Improving DV Services

Yesterday the Prime Minister announced a consultation on Domestic Violence which would result in new measures to help victims.

Whilst I am not necessarily against any new ideas which could potentially help improve and secure more convictions against abusers, I do think that perhaps more can and should be done with existing services to enable victims of DV to be better supported when trying to escape an abusive relationship.

It appeared as if much of the Prime Minister’s discussion on improving services to DV victims, focused on services within the Criminal Justice System. In my experience however, the CJS is only a small piece of what is involved in fleeing domestic violence, and in my opinion it is important to improve services across all sectors who offer support to victims of domestic violence.

Based on my own personal experience, one of the biggest areas that needs improving is the need for partner agencies to work together, not against each other, to better enable a victim to leave an abusive relationship and refrain from returning to that relationship.

One of the biggest complaints I have witnessed from professionals is the struggle to convince a victim to leave an abusive relationship, only to see the victim return to the very same relationship and for the abuse to be repeated and, more often than not, escalate.

Whilst ultimately I did not return to my long-term abusive marriage, during the period in which I fled with my two children, and during our multiple relocations, there were countless times when it would have been easier, less complicated and far less stressful to simply return to the relationship rather than face the bureaucracy of partner agencies failing to work together.

MARAC (Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences) is a meeting held with representatives and/or specialists from both statutory partners as well as voluntary sectors (police, fire, probation, social services, education, health, housing, IDVAs) to share information on high risk domestic violence cases. The primary focus of the MARAC is to safeguard the adult victim and representatives from each sector discuss options for increasing safety and a co-ordinated action plan is drawn up for the victim.

My case was referred to MARAC eight times in the space of 12 months – not because I failed to engage with services, but as a result of agencies failing to stick to the agreed action plan and work together.

The first time my case was referred to MARAC, I remember my IDVA explaining to me that this was the best opportunity I had for agencies to come together around one table to discuss my case and put an action plan together to enable me to safely leave my violent marriage and to help secure our safety. The practicalities were somewhat different however – here are a few of the difficulties we encountered and whilst they are my own personal experiences I have heard other victims recount similar experiences:

At the first MARAC where my case was heard, it was agreed by all representatives from all agencies present that due to the high level of risk to both myself and my children, no individual or agency other than the police officers working on our case were to contact either my husband or extended family. However, within 24 hours of the MARAC meeting, the social worker assigned to our case had contacted my husband, as well as my mother and mother-in-law and informed them I had reported the abuse to authorities and the children and I were being moved by police out of the family home.

I was violently assaulted as a direct result of the Social Worker’s disclosure. My case was referred back to MARAC and once again the decision was made and agreed by all agencies present that no individual other than the police were to be in contact with my husband or extended family. The decision was also taken to relocate us for a second time. Within days of the MARAC meeting, the social worker once again made contact with my husband to inform him of the decision to move us again. The social worker went on to disclose the address of our safe location and a further violent assault occurred.

Whilst the police officers involved in our safeguarding were exasperated by the actions of the Social Worker they stated they could take no action against her as she worked for another partner agency. I was advised by police that the only way to stop the Social Worker from disclosing any further information would be to hire legal counsel to represent the children and I.

I find it perplexing that although decisions are made and agreed by all present at a MARAC meeting, if one partner agency then explicitly goes against a decision which has been made, they are not then held accountable to MARAC. How can that be productive?   The police made the decision that we needed to leave the family home, a decision I engaged with and followed, and yet a decision which went on to be compromised by a partner agency.

Another issue we came across involved a different partner agency, this time Education. Due to the failings from Social Services, the decision was made for the children and I to be relocated completely out of the area and into a new part of the country. Our case was once again referred back to MARAC. A decision was made by the new Police Force and agreed to by all representatives at MARAC for both children to be placed in the same school. I was informed of this decision and advised to complete the necessary paperwork.

I completed the necessary ‘In-Year’ application forms applying for the children to be admitted to the same school and submitted them to the Education Department. I was informed the application process would take 6 weeks, during which time the children would be out of school. I was also informed that there was no school within the area in which we lived which could accommodate both children – either there was an available space for the eldest but not for the youngest or vice versa.

During the children’s 6 week absence from school, I was contacted by the Education Department and informed I would be charged for ‘wilfully keeping my children out of education’.

At the end of the 6 week process I was informed that my eldest child had been accepted at the school we had applied for, but there was no space for the youngest child. Instead I was offered a place in another school 9 miles away for the youngest. The police would not accept the children being placed in two different schools and I was instructed to appeal the Education Department’s decision – a process which took an additional 6 weeks during which time my youngest child remained out of school. For the appeal process to take place I had to submit documentation in support of my appeal which required documentation from MARAC about their decision to have the children placed in the same school. However, I was informed that for safeguarding reasons MARAC were unable to provide any documentation. My IDVA spoke to the ChSupt who was overseeing our case who stated he would first have to speak to the Police Legal Department before providing us with the required documentation.

Finally a hearing was held 3 months after the initial school application to consider my case. The hearing was attended by a legal representative from the Council, a representative from the Education Department, and myself. The Education Department presented their case first and spoke for 30 minutes on why it was not possible to place the children in the same school. I was then given the opportunity to present my case at which time I submitted the documentation provided by the ChSupt of our local Police Force. On reading the evidence supplied by the ChSupt, the Chair of the hearing stated, “why is this case even being brought before this hearing, if the Police state that for safeguarding reasons the two children concerned need to be placed in the same school, then no one in their right mind would go against that decision.”

