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EXCLUSIVE: Sisters Uncut talk protesting at the BAFTA's

PUBLIC: Members of Sisters Uncut protest domestic violence at the BAFTA Awards (Photo credit: Sisters Uncut Twitter)

MY LEGS are shaking as I anxiously wait for the signal to jump. As I look beyond the barrier that I’m holding to steady my nerves, a human traffic jam of celebrities and security guards has developed on the red carpet of The Bafta Awards.

As soon as a clearing emerges in front of us, I hear the whistle sound and before I know it myself and 11 of my sisters are scaling the barriers to get on to the carpet. Some of my fellow sisters of colour have already been targeted by security and are being blocked from jumping with the rest of us, but we knew this might happen and had planned to continue as long as enough of us reached our target.

Despite what people watching might have assumed, planning a direct action like this is not all fun and games. It takes hard work and persistence , and is extremely anxiety-provoking. But it was a necessary risk to highlight what this was all about - how dangerous Theresa May’s proposed Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill will be for survivors, especially more marginalised survivors such as women of colour and migrant women.

The Prime Minister wants to deal with domestic violence with more laws, increased police power and longer prison sentences. But investment in the criminal justice system has only led to more survivors being arrested for domestic violence instead of the perpetrators abusing them.

This is because ‘pro-arrest’ policies– which set arrest targets for police officers –have actually led to a situation in which everyone involved in an incident of domestic violence is more likely to be arrested, including the survivor of the abuse.

In the UK, the Prison Reform Trust has found that police are already repeatedly arresting survivors, despite the fact their partner is the primary perpetrator. Of course, this will hit survivors who are already most at-risk of being criminalised the hardest.

In the US, research has found that similar policies to those proposed in the bill have led to an increase in the number of survivors arrested, especially black and minority ethnic and poorer survivors.

Things are even worse for survivors not recognised by the system, as evidenced in the recent horrifying story of the migrant rape survivor who was detained when reporting her abuse as part of Theresa May’s “hostile environment” policies that punish irregular migrants - especially grotesque when you consider the allegations of rape rampant in immigration removal centres.

As a domestic violence support worker I have found this time and time again. One Nigerian migrant Oluwasola*, a new mother, came to my service for support when she was arrested for domestic violence after her husband had attacked her. Oluwasola told me that her perpetrator had been on top of her, choking her and threatening to kill her.

She was afraid for her life and tried everything she could get free, including scratching at the perpetrator to make him stop. She eventually managed to get free and call 999, but when the police arrived, she was unable to communicate with them because she could only speak Yoruba, and they were unable to find a phone translator.

The perpetrator, who spoke English, told the police that Oluwasola had assaulted her and showed them his scratches. She was then arrested, put in handcuffs and locked in a cell overnight.

She had no access to an interpreter so couldn't understand what was happening to her. As she had been breastfeeding feeding her new-born baby, her breasts leaked all through the night, and the police did nothing to help with the discomfort.

Oluwasola’s case highlights how vulnerable black, migrant and poor survivors are whenever they come into contact with the police. 57% of women in prison have experienced domestic abuse, but a criminal justice system where black women are more than twice as likely to be arrested as white women is discriminatory to its core.

How will giving the police and courts more power offer any support to survivors like Oluwasola? It won’t, but what will is fully funded refuges and sorely-needed specialist domestic violence services such as BME services. Instead, every refuge stands to close if the government proceeds with its plans to remove their housing benefit funding.

If Theresa May really cared about domestic violence, she would fund the refuges that save lives and stop investing in the institutions that perpetrate state violence on vulnerable survivors.

We chose the Baftas as we knew it would be already a site of protest. The Times Up movement clearly links to our work as Sisters Uncut, and we were proud to share the carpet with invited activists who were invited to the ceremony representing important groups such as UK Black Pride, the “Dagenham Girls” who fought for equal pay and IMKAAN.

And we too are inspired by the Latina Alianza Nacional De Campesinas (National Farmworkers Women’s Alliance) who inspired the whole movement by writing an open letter showing solidarity with Hollywood actors who had experienced abuse, recognising that gender-based violence happens throughout society.

We need to stand together and demand an end to this now, and for us that’s why we are calling Time’s Up too on Theresa May’s policies and her harmful domestic violence Bill.

name changed to protect identity

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