Disclaimer: This article covers domestic abuse and subjects which some readers may find disturbing. If you have been affected by any of the topics in this article please don’t hesitate to contact student support at [email protected] The names and details in this article have been changed to maintain privacy.
By Tehreem Sultan and Tom Kingsbury
In this month’s Feature, Gair Rhydd looks into domestic abuse in the UK and the devastating impact it has on its victims.
Shedding light on this pressing issue is important as it is often overlooked. This has been even more apparent during the coronavirus pandemic.
Emerging evidence demonstrates that there is a worrying increase in domestic abuse cases being reported. The impact of abuse and violence has an everlasting impact while affecting the victims’ mental health.
Gair Rhydd spoke to a student at university, who shared their account to help raise awareness of the struggles and the personal issues faced trying to complete their studies whilst reporting a case of domestic abuse.
According to a report by Universities UK, the majority of high-risk victims are university age, and those under 24 are most likely to suffer interpersonal violence.
In 2019, an estimated 2.4 million adults aged 16 to 70 experienced domestic abuse (1.6 million women and 786,000 men). The police recorded 746,219 domestic abuse-related crimes in the year ending March 2019, an increase of 24% from the previous year.
There is a need to reach out to students, staff and communities to raise awareness and identify victims in the UK. The process of reporting cases of abuse is often difficult, with questions inevitably raised throughout the process which often feel like a judgement or accusation of the victims of these crimes.
Whilst there can be a legal basis for handling cases in certain ways, often handling of abuse cases can leave the victims further distressed, and when a case is mishandled it can have a devastating impact.
Flora’s story: University, domestic violence, and the impact of victim blaming
Gair Rhydd learnt about the experience of Flora, and how it has impacted her.
In early 2019, Flora was on a night out with her friends. It was her flatmate’s birthday, and they went into town to celebrate.
After leaving, Flora realised she did not have her keys, and her flatmate was still out. She called her boyfriend, who recommended she ask a trusted friend of hers if she could stay at his for a few hours. Flora recounted that she felt his house was “a safe space”.
He said she could come over, which she did, and they went to go to sleep; he told her he had to be up early the next day. He messaged her boyfriend and flatmate, telling them Flora was safe.
He was sober, she was not. In the early hours of the morning, Flora was sexually assaulted.
Traumatised and full of fear, Flora knew she had to leave. She was able to stay calm, and removed herself from his home.
She recalled her conflicting emotions following the assault:
“I was emotionally shattered, embarrassed, and ashamed of what had happened.”
Flora had just experienced something awful, which nobody should have to experience. But in the coming weeks she would have to remain strong, as she was interviewed, examined, doubted, pitied, judged, and undermined.
The traumatic experience was, in Flora’s eyes, exacerbated by the handling of her case by officials.
Reporting her sexual assault to the police, she says she was interviewed twice within one hour, despite having been told she would not be asked to do so.
“Everything was incredibly rushed, and I felt like they were just trying to get my interview over with.”
She was also told she should give a spoken recount, though she had wanted to write it out, as it was “incredibly hard” to speak about such a traumatic experience.
Flora recounts that during her interview, she felt she was at blame, as she had not voiced the word ‘no’, and as she was questioned over how much she’d had to drink. She felt she was shamed for what she did despite being a victim of a crime.
The treatment she experienced by the police, Flora said, “made me blame myself for my assault, feel guilty for reporting, and has made me leave Cardiff behind, because I do not feel safe or protected any longer.”
She also felt that her case was poorly handled by her university when she reported the perpetrator; a fellow student.
To Flora, her experience was not fully acknowledged, and a delay over a period of months with few updates left her feeling ignored.
Flora said this of her experience reporting her sexual assault:
“Throughout these investigations, both criminal and at the University level, questions have come up about my behaviour and why I went to his house and bedroom that night. I was even blamed for what happened in this situation by a Cardiff detective when I reported this crime to the police.”
“A person cannot consent when they have been drinking, and if we keep letting students get away with this kind of behaviour, no one is going to feel that reporting crime is worth the agony of the process.”
The assault affected Flora physically and emotionally, but it also took its toll on her financially, and was a detriment to her mental health. Flora left Cardiff, feeling unsafe and far from home. This left her paying for accommodation she was not using, on top of the cost of her travel home.
She had medical costs too, and, unable to complete her degree, is still without the qualification she had been working towards.
Flora suffers from PTSD and Panic Disorder, a result of the assault as well as the painful experience of “continually having to recount my trauma, not being believed, and not being able to move on with my life.”
Flora has been receiving support, including psychotherapy, as she tries to recover. She says she has “found some sense of peace over the last year or so”.