I find it incomprehensible that the Head of Education was present at the MARAC meeting in which our case was discussed, and in which MARAC were informed we were being relocated into the area due to previous agency failings in our case. A decision was made by all parties present that for safeguarding reasons the children needed to be placed in the same school, and yet there was no fast-track application process for this to happen through MARAC. Instead we had to endure a process which took 3 months (during which time my child was out of school) and included submitting documentation which had already been shared in MARAC for this issue to be resolved.

These are only a few of the issues which we had to endure when fleeing our domestic violence and it was as a result of these difficulties that I often thought of returning to the abusive relationship as it would have been easier than having to navigate the bureaucracy of agencies failing to work together.

It is not just the CJS where improvements are needed to provide necessary support to victims of domestic violence – all support agencies and partner agencies need to improve their practices of working together to enable better and safer outcomes for victims. Escaping domestic violence involves so much more than just a criminal conviction and to only look at the CJS for improvements is short-sighted in my view.

Effects of Changing Police Priorities on Victims

John Sutherland (@policecommander) posted a blog this week titled ‘Policing Challenges in 2017’ https://policecommander.wordpress.com/2017/01/05/policing-challenges-in-2017/   An important read, it is both an honest and open blog detailing the current challenges facing the Police Service as we head into 2017 and beyond. It is a blog which is much needed in order for the general public to gain a better understanding of the questions and decisions being posed of UK Policing.

John quite rightly highlights that not everything can be a priority – that the police can’t simply ‘do it all’ – and “if we want more of something, there will have to be less of something else”.

John also points out that in making the tough decisions of what the police should or shouldn’t prioritise, will inevitably lead to a differing of opinions. Of course burglary victims will consider burglaries of primary importance, so too will anyone who has lost a close friend or family member to a drunk/drug driver. Victims of knife crime will insist knife crime be top of the agenda, whilst victims of fraud and cybercrime jostle to have top billing. Of course the ever increasing threat of terrorism and radicalisation cannot be ignored or pushed aside. And let’s not forget about CSA, CSE, Rape, Trafficking, Domestic Abuse, Forced Marriage, Honour based killings, FGM. The list is endless.

The challenges identified by John begs the question of what impact does all of this have on victims? How do we, as victims, remain confident in the Police Service that they will have the time, money and resources available to thoroughly investigate the crimes we report?

As a past victim of CSA, CSE, Rape, Trafficking and Domestic Violence, I am naturally concerned about the effect it will have on future victims if these crimes are no longer considered a priority. I can only begin to imagine the effect it would have on a victim, having finally found the courage to report one of these horrific crimes to police, to be told there is insufficient funds or no staff available to carry out forensic testing of a computer/laptop/mobile phone to gain evidence of the reported crime needed for the case to proceed. What effects would it have if Police are forced to announce they can no longer offer advice or support to those wishing to escape Domestic Violence?

What about the difference in priorities across different Police Force areas? High Risk DV victims are often forced to relocate across county borders when fleeing their abuser, something I had to do multiple times. What effect does it have on a victim if their original Police Force area considered DV as a priority crime, yet when the victim is forced to relocate into another Police Force Area, the new area considers DV to be much lower down on the priority list and therefore not able to offer the same level of support?

These are potentially very real issues facing victims. If the police cannot continue to do it all, then who is going to step up and catch the ball? Victims will be faced with having to turn to, and rely on, support agencies, organisations and charities for help, support and advice. However, how will these organisations and charities cope with the added increase in the number of individuals they will be faced with supporting, when many of these organisations/charities are struggling with funding/staffing issues themselves?

Is it time that we, as a society, have to accept that we all have a role to play in these changing and challenging times? Towards the end of last year there were calls for the topic of “consent” to be made part of compulsory education in High Schools and for “healthy relationships” to form part of the national curriculum for young children starting at age 5. Many were opposed to the idea stating that as parents they should have the ability to decide what, if any, information they share with their children and at what age. Whilst education is far from being the single solution to these growing problems, it certainly goes a long way to helping.

Has the time not come for us to face the realities listed in John’s blog and to realise that as parents, teachers, youth leaders etc. that we are going to have to fill the void being created and unless we take the necessary actions required, it could all end in disaster?

 

Christmas – But is it Happy?

December as a whole is a difficult month for me, filled with plenty of challenges and mixed emotions, made even more difficult as it’s my girls’ favourite time of year. If I were being honest I would much prefer to close my eyes on the evening of 30th November and wake up in January, having skipped December altogether.

One of my biggest struggles is the expectation that this is a joyous time of year, a time for friends and families to unite and celebrate their love and friendship. For me in particular, it serves to remind me of how alone and isolated we are.

December doesn’t particularly carry many happy memories for me either. It was a time of year for me when my abuse was heightened. I was trafficked more readily at this time of year as a child and my husband’s violence was more pronounced during the Christmas season. Whilst all around me celebrated the season of goodwill, my abuse intensified. I grew to both fear and dread December.

Now that I no longer find myself in the abusive situation anymore, I feel the burden of expectation of having to be joyous – the responsibility of creating Christmas for my children falls solely and squarely on my shoulders. I don’t want my children to see my pain or to realise how much I dread this time of year, the time of year when my risk of suicide is at its highest. I do all that I can to hide my pain from them.

Christmas time is the time for the giving and receiving of gifts – another aspect I struggle with, the receiving of gifts. As I was trafficked as both a child and an adult, my ‘gift’ involved being presented to another individual to be raped or sexually assaulted. If, on the rare occasion, I was given a gift I really wanted I was expected to ‘pay’ for it in return. A condition always attached to the receiving of a gift. I still struggle with receiving gifts from others, even my own children, as I never know what condition is attached to the gift. If asked what I would like as a gift, I often request no gift, simply because I fear the expectation attached to the gift. My eldest daughter does not like me to go without and so will make me a gift, whilst my youngest chooses to respect my request of no gift.  Conversely, I love to give gifts simply because I give unconditionally. It provides me with great joy to give a gift knowing it is given freely and without expectation. I love the simple pleasure of giving.

