For Our Daughters welcomes the news that Southall Black Sisters (SBS), the London based campaign against violence against women, is about to launch a campaign for a new homicide law of “suicide aggravated by harassment or violence”. SBS was set up in 1979 to meet the needs of black (Asian and African-Caribbean) and minority ethnic women.
Extrapolating from Home Office figures, SBS estimate that 10 women kill themselves every week after repeated abuse. They point out that, according to research published in 1992 in the British Journal of Psychiatry, attempted or successful suicide is more than three times higher among Asian women in the UK , especially among those aged between 15 and 24 years old.
There is no law in Britain against encouraging suicide without physical help. Only coroner’s courts can compel investigations into suicides and prosecutions are rare. In an article in the Guardian of 2oth March 2012, Pragna Patel of SBS said: “At best, convoluted efforts are being made to hold perpetrators of violent or abusive conduct to account when a suicide results. At worst, such deaths are not properly investigated at all. In our experience, in the face of violence or abuse, many women feel that they have no option but to self-harm or kill themselves. This state of affairs is especially disturbing in the context of a complete absence of any … effective criminal prosecutions of perpetrators of abuse who are demonstrably culpable in causing a woman or vulnerable person to commit suicide.”
Pragna Patel criticised the legal options available, saying it is up to campaigners to ask coroner’s courts to investigate why the suicide occurred. This, she said, is inadequate and “has enormous cost implications for campaigning groups like ours”. She added: “There has to be some means of ensuring that those responsible for causing someone to take their life, are held criminally liable. The current state of affairs in untenable and cannot therefore be justified,” she said. Patel wants the law to encompass mental damage. “If domestic violence or abuse results in psychological harm … there is no basis upon which to bring a criminal prosecution under the present law on manslaughter.”
Patel launched the campaign after taking up the case of 23-year-old Nosheen Azam, who was found engulfed in flames in her garden in Sheffield in 2005. Azam had come to the UK from Pakistan seven months earlier to live with her British husband, Amjid Hussein. According to Azam’s father Mohammed, she almost immediately, she began complaining to her family that she was being abused by some of her husband’s family. On the day she was found in flames, she had told her parents that she was frightened for her life, her father said. It is unknown whether someone tried to murder Azam, whether she was goaded into taking her own life, or whether she made her own decision to die. She now lies in a hospital bed, brain-dead with over 60% burns. She is, said her father, “a living corpse”.
“There has been no concerted effort to find out what drove Nosheen to attempt to take her own life,” said Patel. “If she had died, there would at least have been an inquest. Because there is no law of ‘suicide aggravated by domestic violence, however, there is no motivation for the police to investigate whether it is a case of provable encouragement to suicide, despite that being nearly the same thing as murder.”
SBS say such a law would also cover those who jump from high buildings after being jeered by onlookers or who kill themselves after being encouraged to do so over the internet. It would have wider applications in cases like that of Fiona Pilkington who killed herself and her disabled daughter after repeated abuse by youths near their home in Hinckley, Leicestershire and cases such as that of Shaun Dykes the 17-year-old boy who jumped off a shopping centre in Derby in 2008 after being goaded by onlookers. Film footage appeared on YouTube.
For Our Daughters welcomes this campaign and will support it in every way it can.
Note: This report was prepared and posted by Jean Calder on 21st March 2012. It draws substantially on Amelia Hill’s report in the Guardian of 20th March 2012.