Learning from Domestic Homicide Reviews: Briefing No. 2

If only she’d know we could help


Within a year of coming to Devon and finding work in a hotel a woman was murdered by her partner, who had followed her from their home country a few months after she settled here. Both were legally resident migrant workers. After the murder police found she had suffered emotional, physical and financial abuse from her partner for many years. He did not have a criminal record, as when she tried to escape or seek help he had persuaded her to stop. The domestic abuse continued at a lower level in Devon, where he moved into her flat although she told him the relationship was over. The victim confided in friends but did not turn to local agencies which could have helped her.

Lesson: Help on domestic abuse is available to anyone living in Devon, but people recently arrived from other countries may not realise this. It takes time to find out about public services.

Help was available nearb

Devon Domestic Abuse Service, run by Splitz, could have helped the victim when her ex-partner arrived, because he had been violent in the past and had now made her share her flat and bank account with him. One of their Independent Domestic Violence Advisors could have worked with her to plan her future, know her rights and if necessary get temporary housing through the Council.

The victim’s ex-partner assaulted her a few months before the murder. She did not tell police or a doctor, perhaps because she had suffered worse violence before. A friend from her country had assured her police in Britain could help. Had she told police the history, they could have arrested him for assault and got a legal order to keep him away from her flat.

The victim’s only contact with health services was an emergency appointment at hospital for a breathing problem, then an outpatient follow-up. The new boyfriend she had met in Devon interpreted for her. Staff saw no signs of domestic abuse. They are trained to ask the patient, on their own, if concerned. The victim did not register with a GP, though the hospital advised her to, and she lived near a health centre which has patients of many nationalities. GPs can put patients who say they are afraid of a partner in touch with the other services.

Lesson: The benefits of encouraging migrant workers and other residents new to the UK to register with a GP include the opportunity to disclose domestic abuse and be put in touch with services that can help.

What were the barriers to getting help?

We do not know what prevented this victim asking for help, but research with minority communities suggests some reasons.

The victim had started to learn English but was not fluent. Translation software on her phone, which she might have used to search online for help, does not always translate the term “domestic abuse” accurately.

Although her language is not one of the top 10 minority languages, health, police and other agencies can arrange interpretation for it. Maybe she did not know this and thought she would need to involve a friend from her small circle of fellow nationals, who also knew her ex-partner. The agencies did not have information she could take away in her own language.

One of the recommendations from our learning review asked the government to put a collection of suitable leaflets online for local services to print as needed.

Lesson: Victims of domestic abuse in Devon who do not speak English can talk to services through an interpreter without needing to involve a friend. Written information is less available as auto-translation may not handle this sensitive topic well and there is no national source of material written for different languages and cultures.

This victim lived within walking distance of all the agencies discussed, so travel was not the barrier it can be for people in rural Devon. However, she may not have known what each agency does.

Like many new migrants, she found information, e.g. about jobs, from friends and social media. Recognising this, a new project in Exeter, involving volunteers from minority communities, is tailoring resources on domestic abuse to take account of cultural issues.

The victim enjoyed life in Devon, with no insecurity in her migration status. However, her tenancy was an informal sublet, and she may have worried that revealing this to authorities would bring trouble and a move away from friends.

Lesson: People coming to live in the UK often arrive with expectations from their home culture and past experience of what counts as domestic abuse and what public services will do if they report it.

Public, businesses and community organisations can point victims to help

Public agencies can build on good work done in Devon a decade ago to understand the experience of people coming from abroad to work in the county and take this into account in their plans.

Businesses have an important role: domestic abuse may affect any employee, and they may be the main point of contact for new migrants working for them.

Lesson: Workplaces are an important means of contact with migrant workers. Businesses can now draw on the Public Health England toolkit on Domestic Abuse aimed at employers, and public agencies in contact with them should encourage this.

More information

This bulletin draws on Domestic Homicide Review case 10.

For local advice on responding to domestic abuse visit our sexual violence and domestic violence and abuse page.

A PDF of this page is available here – Briefing No.2 If only she’d known we could help…