It’s Time To Pay More Attention To The UK’s Black Femicide Crisis

Photo: Via @elormlovex
On 1st May this year, Johanita Dogbey, a 31-year-old Ghanaian British woman, was killed in broad daylight in Brixton, London. The man accused of attacking her, Mohamed Nur, a 33-year-old Somali British man, is currently in police custody and awaiting trial. Her death adds to a long list of Black women who have been found dead due to or under the suspicion of foul play in recent years: Darrell Buchanan, Blessing Olusegun and Valerie Forde, to name a few. With growing discourse surrounding the prevalence of Black femicide in the United States, following shocking revelations like the fact that Black women are four times as likely as white or Hispanic women to die a violent death, it’s time Britain recognised its own epidemic. On the surface, the data indicate no apparent racial disparities but a deeper look into the context of how these figures are produced points to a more complex and even dangerous reality for Black women in the UK. 

Understanding Black femicide

The World Health Organization (WHO) generally defines femicide as the “intentional murder of women and girls because they are women” but allows for broader definitions encompassing any killings of women and girls. The vast majority of women’s murderers are men, with ‘intimate femicide’ (i.e. intimate partner violence) being the most typical form. Worldwide, over 35% of all women’s murders are reported to have been committed by a former or current husband or boyfriend. Conversely, just 5% of male homicides are committed by a current or former intimate partner (this includes gay and bisexual men). Other common types of femicide comprise honour killings (occurring mainly in the Middle East, South Asia and their respective diasporas), dowry deaths (most prevalent in India) and non-intimate femicide — often with a sexual motivation. Accordingly, Black femicide can be understood as the intentional killing of Black women and girls on the basis of their race, gender or both; it can also include any Black female homicide victims. 
Looking at the global stats, we can see that in the US, Black women’s risk of homicide rivals that of Black men, with one dying on average every six hours in 2020. In South Africa, an average of nine women are killed every day, making it one of the most dangerous places in the world to live as a woman, particularly a Black woman. Predominantly Black Caribbean countries Antigua & Barbuda and Jamaica have the second and third highest femicide rates in the world, respectively, with El Salvador topping the list. 

Anecdotal evidence and interpersonal experiences from anti-VAWG service providers and service users alike suggest femicide disproportionately impacts global majority women in the UK, including Black women.

In the UK, we know that a woman is killed on average every three days but the frequency of said violence happening to Black women is unclear, given a dearth of intersectional reporting on the issue. For example, the 2020 Femicide Census, an archive of the “women who have been killed by men in the UK and the men who have killed them”, records the ethnicity of just 22 out of 110 victims. Of this figure, 16 were white and six were Asian. Without further context, the takeaway here would be that no Black women (or at least a much smaller proportion) were killed by men within this dataset, which could then be extrapolated to apply to Britain’s population as a whole. When speaking about this to a representative of nia, the anti-violence against women and girls (VAWG) charity that oversees The Femicide Census, they acknowledged this is a problematic conclusion: “The lack of meaningful, verified (i.e. official public record material) data on ethnicity is an ongoing problem. Data on race and ethnicity is drawn from police responses to Freedom of Information requests (FoIs). Ethnicity was provided in only one-fifth of police FoIs, and even then, the terms used are inconsistent, arbitrary, sometimes meaningless, archaic or downright offensive, for example, ‘Dark European’ or ‘Oriental’.”
‘Global majority’ is used as a collective term to describe those racialised as non-white, who make up approximately 85% of the world’s population. Anecdotal evidence and interpersonal experiences from anti-VAWG service providers and service users alike suggest femicide disproportionately impacts global majority women in the UK, including Black women, according to nia. However, without more precise figures to back up these ideas, the ability to identify culture-specific risk factors, barriers to access and best methods of providing support is limited. “Without such data, there will be no evidence base for the need for specialist by and for organisations, additional targeted resources and overhauling practice and policy which may reflect racist and sexist attitudes or institutional racism and sexism,” nia concludes. 