So at this time of year, whilst my thoughts are naturally with my children and with the friends I have made, my thoughts too go to those who find this time of year a struggle, particularly those who are dealing with the consequences of abuse.

May we all find a little kindness in our hearts for those whom we love and for those who struggle during this season.

“Accept nothing; Believe no-one”

An overview of the Hendriques report into Operation Midland was published by the MET Police on Tuesday.

Much discussion surrounding the issue of believing the victim has followed. Turning to social media in the wake of the report, I have seen countless serving front-line police officers relentlessly repeating the mantra “Accept nothing; Believe no-one”.

I wish to express my own personal views on why I consider this mantra to be so very damaging to victims.

Following a visit to my local SARC (Sexual Assault Referral Centre) after a particularly violent rape, I was encouraged by support workers to report the on-going abuse to police. I followed the advice and went to my local neighbourhood police station and requested to speak to an officer. I spent just over an hour with the officer giving him a very brief overview of the abuse. When I had finished, he put his pen down, sat back in his chair and stated, “my job as an officer is to accept nothing you have told me and to believe no-one’s version of events”. He then continued, “I don’t believe what you have just told me because firstly, things like this simply don’t occur in our green, leafy, middle-class area. Secondly, you appear to be an educated woman and educated women don’t allow these sort of things to happen”. He finished off his insult by saying, “and anyway, you derived sexual gratification from the experience”. I walked out of the police station feeling utterly humiliated and degraded, so much for being told things have changed and progressed within the police service.

I am sure that would have been the end of my involvement with police, however during my visit to the SARC a risk assessment had been carried out and forwarded to MARAC (Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference). At 9am on the morning following the MARAC conference I was called into a meeting with my IDVA and a police officer from the Public Protection Unit. During this meeting I was informed by the police officer that they had assessed me as being of high risk of being murdered by my husband. Due to the severity of the on-going violence the decision had been made and agreed by all present at MARAC that for the safety of myself and my children, I was required to leave the family home within the next 24 hours.

I still find it incomprehensible how having given both police officers the same information, the front-line officer can respond saying he doesn’t believe anything I told him, yet a second police officer from a different unit within the same police force, can state I’m at significant risk of being murdered. The stark contrast between being believed and not believed.

My decision to visit the SARC was not taken lightly and was most certainly not a spur of the moment decision. It is something I considered at great length. The over-riding factors which influenced my decision to ultimately contact the SARC were:

1)I needed medical attention as I was injured as a result of the frequent rapes

2)Attending the SARC did not require me having to report the abuse to police.

My sexual abuse lasted 39 years and involved multiple abusers. From a very young age I was taught that if I ever dared tell anyone, especially anyone in authority, what was happening, I wouldn’t be believed. In fact not only would I not be believed but I would be the one in trouble, I would be the one investigated and most likely go to jail for my part in what was occurring, for my wrong-doing. As this message was given from such a young age and repeated frequently by my many abusers, it was a message which I wholeheartedly believed and never questioned. Fear of speaking out and not being believed and the consequences thereof ensured my silence and kept me trapped in the abuse for 39 years.

I have spoken to numerous abuse victims since and many repeat the same story – fear of speaking out and not being believed keeps them silent.

As a victim deciding on whether or not to seek help, I turned to the internet and social media to see what options were available to me.

If I were a victim turning to social media now for the very first time looking for options, and I saw first-hand front-line police officers openly and publicly stating that should I choose to report my sexual assault to police, the events as I described them would not be accepted nor would they be believed, then you have lost me at the very first hurdle. If the door to the option of me reporting my assault to police has been well and truly slammed in my face from the very first knock, then you have lost me at the first opportunity and you have played straight into the hands of my abusers. My abusers have warned and threatened me that you would not believe me and you have simply confirmed those threats.

Do police officers honestly believe that a victim would voluntarily come forward and report sexual assaults having been informed that their account will not be believed or accepted? Do they honestly believe that a victim wants to put themselves in the position of being humiliated and told they are not believed?

This is the very real danger and concern I have of seeing the mantra “Accept nothing; Believe no-one” incessantly repeated.

 

The second concern I have following the publication of the report, is the large number of individuals (including serving police officers) calling for victims to be investigated for attempting to pervert the course of justice for those cases in which:

1)The victim retracts/withdraws their statement

2)The case does not proceed to charge

Figures were released last month of the high percentage of recorded cases of sexual assaults that do not proceed to charge. The majority of victims are already aware that they have a very slim chance of their case succeeding to court, let alone achieving a conviction. However, if they are now to discover that they themselves will subsequently face an investigation for perverting the course of justice simply because their case has not proceeded to charge, then once again the option of reporting the abuse is taken away. Very few victims will be open to taking that risk.

We need to consider very carefully the options provided to victims to encourage and enable them to confidently and safely come forward and report abuse, not threaten them into remaining silent.

Missing the Point

Much has been said over the past few days regarding the verdict of the Ched Evans rape trial. Campaigners supporting rape victims have spoken out of their fear for the way in which the trial was allowed to be conducted, together with the not-guilty verdict and how this will have a direct negative effect on future victims being willing to report these incidents.

Professionals from the legal field as well as the policing field have been quick to point out the legal reasons justifying why the victim’s previous sexual history was allowed to form part of the Defence’s evidence and calling on victims to not let this trial deter them coming forward to report any incidents of rape.

However, the point these professionals seem to be missing is, no matter how justified that legal decision was, the way in which the victim has been publicly degraded and humiliated by the Defence team throughout this trial, is the lasting and stand out memory many victims will remember.

I cannot believe there is a person out there who would wish to volunteer to be so publicly shamed.

