The Effect of Secondary Victimisation for Domestic Abuse Victims in the Form of Organised Social Exclusion
I am currently in my final year studying towards a degree in nursing. Being passionate about the issues surrounding health and social care and tackling the stigma that still exists within the client groups that I work with, I joined a student led society which works to address such issues. Unfortunately I have been asked to leave the society due to the violent actions of my ex-partner. The society says this is to protect the safety and wellbeing of their members. Below is a copy of the message I received:
‘We take the safety and wellbeing of our society members very seriously. Due to this, the decision has been made to request you not to attend future meetings and we would ask that you suspend any involvement with the society at this time. The members involved in the recent incidents have also asked that you do not contact them further. Any interactions with yourself within a university setting or through practice will of course be met with professionalism nonetheless.
We hope you understand and respect the reasons for the above actions and wish you a speedy recovery at this difficult time.’
Needless to say I was absolutely devastated at what happened; my ex had attacked 2 male students in a completely unprovoked attack simply because he was jealous of my talking to them. He had also made verbal threats to myself regarding another 2 men, this I also reported to the police. I have also pressed charges against my ex for years of domestic violence and witness intimidation with regards the above case.
All 4 men are part of the society in question but none of the threats were made against the society itself. By the time the society sent me this message my ex had already been remanded in prison looking at a 5 year sentence. The attack took place at the victims’ home address and at no point did my ex ever threaten to do anything at any meeting or event attended by the society. Any threats my ex made were to attack the people in question at their home addresses when they were alone.
My dispute with the university is that surely it is discriminatory to revoke my membership due to someone else's actions, especially when I am also a victim in the case in question. In excluding me I feel the society is subjecting me to a form of secondary victimisation; I personally feel this has affected me more deeply than any of the preceding events. The activities I was carrying out as a member of the society were providing me with valuable experience that I could take with me into my career and would have added extra credentials to my CV.
If this was a temporary exclusion due to my being a witness in the case I would understand but this is a complete ban. In addition to this, despite the 4 male members of the society having already been threatened and identified as possible targets of reprisal attacks, none of them have been asked not to attend meetings despite the way this would also put other members of the society at risk should they be present when any such attack took place.
I remained in contact with my university tutors and security department throughout all of this to arrange safeguarding measures for all the men involved in this and was assured that university security could also keep me safe when I returned. I fail to see why the society couldn't do the same for me and ensure that security personnel remained nearby so I could continue to attend our fortnightly meetings. I also have a police issued personal attack alarm which operates via GPS and sends a direct emergency call to the nearest police force when activated and I felt safe going about my usual activities.
I have done nothing wrong and feel discriminated against and let down by the university for allowing me to be treated like this. However, in the legal sense the society has done nothing wrong and I am struggling to challenge their actions. I have tried emailing several tutors and the programme leaders to highlight the effect this has had on me but any responses I receive don't address any of the issues I have raised. It seems to me that the university is allowing me to be treated in a way that further victimises me. I don't believe this has been done with any sort of malicious intent, I believe this is entirely down to ignorance but the effect on me is one of exclusion all the same.
Domestic violence is still one of those areas in which our current systems are failing vulnerable members of society. Each week 2 women die from domestic violence in England and Wales alone; this is an appalling statistic in this day and age. Many of these women will have had repeated contact with health and social care systems.
With the multitude of evidence of failures in care we have seen over the past few years we need to be working together to challenge inequalities wherever we see them. My question to my university is: if they can't even achieve this at training level within your university, what hope is there when these students qualify and become part of the system at large?
In this case, by cutting me off from the society and stopping me from doing charitable work that I was carrying out as part of my role within the society their committee have, albeit unwittingly, taken over the abusive behaviour of my ex-partner in reducing my social network and stopping me from carrying out social activities which I should be free to enjoy. I have made numerous attempts to contact the society but have had absolutely no response. Whilst I appreciate the fear that many will have of contacting me directly via social media due to the previous attack, they were able to contact me via my student email or go through a third party in the form of a tutor or programme leader. The fact that the group who have acted in this way work to highlight inequalities in the health service and campaign against discrimination I find both ironic and frustrating in that they seem unable to recognise that they are displaying the very behaviour they are working to eliminate within the health service.
Abuse isn't always overt and easily seen, it is secretive, it is subtle and it is never merely carried out by the abuser alone. With cases of domestic abuse entire neighbourhoods can be drawn in as backs are turned and people ignore what is taking place. . In my personal opinion any exclusion of victims of domestic violence victims should be treated as discrimination in the legal sense and should be covered by the Equality Act 2010. I also believe all educational institutions and workplaces should have policies in place that protect victims and support their right to live their life as they choose. I will continue to raise this issue within my university and am currently going through their complaints procedure but I am conscious this is an issue many other domestic violence victims are facing and will continue to face until we do something about it. If this country is to win the fight against domestic abuse and encourage victims to speak out then the issue of secondary victimisation needs to be tackled and the government needs to introduce legislation that covers this.
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