Inter-community issues present overlooked risk factors

Like other forms of violence against socially minoritised people, the line between what is and what isn't an act of discrimination is often ambiguous. Dogbey's death, for instance, has been framed as a completely "random attack" by media reports. Perhaps it simply was a case of wrong place, wrong time; perhaps not. Latoya Dennis, the founder of Black Femicide UK, thinks not, believing Dogbey's killing to have been influenced by an underground culture of online inceldom and inter-community tensions between Somali and non-Somali Black groups. "I think there's a strong incel community and I believe that a lot of Somali men are a part of that, from what I've seen online. I wouldn't be surprised if the man who killed Johanita was a part of that community," she tells us. Nur is reported to have (non-fatally) assaulted two other women and a man on 29th April, showing a gender bias in his crimes. When asked to expand, Dennis references hostile online encounters with Somali men on her platform after profiling the story of a Somali Bolt driver allegedly attempting to abduct a young, non-Somali Black woman. "That was the most backlash I've received through my work. I received a lot of threats and harassment, and I was also doxxed," she explains. 

The media categorically does not give Black women and domestic abuse enough attention.

Sistah space
Whether or not this sentiment is correct, it highlights a valid sense of intra-racial rift within Black Britain that the media and institutions alike fail to interrogate in depth, leaving Black women at risk. Unbothered Editor L'Oréal Blackett speaks to an overreliance on the UK's few Black journalists to cover Black stories as a partial factor in these gaps in mainstream coverage: "When I've worked at major publications, these kinds of stories are looked at as an inter-community issue. There's a sense of 'we can't touch that' within these white (and male)-dominated newsrooms." She continues: "UK media is relying on a handful of Black journalists to cover everything that goes on in our communities."
Sistah Space, a domestic violence charity advocating and campaigning for Black and mixed-race British women of African and Caribbean descent, also cites racial and cultural prejudices as major reasons why Black British women's deaths don't receive as much attention as the deaths of white British women: "The media categorically does not give Black women and domestic abuse enough attention. For example, media coverage of the Sarah Everard case was on every news source for a period of time. Can you name any Black women who have had the same amount of coverage or outcry?" 
It's not just the media at fault here. As detailed above, there is an oversight when it comes to the interrogation and provision of race and ethnicity-specific insights from the government and police that potentially reflects apathetic and even racist (and sexist) attitudes towards female global majority concerns in this country. In March 2014, Valerie Forde, 45, and her 22-month-old baby were brutally murdered by Valerie’s ex-partner after her cries for help had been either downplayed or ignored by the authorities, exemplifying such failings. Six weeks prior to her death, Forde had told police that the then 53-year-old Roland McKoy had threatened to burn down her house with her and her baby inside. Instead of Forde’s warning being recorded as a threat to life, which would have required much closer monitoring, it was deemed a threat to property — a serious but far less urgent risk. Furthermore, BBC News reports that a civilian call handler failed to fully record and communicate critical information in the 999 call from one of Forde's daughters on the day of the crime. Were it not for the "inaction" of authorities, Forde may have been alive today. 
Sistah Space believes this to be the case and is advocating for Valerie's Law, a proposal which would implement "mandatory cultural competency training that accounts for the cultural nuances and barriers, colloquialisms, languages and customs that make up the diverse Black community". In 2021, the organisation launched a video campaign to illustrate the unequal treatment of Black and white female domestic abuse victims by law enforcement. Research conducted by Sistah Space reveals that in the UK, 86% of women of African and/or Caribbean heritage have either been a victim of domestic abuse or know a family member who has been assaulted. Only 57% of victims, however, said they would report the abuse to the police, likely due to a historic lack of confidence in law enforcement among Black Britons. Meanwhile, March 2020 to June 2021 figures from Refuge, the country's largest specialist domestic abuse organisation, show that Black women were 14% less likely than white survivors of domestic abuse to be referred to Refuge for support. 

Implementing meaningful change 

The man accused of killing Johanita Dogbey will not be standing trial until 29th April 2024, joining tens of thousands of backlogged cases in London alone that will not be fully reviewed for an average of over a year. With Dogbey’s story falling out of the mainstream news cycle just over a week after her death, it’s hard to imagine a society where Black femicide is given the consideration it deserves. As things stand, we rely on specialist media platforms like Unbothered to do the work in platforming these narratives and organisations like nia and Sistah Space to push for more comprehensive statistics and cultural awareness among governing bodies. A greater emphasis on Afrofeminist data will ultimately be the building block for more informed insights into the realities and concerns of Black women in the UK. We must continue striving to make this issue a top priority, not just for us but for everyone. 

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