Not only has the victim suffered such humiliation in the court room, but with the verdict of not-guilty she must now face a large section of society who believe that a not-guilty verdict equates to the suspect being innocent and that in turn leads many to believe and accuse the victim of lying about the incident.

Again, it becomes irrelevant for professionals to point out that a not-guilty verdict simply means the jury felt there was insufficient evidence to convict.

With so many members of society being willing to shame victims of not-guilty rape trials by labelling them as liars and calling for them to prosecuted for perverting the course of justice, there must be little wonder why future victims will look at the outcome of this trial and be reluctant to come forward.

Of course it doesn’t stop there. Sadly the victim has once again been named on social media, and the threat of legal action does little to dissuade those from continuing to break the law providing life-long anonymity. There have even been some despicable calls for the victim to go on and kill herself.

Having been through a rape trial myself, I know the devastating impact a court case can have, and I have yet to meet a rape victim who has been through the CJS and stated that the court case wasn’t a horrific experience.

Unless and until society as a whole, together with the Criminal Justice System, implements changes to stop this appalling treatment of rape victims there is no doubt that trials like Ched Evans will have damaging effects on future victims being willing to come forward and report incidents of rape.

Criticism of Police

Recently I have been criticised for my criticism of police – labelled as ‘anti-police’ and ‘cop hater’, all because I’ve dared to question the attitudes, beliefs or comments of some officers.

Whilst I don’t deny questioning or challenging certain negative behaviour from police officers (and feel justified in doing so), I have also given credit where it has been due.  Following the verdict of the court case in December, I took time to publicly thank those individual police officers, whom I had met via Twitter, for the time and effort they had each given to help rebuild my faith in the police service, without which I wouldn’t have proceeded with the court case.  I also published a blog https://wordpress.com/post/ivy1428.wordpress.com/86 to express my gratitude to all those officers who have had a positive influence on our lives.

Although I will always try to praise the good work carried out by those police officers who work hard and do all they can as often as they can to help those in need of assistance, this will not stop me questioning those whose attitudes, beliefs or behaviour warrants challenging.  Personally, I don’t think this amounts to being ‘anti-police’ or a ‘cop hater’.

I haven’t publicly shared the reasons for my initial critical view of the police service as a whole, but will share a little of my experience now which will hopefully provide some insight and offer an explanation for my negative views at times.

My sexual abuse was first brought to the attention of police in the late 80’s when I was 17.  Two A&E consultants contacted police over concerns of injuries they had uncovered during a hospital admission.  The police dismissed their written reports stating they had spoken to my alleged abuser who had denied any wrongdoing.  I was subsequently released back into his care.  I fully accept that the 80’s were a completely different era and incidents of abuse were not handled as seriously or as sensitively as they are now.

Imagine my utter disappointment then when I was encouraged to contact police in late 2014 to report on-going sexual and domestic violence, to be met with a police officer informing me that he didn’t believe me and that I had derived sexual gratification from my abusive experience.  25 years on and attitudes and beliefs didn’t appear to have changed much.

What followed were months of chaotic and disjointed investigations in which multiple officers from various different divisions and even different police forces were involved, none of whom were willing to share information or communicate with each other.

At the very start of the investigation I was asked to take part in a number of interviews which were used as a ‘scoping exercise’ to determine the complexity of the case, and to decide who would be best placed to manage and further investigate the case.  It emerged earlier this year (2016) following an internal review, that my case was initially handed to the DV Unit for them to manage.  Whilst they were prepared to investigate the case against my husband, they were not prepared to investigate the sexual offences carried out by his colleagues/associates whom he had involved in my abuse.  The case was subsequently handed to the Sexual Offences Unit for them to investigate.  They deemed the offences were linked to trafficking and passed the case to the unit dealing with trafficking for sexual exploitation.  However, because I was being trafficked by members of my own family my case didn’t fall within their remit.  As I had been forced into marrying my husband they passed my case onto the Forced Marriage Unit.  Once again, because my forced marriage was for sexual exploitation reasons and not due to cultural or religious beliefs they refused to take ownership of the case.  As each specialised unit had deemed that my case did not fit their individual remit, my case was eventually handed back to the original CID officer from my local Neighbourhood Poling Team for him to investigate.

As the CID officer from my local police station had not previously investigated any DV or Rape cases (his remit was burglary, theft, drunk/drug related offences, shop lifting and physical assaults) he decided he would only investigate the incidents which occurred within his geographical area, the rest he passed on to the police stations/forces in which the additional incidents had occurred for them to conduct their own investigations.  This involved a further 18 individual officers.  I requested that one officer be appointed as my ‘Point of Contact’ in order that I didn’t have to deal with each of these separate officers, but this request was refused.  I also requested that one officer be appointed to conduct the video interviews for each of the sexual offences involving the different offenders.  Again, this request was refused and I was informed that each of the separate officers would conduct their own individual video interviews.

I’m sure I do not need to explain the level of distress this caused.  I recall attending one interview with a CID officer from a different division.  Thankfully my IDVA attended the police station with me.  The incident he was investigating was a physical assault which had been carried out in his geographical area by an offender who had previously raped me.  Prior to the interview being conducted I was led into a meeting room with my IDVA.  There I was instructed by the CID officer that I was only to discuss the events relating to the actual physical assault during the interview, under no circumstances whatsoever was I to mention that the offender had previously raped me.  In his words, “that’s not my remit, I don’t handle rape cases, someone else will speak to you about that”.  After asking me if we were clear I was then led off to complete the interview.

