monitor conviction rates by ethnicity.

Lawyer Harriet Wistrich, founder of the Centre for Women’s Justice, which in 2019 brought a super complaint against all police forces over failings in domestic abuse cases, said NationalWorld’s investigation was “undoubtedly” reflecting “something discriminatory going on in the system”.

She called for the disparities we revealed to be investigated further by authorities including the CPS, police forces and Home Office.

“More generally and anecdotally we know that there is in-built racism or discrimination in the system and black and minoritised women are less likely to get justice. I know that to be the case,” she said.

“We know in relation to rape and sexual assault in particular there is a very high attrition rate. From report to ultimate prosecution, many, many, many [victims] drop out.

“Your data may be revealing that white women are more likely to stay the course and there are some obvious explanations for why that would be, not to do with robustness of character but to do with discrimination and how they’re treated.”

She added that the CPS should start to collect data on victims’ protected characteristics, such as race, age and disability.

While domestic abuse can affect people of any sex or gender, women are much more likely than men to be victims.

Rebecca Hitchen, head of policy and campaigns at the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said racism “is woven into the fabric” of UK justice agencies.

“We know that women are systematically not believed or taken seriously when they report abuse to the police,” she said.

“This is compounded by stereotyping and discrimination due to women’s race, class, disability and other characteristics.”

Experts have also raised concerns over the availability of specialist support services to help minority ethnic or migrant victims through the criminal justice process.

Alba Kapoor, senior policy officer at race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, said such services have been particularly badly hit by austerity, and struggle to attract enough funding.

Nicole Jacobs, Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, called on the Government to “create a dedicated funding pot of £262.9 million for ‘by and for’ services which would include support for black and minoritised victims”.

A CPS spokesperson said it recognised that perceptions or experiences of racism may make it difficult for minority ethnic victims to “feel confident reporting their offences or progress with a prosecution”.

“That is why improving victim support is a core part of our ambitious work to drive more rape and sexual offence cases to court,” they said.

“In June we announced new minimum standards for rape and sexual assault victim support, to provide victims with better emotional and practical support as their cases progress through the criminal justice system.

“Our most recent guidance on rape and serious sexual offences also outlines considerations prosecutors should take into account when considering the evidence in such cases, including avoiding stereotyping.”

The Home Office said it is investing more than £300 million this year to support victims, and is pursuing a new Victims Bill, to enshrine their rights in law for the first time and create a legal requirement for support to be provided from offence to courtroom.

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