Safety Before Status: a survivor’s story

Please note that this story contains descriptions of domestic abuse which may be distressing or traumatising to some.

After experiencing domestic abuse from her now ex-partner, Adriana, who is from Latin America, was left homeless and destitute because she had no access to public funds. She doesn’t speak English and had nowhere to turn and nowhere to go. She was subjected to multiple forms of domestic violence consisting of coercive, sexual and physical abuse as well as immigration abuse. Stories like Adriana’s are all too familiar which is why the Domestic Abuse Commissioner is calling on the Government to put Safety Before Status.

Here is Adriana’s story, which was provided with support from Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS).

Adriana arrived in the UK with her two children and her now ex-partner who is of EU citizenship more than 10 years ago. When they arrived the perpetrator, who was the children’s father, used his knowledge of the immigration system against Adriana and did not apply for her residency card.

Instead, he applied for benefits as a single parent and falsely claimed Adriana had returned to her home country due to mental health issues.

A year after they arrived in the UK Adriana became pregnant with their third child.  Six months into the pregnancy her then partner held her by her neck; got on top of her and punched her on one side of her face.

At the time she was afraid to report what had happened to the police due to her irregular status and fear of losing her children. A couple of years later however another incident occurred in which their eldest child sought help from the neighbors and called the police. The family was then referred to social services – the youngest child had been disabled because of the abuse.

During their relationship Adriana suffered multiple forms of domestic violence consisting of coercive, sexual and physical abuse.

In 2013, Adriana and the perpetrator no longer lived together but due to his financial difficulties he moved back into their home with his new partner.

Later that year Adriana was forced out of her home and threatened with deportation by the perpetrator. On several accounts, she was subjected to extensive forms of blackmailing about her insecure immigration status if she did not comply with his requests.

Adriana became homeless and was left destitute because of the abuse and because she had no access to public funds. She was left desperate at a crossroads and was coerced to return to the home under the perpetrator’s conditions. The perpetrator would use their child contact to sexually harass Adriana and offer to visit her room which she shared with her children at night whilst his partner slept in the next room.

Adriana was repeatedly let down by the system in both seeking justice for the perpetrators action and in resolving her immigration status.

She reported her perpetrator to the police several times for sexual assault, excessive coerciveness and because he continued to blackmail her over legal status.

Adriana does not speak English and the police did not always provide an interpreter and as a result a report and no further action from the police was made.

On more than once occasion, she was told her perpetrator would be arrested and he was not. She felt that the police did not take her case seriously.

Adriana faced many barriers as she tried to resolve the issues around her immigration status.

Under EU law she was not eligible to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme despite her three children having European citizenship. She was not the primary carer of her children and as she was never married and was not able to apply for an EEA residence card as a durable partner of an EEA national, she was not considered a family member of an EEA national.

At times the perpetrator would also not cooperate with her legal process in applying for the EU Settlement Scheme for their children. After a battle that lasted for many years, and with the support of LAWRS, Adriana finally managed to get indefinite leave to remain but it has come at a great cost to her and her children.

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner is calling on the government to put Safety Before Status, by implementing key changes to the support and protection available to migrant survivors of domestic abuse like Adriana and her children. Read the Safety Before Status report here..