UK Officials Are Trying To Evict A Black Domestic Violence Organization During The Worst Possible Time
Since the coronavirus pandemic forced millions into their homes, the global rate of domestic violence incidents has skyrocketed but that's not stopping U.K. officals.
August 31, 2020 at 7:03 pm
Since the coronavirus pandemic forced millions into their homes, the global rate of domestic violence incidents has skyrocketed. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in April there was already a "horrifying global surge in domestic violence" and that every government on earth needed to make plans to help women and children dealing with abuse.
Charities and government organizations have been limited in how much they can help women suffering from abuse due to COVID-19. But despite the limitations, dozens of groups around the world are doing their best to help get people out of violent and dangerous situations.
The dire situation has done little to stop officials in the United Kingdom from harassing and trying to evict a charity working to help Black women suffering at the hands of their domestic partners, according to Hackney.gov.
Non-profit organization Sistah Space has been locked in a battle with the Hackney Council, which earlier this month sought to remove the organization from the space they currently occupy. Hackney is a borough of London.
Sistah Space is one of the only domestic violence organization in London dedicated specifically to Black women and moved to a new location in December where it was allowed to operate rent-free. But on August 11, the Hackney Council formally sent the group an eviction notice, according to the Hackney Gazette.
"This is in the middle of COVID, and we are at high risk. If you shut us down, you shut down an entire village. We have to say 'no,'" Sistah Space founder Ngozi Fulani said in an interview with CBS News.
According to CBS News, the Hackney Council wants to make a profit off of renting the government-owned space the group currently occupies, so council members have been working since last month to remove the group.
Fulani told the Hackney Citizen in July that the old space they were in is not suitable for the work they do.
“People, strangers, have been coming in and out of the building, and we’re a domestic violence charity. [The council] is saying it has invested £35,000 in us – it invested it in one of their properties that was semi-derelict. That is not investing in us,” she said.
“First it was, ‘We’re going to get you somewhere, but while you’re waiting, we’re going to fix up the place’. Now we realize they want us to go back there so we can stay there. We’ve done our risk assessment. It’s out of the way, the exit leads into a derelict area. They want our current premises back because of money," Fulani added, noting that the dispute and uncertainty has caused them to reduce their services.
The decision to attack the domestic violence organization has sparked widespread protests and outrage at the prospect of the government taking on the organization at a time like this.
In a statement, the Hackney Council defended itself by saying budget cuts were forcing them to look for other ways to turn a profit, including renting out government spaces.
The council has said repeatedly that it would like to move the group back to the old space it used to occupy but Fulani has rejected that offer because the old space was dangerous for the women they help. The old space was a storefront, making it easy for abusers to find and look inside, Fulani told CBS News.
The council, however, offered to put shutters and cameras in the space.
"With the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement coming to the forefront, that is inspiration for us. That's given us the strength to tell Hackney Council, 'get your knee off of our neck,'" Fulani said.
“The mayor [of Hackney] is insisting that we go back to Lower Clapton Road despite us saying to him, time and time again, the place is not safe. It isn’t safe for the service users, it isn’t safe for the volunteers and staff. It just isn’t safe,” Fulani said earlier this month.
Phillip Glanville, the mayor of Hackney, has said the group has to go back to its original location and that the eviction notice was only sent out after months of negotiating with the group. In a statement on the government website, the council said Sistah Space "is not a refuge" and that it has concerns about letting it stay in its current location.
Multiple local political parties have come out in defense of the group, including the Hackney Green Party, Hackney Women’s Equality Party and Hackney Liberal Democrats.
In a letter to Glanville, the groups said Fulani and Sistah Space offered to pay full rent for the current space but the city council refused to give them a long-term contract, the Hackney Gazette reported.
"The responsibility for deciding what location is or isn’t suitable is up to the domestic violence service, not the council. As a result of this ongoing conflict, the charity’s services have been disrupted and they have been forced to pause services in a time when domestic abuse is on the rise," the letter read.
“It is not sustainable for Sistah Space to be living month to month and they require a long lease in order to resume the essential services they provide for Hackney and across London,” the groups added in their letter.
In an update posted to its GoFundMe page on Tuesday, the group's organizers wrote that they are currently "sneaking in and out of our own space to avoid being harassed by a Council determined to send us back to a place we feel we have 'escaped' from."
"It feels like we have been hounded for asking for a safe space for victims of domestic & sexual abuse. We have run our service around the clock since lockdown. We have never taken a day off. That our local Hackney Council have such contempt for us is very telling. BLACK LIVES MATTER, yes, but apparently not if you dare ask for a safer venue in a 'prime' area," the group wrote.
The group has been at the forefront of helping Black British women with domestic violence. Earlier this year they interviewed Black British women who some said they were less likely to report instances of domestic violence because of concerns about deportations, which have become increasingly common for Caribbean communities in the United Kingdom.
The group is now looking to raise money to find a permanent home and to hire more counselors who can help women in need. To donate to Sistah Space, head over to their GoFundMe page here.
If you are a survivor or victim in the U.S. and it is an emergency, dial 911 or contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, or text LOVEIS to 22522. If it is an emergency in the U.K., call the police at 999, or for additional resources in Britain, you can dial the National Domestic Abuse hotline at 0808 2000 247.