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Working to end sexual violence

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The Vulnerability of Women With No Recourse to Public Funds, Sexual Violence and Exploitation

We live in a country that speaks so much of being tolerant, inclusive, and welcoming but this does not always match up with what is happening on the ground.

There are women in Scotland who have fled all sorts of dangers who are navigating life in this country whilst struggling with the traumas associated to being trafficked for sex, being subjected to marital rape, the victimhood of war related rape and sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence. The harsh reality is that immigration policy dictates that many of these women do not qualify to stay in women’s refuges or temporary accommodation.

Most of us assume that women’s organisations would be able to support us should we need it. Yet, people working in these organisations know that harsh immigration policy means that not everyone is able to access support. What do I mean by that? Not having the “correct” immigration status impacts on the kind of help available.

For example, women’s refuges are not funded to take in women that are not entitled to public funds (No Recourse to Public Funds/ NRPF) meaning staff have to find loopholes in the rules and use tact to get migrant women to fit into the criteria to allow them to be admitted to the refuge.

These women are either undocumented, people who have stayed beyond their visa deadline, people who have not succeeded in seeking asylum or they fall under the category of people that are described as “illegal”. No human is illegal. Some of these women are on special type visas or spousal visas, that come with rules that mean they cannot public funds, which means that they don’t qualify for the safety that women's refuges intend for women.

We hear so often in Scotland of human rights and women’s rights but clearly in this instance it appears that there are women who are more human and more woman than others. There are women that are not deemed worthy of protection. It is a violation of human rights when some women are left unprotected or left to convince the powers that be as to why they are worthy of being protected, whilst others are automatically protected by virtue of where they were born. Governments breach human rights and women’s rights because of their hostile policies towards migrant women seeking safety and protection, or their failure to mitigate these rules. All women should have the right to protection and security.

I have spoken to women who have said they have not reported when they have been violated because they know that their human rights are not respected, protected, or recognised within structural systems that have been put in place to oppress them. These women are left to figure things out themselves and to navigate situations of either survival or death. They resort to staying with members of the community, sleeping on people’s couches to escape being forced into selling or exchanging sex, or escaping sexual abuse at home only to be exploited further into sex work and the dangers that come with it sometimes by the very people they ran to. In this instance, women are trapped, left with no choice and are forced to go back to their abusers and endure further abuse. If not, she will become destitute with no support and no safety net.

The brutality does not end there. Reported instances of women in detention centres being sexually assaulted by male security guards are numerous. They are not only denied their dignity, because of definitions outlined by hostile immigration policies that don’t allow for their freedom, but migrant women are denied respect and safety.

The danger caused by dysfunctional government policies - where some migrant women are denied safety, security, protection, women’s rights, and human rights by being refused access into women’s refuges – demonstrates clearly how Government fails migrant women. We’re talking about women who experience sexual violence whose rights are further violated by hostile immigration policy that does not make room for migrant women to plan any route of safety and escape abusers.

Migrant women suffer the double-edged sword of abuse and exploitation by both the abuser and the system that denies them safety, neglects them, and pushes them further into the fringes of danger and the unknown. We must all raise our voices against No Recourse to Public Funds, so that all women have equal access to protection and safety.

This guest blog was written by Vicky Nyanga, founder and CEO of Project Esperanza. You can find out more about her work here.


If you've been affected by these issues, here are some things to know about our helpline:

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