Rachel MacLean MP, the Minister for Safeguarding at the Home Office, was responding for the government in this debate and set out the current actions it will be taking to tackle violence against women and girls, which includes the soon-to-be published Domestic Abuse Plan. A plan that was referred to regularly throughout her speech, even when pressed for specific references to Black women by Oppong-Asare.
MacLean did, however, round off her remarks by agreeing to arrange and facilitate a meeting between Sistah Space organisers and the College of Policing, in order to open up a dialogue around the specific issues that Black women face when it comes to domestic violence.
Valerie’s Law advocates for police and government agencies to undergo mandatory cultural competency training that ‘accounts for the cultural nuances and barriers, colloquialisms, languages and customs that make up the diverse Black community.’
The government has indicated it will not back the law, and campaigners are now calling on people to write to their MPs asking them to attend the debate and express support.
The debate comes three days before the eight-year anniversary of the deaths of Valerie Forde and her baby Jahzara, who the law is named in honour of.
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Forde and her 23-month-old daughter were murdered by her ex-partner Roland McKoy in 2014.
McKoy was known to police six weeks earlier as he had threatened Forde with burning down their house in east London, with the family inside. The Metropolitan Police recorded this incident as a threat to property as opposed to a threat to life, which the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) heavily criticised the force for in its 2016 investigation, finding the “inaction” of officers meant Forde was left alone with her murderer.
The law would see all relevant government agencies trained to ‘acknowledge and protect Black women in abusive situations.’ Sistah Space says Forde’s case highlighted the lack of knowledge and understanding that institutions, like the police, have when it comes to Black communities and domestic violence victims, and how the two intersect.
The charity recorded a 400 per cent increase in calls during the pandemic and according to its research, 86 per cent of women of African and Caribbean heritage have either been a victim of domestic violence or know a family member who has.
In light of the recent case of Black schoolgirl Child Q being strip searched at her Hackney school, Sistah Space says it will ensure that Black children would also be protected under the new law.
Campaigners are currently rallying support by asking members of the public to write letters to their MPs in an attempt to get as many MPs as possible to attend the debate and support Valerie’s Law, with the view to eventually passing it into legislation.
To write a letter to your MP, Sistah Space have created a template you can use to ask your MP to attend and support the debate.
In response to the petition, the government said: “Current training on domestic abuse should include recognising the specific needs of victims due to their ethnicity or cultural background; Government does not feel it is necessary to mandate it.”