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Gypsies and Travellers

Around 300,000 Gypsies and Travellers live in the UK. Around 200,000 live in houses and 100,000 in trailers (caravans). Some continue to live a nomadic life, travelling from area to area for part or all of the year. Around 25,000 Gypsies & Travellers are homeless and have nowhere legal to stop. It is important to recognise that Travellers are NOT all the same – they are individual communities. Gypsies, Roma and Travellers of Irish Heritage are identified as racial groups and covered by the Race Relations Acts as legitimate minority ethnic communities.. These communities are, therefore, subject to all the rights and protections under the Acts as enjoyed by all other minority ethnic communities. Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities frequently experience social exclusion and discrimination, which can be intentionally or unintentionally racist in character.

Domestic Violence

Research shows that domestic abuse is a significant health issue for the Gypsy & Traveller community. A recent study estimated that between 60% – 80% of women from travelling communities experience domestic abuse during their lives, compared to 25% of the female population generally. While many incidents of domestic abuse are perpetrated by husbands and intimate partners, other family members may be perpetrators of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is accepted as normal for many women. Trapped by culture, poor literacy and education, distrust of the police and social services, and fear of separation from family and friends, Gypsy and Travellers are far less likely to report an incident or to seek help. Domestic abuse, often physical violence, impacts upon the victim’s mental health and upon their children. The isolated nature of the communities can also lead to domestic abuse being seen as normal by successive generations of both men and women. This is a very hard to reach and vulnerable part of society who face discrimination on individual, institutional and societal levels.

Barriers to accessing Services and Support

  • Loss of community
  • Fear of racism
  • Concerns about living in a house
  • Beliefs that it is impossible to escape violence as the partner will find the women and children
  • Lack of knowledge of mainstream services and mistrust of authority
  • Racism by or within some refuges
  • Many refuges unable to take large families
  • Some refuges won’t take more than one Traveller woman

While the close-knit nature of Gypsy and Traveller communities is supportive, it can also act as a barrier to seeking help if a woman is unable to access services privately or is concerned that a member of the community may tell the perpetrator. Further accessibility issues such as problematic access to telephones and difficulty reading correspondence; make contacting services difficult for victims. Low literacy levels and frequent movement are likely to have an impact on victim’s knowledge of the services available. This lack of knowledge and awareness often means that victims are left with little choice but to remain with the perpetrator(s). When a victim decides to leave an abusive relationship they may also have to leave their whole community, which can mean leaving their culture and way of life and facing the prejudice of the settled population alone.

Cultural and social taboos exist amongst all travelling groups against involving the police when violence occurs. There is a cultural resistance to engage with the police for fear of repercussions from within the traveller community. Experiences of racism and inequality discourage many victims from accessing mainstream services, as well as a lack of understanding of the cultural issues and barriers that exist among professionals. Frontline services which may be able to identify cases of domestic abuse such as GPs are not always accessible to Gypsy and Traveller Women. Research has found evidence of large numbers of GPs who will not accept Travellers onto their practice lists. Due to these barriers it makes seeking help even more difficult for victims from Gypsy + Travelling backgrounds.

Further sources of help and advice

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