I was delighted to attend the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize event on Saturday. Emma was a writer, campaigner and survivor of male violence and the prize is awarded annually for work to raise awareness of violence against women and children.
It was an incredible honour to receive the individual prize for 2017. More importantly though, the prize is about bringing women together and creating networks and I met so many inspiring, brave, incredible women who work tirelessly to end male violence. You can read a summary of what some of them have been up to (and also read Emma's story) here: http://www.emmahumphreys.org/.
The talk I gave at the prize-giving at the Feminism in London conference is below.
I honestly can’t tell you how much it means to me to be here.
And I’ve got to say a massive thank you to my mum who nominated me, and has not only supported me as a parent but helped an enormous amount with all the work I’ve been involved in.
When I was 14, I got into a relationship with a boy 3 years older than me. Over the next few years he became more and more abusive. He always made me blame myself, but he was emotionally, psychologically and sometimes sexually controlling. Eventually I told the police after he’d threatened to kill me, and in 2014 he was convicted of harassment.
I didn’t recognise what was happening as domestic abuse for quite a few years, and that’s what made me want to try and raise awareness, and stop other young women going through the same thing.
In March 2014, just after he was convicted, I set up Speak Out, a campaign and website to raise awareness of domestic abuse in young people’s relationships. Since then, I’ve delivered training to teachers, mental health professionals and youth workers, and run workshops with young people.
I joined Women’s Aid’s Young People’s Advisory Panel. I’ve worked with them on lots of projects, including a campaign to educate young people about coercive control around the time of the new law. I especially want to say thank you to everyone national Women’s Aid who’s gone out of their way to make me comfortable and share their knowledge and expertise with me.
I also joined a panel of young people who’ve been giving feedback on NICE guidelines, which is advice for healthcare professionals working with young people who’ve experienced child abuse or neglect. More recently I’ve been volunteering at a local domestic abuse service in Bristol.
I’ve been very interested in the criminal justice system, and how it sometimes lets down victims of male violence. In 2016, I joined the Witness Service as a volunteer. The witness service supports people who come to give evidence in the criminal courts. It’s a really rewarding thing to do, and I’ve been able to work on lots of cases where young women are giving evidence in sexual offence trials.
I also applied for and joined a panel at the Police and Crime Commissioners Office. The panel volunteers to scrutinise the way the police force handle complaints, by reviewing case files and giving feedback.
My sixth-form asked me to talk about domestic abuse when we covered it in sociology. Then they agreed I could deliver training to the sixth-form tutors, then the senior staff, then all the tutors in the main school. We arranged a Healthy Relationships Week and I spoke to the students aged 11-18 in assemblies. Using feedback from them, I wrote lesson plans for future years. We also set up an Ambassador scheme where older students are trained to support younger ones and be ambassadors for ending gender-based violence. None of that work would have been possible without two exceptional teachers in the sixth-form, so I owe a massive thank you to them.
When my ex was being investigated by the police in 2014, he told me he had a lot of child pornography. After he was convicted, I was still very worried about the way he was chatting with much younger girls online. So with the help of Victim Support, I disclosed to the police about sexual activity he’d pressured me into when I was under age and asked them again to search his laptops.
It became a total nightmare. An officer told me I might have ‘misremembered’ and over the next 2 years I ended up complaining, then complaining about the people who were supposed to deal with my complaint. Avon and Somerset police said they saw no point in investigating, but eventually had to agree to send the case to West Midlands where my ex lived.
They found hundreds of the worst category of child pornography films on his computers. In September last year, he pleaded guilty, was sent to prison and put on the sex offenders register. That made it all worth it for me, because I’d been absolutely determined to do everything I could to protect other young girls from him.
I wouldn’t have been able to do any of the work I have, and definitely not with all that going on in the background, without support from some of the most incredible people along the way.
So, I want to say a special thank you to: Avon & Somerset Victim Support, especially Moyna who's gone above and beyond to support me for the last year.
To Fiona Hatfield at West Midlands police, who worked very hard on the case about the child pornography and not only took the time to explain everything to me, but managed it with an incredible amount of humour and humanity that made all the difference. To the Witness Service and security at Dudley Magistrates Court who were amazing and looked after me on a horrible day. And to Miss Potter, a teacher at Cotham School, who got me through the most awful few months when the police were investigating him and I had exams, and she just understood everything I was going through and somehow convinced me not to blame myself as much.
I can honestly say I wouldn't be here without them and many others who've helped me along the way.
I know this work can be difficult, and it can be challenging, but it's people like you (nominees) and everyone here, who inspired me and gave me the strength to fight back early on. I came to the conference in 2014, and I read Emma's story, and I remember thinking then, that ending violence against women was absolutely what I wanted to do, not only now but as a career as well. So thank you all for inspiring me, and I hope we carry on and inspire another generation to take up the fight.