Domestic violence charity threatens legal action over racism claims

Solace Women's Aid has said the allegations, published in The Independent on Sunday, were 'defamatory and untrue'

A London-based domestic violence charity has described allegations of racism made by current and former staff members as “defamatory and untrue” after they appeared on The Independent website. 

Allegations of “institutional racism and gaslighting” and a “harmful culture” at Solace Women's Aid were first made in an open letter, published on Twitter on Saturday, purportedly from a group of 30 current and former employees. 

A story containing further quotes from the signatories of the letter appeared in a story on The Independent on Sunday, which also claimed that six senior staff members had resigned citing racism concerns in just over six months.

The charity is threatening legal action over the story, Third Sector understands.

The letter on Twitter described “racism, persecution and consistent failings of staff” at the charity alongside dismissal of complaints and failure to take meaningful action. 

It called for the removal of a number of senior staff members and the trustee board who had “supported any forms of discrimination, workplace bullying and racism to become common place in the organisation”.

statement issued by the charity's trustees, chief executive and executive team said: “The Independent published yesterday defamatory and untrue allegations about Solace which we strongly refute. Solace is committed to intersectional feminism and is anti-racist.”

When asked byThird Sector which aspects of The Independent’s story the charity considered to be defamatory, a spokeswoman for Solace declined to cite specific accusations, but said the charity considered the whole story to be defamatory. 

She initially declined to comment further, saying the matter was “now the subject of legal action”, but later revealed that while the charity had asked The Independent to retract the story, and would consider legal action if it did not, no legal action had yet been launched.

In the statement on the Solace website, the charity’s leadership said: “We acknowledge there are always improvements we can make and we continue our journey in these areas. 

“Solace does not expect to be immune from criticism, but such criticism should be founded on evidence, and fair.”

It said the open letter on Twitter had not been shared directly with the charity. 

“Solace takes all complaints of discrimination in any form seriously and they are thoroughly investigated,” the statement said. 

It said the allegations in The Independent story had “previously been raised with Solace’s board".

The statement said: “We appointed independent investigators who reported directly to the board and, after extensive investigations in recent months, have found no evidence of systemic racism or bullying nor any evidence that Solace leadership is racist or bullying or that there was any breach of data protection.

“The board, chief executive and executive team provide strong leadership and oversight and are committed to living and upholding Solace’s values and principles. 

“We recognise that embedding and ensuring anti-racist and anti-oppressive practice takes time and Solace will need to continuously challenge ourselves to improve alongside wider society. This is one of the key principles of the organisation’s strategy.”

It went on to say that Solace took an “inclusive and intersectional feminist” approach to its work and would “continue to take active steps as a fully anti-racist organisation”.

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