Ahead of the European Day for Victims of Crime, and considering the publication of the Safe Justice discussion paper, Victim Support Europe launched a call for stories and testimonials from individuals who participated in a journey towards justice and are willing to share their positive experiences as well as the barriers and challenges they faced when dealing with the justice system.
Victim Support England & Wales kindly shared the below testimony.
In England and Wales, we are in the midst of an unprecedented public conversation about police behaviour and misconduct. This follows a wave of high profile stories exposing a culture of misogyny and racism. We often hear accounts of police discrimination from the victims we support, many of whom feel let down by the service provided by the police.
This story is an example of a domestic abuse survivor who feels she was failed at every stage of the criminal justice process over a period of ten years – from her interactions with the police, right through to the courts.
One domestic abuse survivor, supported by Victim Support England and Wales, describes how her reports of abuse were repeatedly mishandled by police over a period of ten years. As a Black woman, living in London, she is certain she was treated differently because of her ethnicity.
She first went to the police about domestic abuse when she was 18.
The first time round they didn’t take me seriously at all – they judged me off the fact that I was a young mum, they judged me off the fact that I was a care leaver. They told me, ‘you’re 18 years old, you should know better. He’s not the father of your child, so why would you be involved with him?’ They told me I should make better choices.
Her abuser was slim and shorter than her, which she says made officers question whether the abuse was one sided.
They kept on saying to me, ‘so you didn’t do anything to him, you didn’t retaliate back?’
The callous treatment and the decision not to prosecute her abuser destroyed her trust in the
police. When, years later, she found herself in another abusive relationship, she was reluctant to approach the police for help.
I thought this was going to be the same thing again and I didn’t want to put myself through it.
As the abuse escalated to life threatening physical violence, her grandmother insisted her go to the police station.
Her allegations were taken more seriously this time, but she felt biases surrounding her height and race impacted how officers handled her case.
I felt like I was judged off my appearance. I’m a tall 5 foot 10 Black girl, I speak very well, I present myself very well – just because someone presents themselves well, it doesn’t mean they’re not struggling.
When they issued a warrant for his arrest, I wasn’t notified, so they put me in danger without realising. I was still in my property, I was still in communication with him, he still had access to my phone, and they’re just ploughing ahead and going and doing things without consulting me.
I think if I’d looked a certain type of way, they’d have been much more cautious in how they dealt with me. Because you’re a tall Black woman they don’t think as much care needs taking over you.
She says her experiences show how important it is to challenge widely held myths ingrained ideas about what a victim looks like.
They need to understand that victims come in all shapes and sizes and colours. Perpetrators are all different shades, sizes and colours – he’s not fully Black, he’s slim, and he’s a little bit smaller than me. Straight away you’d look at him
and think, ‘no, not him.’
In court, her ex-partner pled guilty. The sentencing was originally scheduled for early July, but was adjourned five times, which destroyed her mental health.
When the sentencing finally went ahead, no one told her it was happening – she was “devastated” at being denied the chance to read her victim impact statement.
Her ex-partner received an eighteen month suspended sentence, meaning he won’t spend any time in prison. She feels she was let down from the very beginning, right until the end.
They fail people again and again. I wish I had never come forward.