Ten days later I was sat in a Multi-Agency Case Conference Meeting attended by over 15 professionals.  The Police Safeguarding Officer handed over her report in which it stated that I had refused to co-operate with police by refusing to provide a police statement for the rape by this individual.  I was beyond speechless.  My IDVA immediately interrupted the meeting to state that she had attended the police station with me 10 days prior and had been present when I was instructed by the CID officer not to discuss the rape.  The Chair of the meeting interjected by stating that the CID officer referred to, was not currently present at the meeting to either confirm or deny what had been said, and therefore the report stating I was refusing to co-operate with police would stand.

That is one of the main reasons I will not trust what a police officer tells me.  When a police officer can instruct you to not disclose information, you comply, and they then go on to write a report stating you refused to provide information ……. There are simply no words for that level of betrayal.  From that moment on, any meeting that I am required to attend with police I won’t do unless accompanied by legal representation.

Whilst all of this was going on, we were also being relocated multiple times for safeguarding reasons.  Even when we moved to a new force area, the DI in charge of our safeguarding requested that the investigation process be consolidated and overseen by one specialised unit in order to better facilitate our safeguarding.  His request was refused.  As such, he found it impossible to try to continue to safeguard us with the number of individuals involved in our case and except for the one case which proceeded to court in December he advised and requested that I withdraw from all additional cases, a request which I agreed to.

I now have in excess of 250 pages from various reviews which have been carried out in relation to our case (Internal Review, Independent Review and Serious Case Review).  The reviews highlight all the errors which occurred during the management and investigation of our case.  Whilst I have received written apologies from every other agency involved in our case for the errors which occurred in their management and handling of the case, I have, to date, not received any apology from my original Police Force for the errors which occurred during their management and investigation of our case.

Whilst I have been assured that ‘Lessons will be learnt’ I am not convinced that any actions or changes have been implemented to ensure that the same mistakes do not reoccur in the future.

It is as a result of my own personal experience that I continue to challenge and question negative attitudes, beliefs or behaviour from within the Police Service as I would hate for any other individual to ever have to endure what we faced.  I don’t believe that my criticism amounts to being ‘anti-police’ or a ‘cop hater’ and hope that by sharing this little bit of my story will help provide more clarity as to why I choose to question and challenge.

 

DV-Safeguarding a Safe Address

Earlier this week, the case of Mary Shipstone (7) was reported in the news. Mary was murdered by her estranged father when the location of the safe house both Mary and her mother were living in after fleeing Domestic Violence, was inadvertently disclosed to her father. Mary returned home from school to be confronted by her father who proceeded to shoot Mary in the head in front of her Mother, Lyndsey. After killing Mary, her father then turned the gun on himself.

A serious case review reported evidence that details of their previous addresses or identity were also made available to the father by various agencies/organisations.

Attempting to keep the location of your safe address after fleeing Domestic Violence, is a constant battle and perhaps even, nigh on impossible.

My daughters and I have been relocated 4 times by police as a result of being identified as being at high risk of murder due to Domestic Abuse. Some of the relocations have involved moving to different counties which in turn has resulted in different Police Forces and different Local Authorities being involved in our case. Each of the relocations have occurred due to the location of our safe address being disclosed to my ex-husband by agencies (Social Services, Court) involved in our case.

A recent safeguarding error by the girls’ school has caused concern over the possible disclosure of our current location. It is these errors that I wish to highlight in today’s blog, as there may be many other Domestic Violence victims who could potentially face similar issues.

Both my daughters attend the same High School. When we joined the school, a safeguarding meeting was held with the school’s Safeguarding Manager, a Police Officer, and myself in attendance. The Police Officer provided a list of safeguarding measures which needed to be strictly adhered to and these were agreed by all parties.

The school operates a computer program called ‘School Information Management System’ (SIMS) in which the personal details of each and every pupil, along with an ID photo is stored. All teachers and admin staff have access to this system. SIMS allows for each pupil to be placed into their Form Class on the system. A hard copy of each Form Class (including each pupil’s ID photo and name) is printed out and stuck on the wall of each Head of Year’s Office.

Last school year (2015/2016) my eldest daughter was in Year 11. On the last day of their lessons (June 2016, prior to writing their GCSE exams), the Head of Year took all the hard copies of the Form Class lists (which included photos and names of all the pupils), fanned them out on his desk, and took a ‘keepsake’ photo. He then uploaded this photo onto his personal, official Social Media Sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) with a ‘goodbye and good luck’ caption. The photo was also uploaded across the School’s Official Social Media Sites. My daughter’s class happened to be the top list and her photo, as well as new name, were clearly visible in the ‘keepsake’ photo. The photo was uploaded in the afternoon, however we only became aware of its presence on Social Media after 5pm that day. By this time the school had closed and I had no way of speaking to anyone to have the photo removed. The photo remained on Social Media throughout the night, being shared countless times across all Social Media platforms by numerous school pupils.

I was only able to meet with the Safeguarding Manager the next morning at 9am. The photo was removed from the school teacher’s own social media sites as well as from the School’s official sites but, as previously mentioned, not before it had been shared by pupils countless times across a variety of Social Media Platforms.

Two weeks after this incident, my youngest daughter’s year were holding a charity fundraising event at school during lunch. Both the girls know they are not permitted to appear in any school photos. If they are aware that any photos are due to be taken they make sure to inform the person taking the photo that they cannot be included, and take every precaution to step well out of the shot. On this particular occasion, my youngest was not aware that anyone was taking photos. A teacher had come to take photos of the charity event in order for it to be publicised, however she had not informed anyone that photos would be taken and she didn’t announce that she was taking photos. As such, my daughter didn’t notice photos were being taken and she was included in some of the photos. After lunch, once the charity event had finished, the teacher uploaded the photos onto all of the school’s official Social Media sites. Once again, we only became aware of the photos on Social Media after 5pm. The photos were shared by numerous pupils as well as being shared by the charity who the funds were being raised for. Once more, I had to wait until 9am the next morning before I could request for the photos to be removed.

