"I am asking to get killed" - fleeing domestic abuse hell is worth risking her own life says woman forced to start secret life
A refuge for the most desperate of women fleeing domestic abuse and violence has just 12 places - but in one month can have as many as 200 referals.
It is an issue which has been highlighted during lockdown by charities and campaign groups, yet seems to be neglected in terms of government intervention - whilst convictions against perpetrators are also decreasing in West Yorkshire
The refuge, the location of which we are keeping anonymous to protect the women there, saw 912 referrals in 2018 and 1,737 by the end of 2019.
In 2020 there were 1,998 cases asking for help from the refuge and there was a spike in monthly numbers to coincide with the first national lockdown. March recorded 149 referrals but by June and July this had risen to 209 and 192 respectively.
In the midst of a third national lockdown, March 2021 saw the highest number yet with 218 calls for help.
However, funding is lacking to help everyone quickly and effectively and organisations which work to support domestic abuse, homeless and mental health charities warns that local authorities are now in the position where they are being forced to choose who they can help and who they can’t.
However, luckily for Emilia (name changed) she was one who could be helped.
Her story is one of culture, religion, forced marriage, failed pregnancy and violence from her own family.
Emilia arrived in the UK more than ten years ago and completed a secondary school education before going to college and working, despite a turbulent home life.
She was sent to live with one of her father’s many wives and step siblings and moved from one family home to another before one of her brothers said he had found her a man to marry.
Straight away, in her own heart and mind, Emilia knew she didn’t want to follow this traditional path.
She said: “My brother said to talk to him, he was a good guy and religious but if he was from my country I didn’t want to. I didn’t like him but my brother got annoyed because I had disrespected him and someone he had brought to me.
“I was at work one day and got a text from my brother saying ‘if you come back to the house I will f****** kill you’. I finished work and sat in a park for hours, went back to the house, gave the guy a call and said ‘yes’. A couple of hours later the marriage happened over the phone.”
The following year, Emilia was sent back to her home country in Africa to conceive a child so her husband could come to the UK. Her family had it planned in minute detail.
She said: “I got my period and before they booked the flight they made sure that by the time I got there I could conceive quickly. It was the first time I had ever met the man. I never wanted to have sex with him, every time he wanted something - I did not.”
Emilia was returned to the UK when she was eight weeks pregnant and was ordered to lie to doctors and the hospital about her domestic situation.
The baby was tragically still born and afterwards, Emilia said she wanted a divorce but her husband and family refused.
Due to being pregnant she had managed to secure a council flat and started plotting her escape but with no baby and an expired tenancy - she had to take extreme action.
She said: “Once I had given birth I was planning to run away, take my baby and just go. But there was no baby. That flat was the only way out for me. If I had not had that, I would have been stuck at the family home.”
He sister once beat her for wearing jeans to work while her wider network of siblings would manipulate for their father’s approval - which often resulted in him beating Emilia.
Emilia was moved to a hostel after her flat tenancy expired - but her family hunted her down and found her. Due to the danger she was in, she was moved to another secret location in the UK. There she lives in a women’s refuge and is hoping to start afresh - but is always looking over her shoulder.
She said: “It was scary for me, I have never been anywhere on my own. It took me a while to settle and not feel like there was someone following me and I don’t think that is going to go away for a while.”
When asked if she thought her family would carry out the threats to kill her she is sure and has no regrets about leaving her life behind.
Emilia said: “The way they speak to you, you know what they are thinking and you don’t mess or do anything and that goes for the whole family.
“I can’t move on until I get an actual divorce and if I go to the law, I am asking to get killed. When I first came to the refuge I was welcomed by all the women here and I feel like I am meant to be here. Everything happens for a reason.”
Meanwhile, figures released by West Yorkshire Police show that while reports of domestic violence are increasing, the numbers of cases that reach criminal proceedings are decreasing.
In 2018 there were 65,219 incidents of domestic abuse recorded, of which 46,192 crimes were recorded leading to 17,069 cases resulting in arrests. A total of 5,092 cases led to a charge or summons.
For 2019 there were 65,252 incidents recorded, 49,551 crimes recorded; 16,927 resulting in arrest and 4177 leading to charge/summons.
In 2020, there were 66,080 incidents recorded; 50,169 logged as crimes; 17,712 which led to arrest - yet despite more incidents than the previous two years, 3,096 amounted to a charge or summons - a drop of more than 2,000 in just two years.
A further look at figures shows that in July and August last year, there was a particular spike in incidents with 6295 and 6137 cases reported respectively.
West Yorkshire Police has said that despite the pandemic, domestic abuse and violence is a priority and it will support victims where it can.