As a result of these two mistakes, additional safeguarding measures have now been put in place – 1) The girls have been introduced to the Social Media Manager in person so she is aware of who they are. Any photos that are due to be uploaded onto the school social media sites from now onwards will be scanned by her, if they contain any images of the girls they will be deleted prior to appearing on the site (this however only includes photos being uploaded onto the school’s main social media sites, it does not include photos posted by teachers onto their own individual, official sites). 2) I have been given the mobile number of the Assistant Safeguarding Manager so I have a way of contacting a school official out of hours should a photo appear on any of the school’s sites out of hours. This will allow for it to be deleted as soon as possible without having to wait for the school to reopen the next day.

Unfortunately, I have had to attend a further two meetings this past week with the school for additional safeguarding issues.

Every teacher throughout the school creates their own individual subject page on ‘Google Classroom’. On their page they post teaching notes, assignments, homework etc. pupils can also email their teacher through these pages to ask subject related questions. Each child is provided a unique login which is required to access ‘Google Classroom’.

My eldest daughter has now moved up to Sixth Form in the school. Whilst I appreciate that Sixth Form is seen as a completely separate unit, classes are still held within the same school buildings, by the same school teachers as before. They have the same Head Teacher and the Safeguarding Manager still covers Sixth Form.

As with most schools, at the start of the school year there is a fairly significant change of pupils in Sixth Form, with some pupils having left the school and new pupils from other local schools having arrived. As a result of the changes, one of my daughter’s subject teachers accessed the SIMS database and uploaded all the photos and names of the pupils in her class, created a document containing these photos and names, and posted this document on her Google Classroom page. Unfortunately some of the pupils took screenshots of the document with the photos and posted it to their own social media sites.

I again went into school to discuss this issue with the Head of Sixth Form (someone I had not previously met as my daughter has only just moved up into Sixth Form). I was astounded to discover that he was completely unaware of our safeguarding issues surrounding our Domestic Violence. Neither the Safeguarding Manager nor my daughter’s previous Head of Year had passed any of this information onto him. A complete breakdown of communication and vital information sharing.

As a result of this latest error, both girls ID photos have been removed from SIMS so as to avoid any further incidents.

Finally, yesterday my youngest daughter was informed that as part of their GCSE coursework assignments, some subjects will require to video pupils as evidence they have completed the work (in particular PE, English). Not every video will be sent off, however on completion of the work the exam board selects a random sample for moderation. The school is required to send the videos of the selected pupils off to the exam board. This of course poses a serious safeguarding issue for us – I have no way of knowing who will view that video (potentially the examiner could be an associate or friend of my ex, knowing he is still searching for us, our location could be provided to him via this route). I met with my daughter’s Head of Year yesterday to discuss this issue. As this is a new exam requirement starting this year (videos have not previously been required) she is not sure what preventative action can be taken and has promised to look into this issue for me. I await her feedback, I am hopeful that special circumstances can be invoked and either a moderator visit the school to view my daughter undertaking the coursework or that she be excluded from any sample group requiring videos.

To conclude, whilst all of these incidents occurring at school have been genuine ‘mistakes’, as can be seen in Mary Shipstone’s case, mistakes can have devastating and catastrophic consequences. The safeguarding of safe addresses for victims of Domestic Violence requires all agencies and organisations to work together cohesively. Every agency and organisation has a responsibility to have policies and procedures set in place to ensure that the costly mistake of inadvertently disclosing a victim’s safe address does not occur.

 

Mental Health and Suicide

*Trigger Warning: blog discussion on suicide

 

Once again I find myself making plans to end my life. I know within my heart that I will end my life one day. I have tried and failed on multiple previous occasions – you would hope by now that I would know how to get it right. This time I think, at least I hope, I have a fail-proof plan. I know the ‘where’ and I know the ‘how’, I’m just waiting for that final trigger for the ‘when’ to fall into place.

Not a day goes by when you read a statement, whether it be on social media or see it on TV or read it in the paper, “talk to someone, reach out and talk to someone, ask for help”.

Talk to who I wonder? Talk about what I ask? Sometimes the effort required to talk, the motivation to reach out, is simply far greater than the reward.

I have noticed my mental health declining of late. I am powerless to stop the deterioration and even more powerless to rectify it. I suppose, if I really think about it, it started to worsen within a few weeks following the conclusion of my allocated 24 trauma therapy sessions. The decline started slowly at first, and I doubt I even began to notice it, far less acknowledge it. However, things have become significantly worse over recent weeks, so much so that even I can no longer deny it.

I often hear people say, “it will pass; keep fighting; don’t give up; think of how far you’ve come, how much you’ve already survived; focus on the light at the end of the tunnel; never lose hope” etc. etc.

I find myself asking, “when will it pass – or more importantly how will it pass”? How exactly will this pass?

Imagine if we said to an asthmatic, “here are 24 inhalers to treat your condition, once they’re finished you will be required to manage your asthma on your own”.

Or

Imagine if we told someone suffering with diabetes, “here are 24 doses of the medication you require to treat your disease, after the doses are finished you will be required to manage the disease on your own”

Or

Imagine if we told an organ transport recipient, “here are 24 doses of immunosuppressive medication, once you’ve taken them your body needs to have learnt how to manage without them – don’t allow your immune system to attack the new organ”.

Or

Imagine we told an individual suffering with heart disease, “here are 24 doses of medication that will help keep you alive, after you have completed this course you will be required to manage the disease on your own”.

Would we expect any individuals with the physical illnesses listed above to be treated with only 24 doses of medication? Would we tolerate this sort of treatment?

If the answer to either of those 2 questions is ‘No’ then why is it acceptable to treat someone with a life-long mental health condition with only 24 treatment sessions? How can an individual with complex mental health problems be expected to self-manage the condition on their own?

Would we expect an asthmatic/diabetic/heart disease/organ transplant patient’s condition to improve without medical intervention? How then can we expect a mental health patient’s condition to improve without suitable mental health intervention?

To those who say, “this will pass, things will get better” ……. I re-ask the question, “how exactly are things going to improve, how exactly will this pass”? With no adequate mental health support or intervention, how will my condition improve?

For those who are unfamiliar with my background, I was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, severe anxiety and depression 19 months ago. My MH condition resulted from 39 years of sexual violence, involving Child Sexual Abuse, Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation and Forced Marriage. As well as the sexual violence, I also endured 43 years of physical violence and psychological abuse.   Whilst the diagnosis was made 19 months ago following a Mental Health Assessment (late 2014), due to on-going criminal cases I was not able to access Mental Health treatment until January 2016. The NHS Psychiatrist and Psychologist who made the initial diagnosis agreed that a minimum of 3 years, weekly, intensive sessions were required to have any hope of managing my condition. However, due to the demand on local NHS Mental Health services and lack of resources I was allocated a total of 24 psychological therapy sessions with a specialised trauma Psychologist.

Whilst I acknowledge that I accomplished a lot during those 24 sessions, it was always going to be unrealistic to expect any significant or permanent progress. In the 12 months prior to starting the sessions I had 2 suicide attempts. Each and every day was filled with suicidal thoughts. It was a relief to finally notice that these thoughts had greatly reduced towards the end of the 24 sessions. Sadly, they have started to creep back in over time and once again I find they have become a daily occurrence.

I’ve been told to, “not lose hope”. Hope of what? Hope that I will fall asleep one night and wake up to discover that my memory of all the violence and abuse will suddenly have disappeared? Hope that next week the government will announce that thousands of fully qualified Psychologists have miraculously been recruited by the NHS and everyone requiring treatment will have immediate and long-term access to them? Hope that my debilitating panic attacks will unexpectedly disappear?

The thing is, my condition, my C-PTSD means that the 3 hours sleep I get at night is plagued with nightmares, the likes of which you can’t begin to imagine. I wake from one of these nightmares in the early hours of each morning with a debilitating panic attack that takes anywhere from 1 to 2 hours to recover from. My days are filled with flashbacks that I can’t control, with panic attacks as a result of basic triggers. Suicidal thoughts fill the voids.

As my PTSD worsens, so does my anxiety and before you know it, once again you are cloaked in the shroud of depression.

To be told to, “keep fighting” ……. Keep fighting for what? Keep fighting to endure the nightmares? Keep fighting to endure the panic attacks? How do you keep fighting the suicidal thoughts when the only welcome relief from these monsters is the welcome of death?

To me, suicide is a welcome relief from something which I can’t escape.

I’ve been told that I’m a survivor, no longer a victim. I don’t consider myself a survivor ….. yes, I survived the abuse but I have not yet survived the aftermath of that abuse and I genuinely don’t believe I will. I may no longer be a victim of actual physical abuse but I most certainly am a victim of the on-going psychological trauma that lasts a life-time.

There are those, my eldest daughter included, who say that suicide is a selfish act. Is it selfish to want to put an end to the demons? All I can say is, if you have never had to endure the demons you are a very, very lucky individual. My daughter has asked why I don’t love her enough to want to carry on living – I can’t comprehend why she would choose for me to suffer with the on-going psychological trauma. No amount of loving my children will erase the trauma.

I’ve also been told that because I’m good at being able to articulate how I’m feeling, that it is a good indication that my Mental Health condition isn’t that severe, or that I’m quite capable of coping with and managing it, or even more ludicrously, that because I’m talking about suicide means I won’t act on it.

No, being able to articulate how I feel just means I am blessed with the ability to be able to meaningfully put into words what I am experiencing. Just because I can vocalise the mental anguish I am experiencing doesn’t make it any less severe or make me more capable of being able to manage it successfully.

This blog has been both draining and mentally exhausting to write and I will end it now with how I started, which is to say that one day, when the time comes, I know I will end my life.

And yes for those who ask, I have tried to talk, I have tried to ask for help more times than I care to recall. It is an exhausting process and one which seems to have no satisfactory solution.

 

 

 

GCSE Results Day

Tomorrow is GCSE exam results day. A day, which my eldest daughter has nervously and anxiously been waiting for – the countdown timer is well and truly in operation and has been for quite some time now!  I too am anxious on her behalf, desperate for her to have obtained the grades she is striving to achieve. She has set herself an incredibly high target though, one which I know she will be bitterly disappointed with if she fails to reach it.

Regardless of tomorrow’s outcome however, I am already extremely proud of her. When I consider what she has had to overcome in these past 22 months, it honestly is truly amazing to see the level of dedication and commitment which she applies to her school work.

Over the past 22 months, due to the severity of our Domestic Violence at the hands of her father, she has been relocated 4 times by police (which included moving into new counties we had never lived in before) changed schools twice, changed her name, cut off all ties with any previous friends and family, experienced me attempt suicide three times and stood by me as I went through a rape trial.

Her current school didn’t offer the same subject choice as her previous schools and she has had to learn a completely new subject in the space of a few short months, as well as self-tutoring herself across all subjects on the modules she had missed changing schools. Initially, when she joined her current school, the Head of Year wouldn’t allow her to study Separate Science/Triple Science, stating that only students who had been at the school for a lengthy period of time and who had shown a track record of having the ability to obtain good results across all 3 sciences, could have access to this specific subject choice. She was devastated at receiving the news.

I immediately argued my daughter’s case that Domestic Violence had already negatively affected so much of her life. Her father’s abuse shouldn’t be allowed to continue to act as further punishment towards her, nor should it be allowed to continue to influence her future – after all, Domestic Violence is never a child’s responsibility.

Thankfully, the school accepted my proposal, although implemented some strict achievement goals which, if not achieved, would allow them to remove her from the course.

For 4 months prior to the start of the exams, she dedicated 6 hours each and every day (outside of school hours), to studying to achieve the goals she has set herself.

My daughter is so determined and incredibly driven to not allow her abusive past, to in anyway whatsoever, shape or impact on her future. She is resolute in her focus to become a strong and independent woman, capable of all that she sets out to achieve.

She has her sights set on 2 career paths, both drawn out following our experiences of Domestic Violence. One is in medical research of Mental Health conditions and the other in Criminal Psychology.

Tomorrow provides the first indication of whether or not she is on target to achieve her ambitions, and I for one am desperately hoping all her hard work and dedication pays off. Most importantly though, whatever the outcome of her results, I am an incredibly proud mum, as I know the struggle she has gone through to make it this far.

Insufficient Evidence v False Allegations

*Trigger Warning: this post discusses rape

I saw yet another newspaper article today on a rape case in which the case did not proceed to the suspect being charged with any offence.
Immediately on being informed of this decision, the offender’s family and friends took to the media stating that the allegations were completely false and the victim had maliciously lied to police, fabricating this bizarre story.

Articles like this one have recently become a daily occurrence in the media, if not in the national papers then most certainly appearing in local community ones.

Despite every police force in England and Wales actively encouraging victims of rape or serious sexual assault to report these incidents, recent figures suggest that approximately only 20% of all rape cases are ever reported to police.

Of these reported cases only around 23% of rape suspects are charged and appear in court.

If we are to believe the media, as well as friends, family and those supporting the rape suspect, that insufficient evidence being found to enable a suspect to be charged with rape indicates that the victim was lying and falsely accused the suspect, then based on the above figures that would imply that 77% of all reported rapes are false allegations.

Just think about that for a minute ……. 77% of all reported rapes are lies.
That is what the media and supporters of offenders would like us to believe. Wow, just wow!

Of the 23% of cases which do proceed to court, less than 10% result in a guilty verdict. Again, the suspects who have been found not-guilty in court (over 90%) take to the media to declare their innocence and state publicly that the verdict proves the victim was lying and made false allegations.

What baffles me and leaves me completely speechless is why anyone would choose to make a report of being raped or sexually assaulted to police, and as a result, be interviewed about the assault if they were lying.

For the sake of impartiality, I acknowledge that some false reports of rape are made to police, however the true figures of false accusations reported are less than 5% of all reported cases. A far cry from the 77% which the media suggest.

Why anyone would subject themselves to a police rape or sexual assault interview if the incident had not occurred is beyond my comprehension. Perhaps members of the public think it is all too easy to make a false allegation. If you mistakenly believe this, then please give some consideration of what it is like being interviewed by police for a reported rape or sexual assault – it is far from pleasant, in fact it’s nothing less than traumatic.

I have undergone numerous video interviews for multiple rapes and sexual assaults, and it is not something I would wish to be subjected to again. Being asked:
“Were you penetrated; where were you penetrated (ie. vagina, anus, mouth); what were you penetrated with (eg penis, fingers, other object); how long were you penetrated for; what did the suspect do whilst penetrating you; did the suspect ejaculate; where did he ejaculate …….

If you think it is so easy to answer these questions then the next time you have enjoyable, consensual sex with your loved one, think about how you would feel if, when you next returned to work, you had to go to your boss and graphically describe every minute of your recent sexual encounter with them in explicit detail. Would you find that difficult to do? Now consider a rape victim having to describe all of that to a stranger dressed in a police uniform.

When a victim decides to report the rape or sexual assault to police, the victim is informed that there is absolutely no guarantee that the case will ever proceed to court. The CPS make the decision on whether a suspect is charged based on the amount of evidence available. If there is insufficient evidence then the case is closed and no further action is taken against the suspect.

Providing sufficient evidence is the hardest part. It is important to note that even forensic evidence providing semen is not in and of itself sufficient evidence to prove rape. All that semen provides is a DNA link to the suspect, but what it cannot prove is whether the sexual activity that took place was consensual or not which is key to proving rape.

Of course forensic evidence can only be obtained if the victim attends a medical forensic examination within a certain time frame of the rape occurring. As with the police interviews, I have no idea why anyone would subject themselves to a medical forensic exam if they were lying.

I have undergone 2 forensic medical examinations. I have the utmost respect for the medical professionals working within the unit and can’t praise the compassion, dedication and care with which they carry out their duties. However, undergoing a forensic medical exam is just as traumatic and unpleasant as the police interview. The physical exam took just over 4 hours. Each cut, wound and bruise meticulously measured, photographed and then documented. The vaginal exam was recorded on DVD in order to better record evidence for court. Numerous swabs have to be taken, each one recorded on the DVD & finally the internal examination to record injuries.

Why, just why would you subject yourself to that if you were lying?

Unless there is additional and undeniable evidence to prove the rape or sexual offence took place, it is increasingly hard to provide sufficient evidence. There have been a few recent cases in which offenders were found guilty because they (or a third party) had filmed the rape taking place and posted the footage online either via Snapchat, Facebook Live or Periscope. Without this sort of evidence or witnesses to the assault taking place, 77% of cases are closed due to lack of supporting evidence.

Before you jump to the conclusion though that those 77% of victims have lied and made false allegations, please consider the trauma they have been through as described above to make those allegations and ask yourself, does insufficient evidence equate to a false allegation – which every offender and their supporters would have you believe?