News Story – From science to sex work to solicitor supporting survivors – DAC

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Carol was a deputy head of science at a secondary school when she met her abuser. They were married within seven months and her life quickly went dramatically downhill.

What had been recreational drug use accelerated until she was too ill to work as a teacher, so her partner convinced her to sex work to fill the financial gap. The mental and physical abuse escalated but after some time Carol ended the relationship and stopped being an escort.

The situation got far worse post separation (and now with a child between them) the abuser threatened to expose Carol’s past.

His threats were another way of exerting control, so Carol decided to take the power back into her own hands by sharing her past on her own terms rather than living with his threat hanging over her.

She told family, friends, colleagues, the Law Society and then set up a YouTube channel after she retrained as a solicitor. She wanted to help other victims take back control.

Our head of communications spoke to Carol as part of our International Women’s Day work.

Tell us about your life now?

I am a consultant solicitor now. I joined my firm in 2012 for work experience and qualified as a solicitor in 2016. I was identified as a ‘recommended lawyer’ in the Legal 500 as “an expert in children and domestic abuse cases” in 2020. I now work solely with cases concerning private child arrangements and domestic abuse.

I choose to work on a consultancy basis, so that I can pursue other work in the domestic abuse sector. I present a YouTube channel, called the Survivor Diaries, providing free information and general advice for those coparenting with domestic abuse, and the child arrangements process in England & Wales.

I have recently trained as a facilitator of Voice (Victims of Intimate Coercive Experience) and am co-facilitating an online pilot of the programme. This is funded through SUTDA (Stand Up to Domestic Abuse), The National Lottery Wales and the Wales Community Foundation. During lockdown I was a guest speaker on the Freedom Programme designed by Pat Craven.

Can you tell us a bit about why you set the Survivor Diaries channel up?

As a survivor of domestic abuse and having experienced post separation abuse through the coparenting and child arrangements for our child, I know first-hand how difficult it can be experiencing that constant and ongoing upset and aggravation, from the abuser. I know how it can feel like it’s never ending. It’s a constant distraction from all I wanted to do which was to just be left alone and be allowed to parent happily and peacefully.

I felt like I was neglecting our child and not able to be properly with them, as I was so distracted and upset. We were continually in proceedings or dealing with the aftermath. Now that our child is grown, I can see just how harmful it has been and have seen retrospectively how damaging that was for both me and our child.

My abuser constantly threatened to reveal my past to friends, family and colleagues so I started the channel so I could tell my own story, in my own way. I believe this also helps other survivors going through similar problems.

The channel was my chance to be fully open about my past. It also gave me the chance to explain and demonstrate one way the perpetrators carry on to abuse after separation.

Going public meant that he couldn’t hold this threat to reveal anymore. It took his power away.

Every time I talk about this, I get an influx of emails from survivors, saying that they are now inspired to be open about something that their abuser is holding over them in the same way.

They feel safer acknowledging that we are in an incredibly messed up situation in the abusive relationship. Survivors often feel shame for things that they have done during the relationship, when they shouldn’t, and moreover, their abuser usually knows and exploits this.

What’s the most positive thing that you have learned since you started your new life?

There are a few, it’s tough to pick one. I’ve learned that whatever my abuser says and however they lie to other people, I know my experience and truth.

I can see that all abusive relationships are completely exhausting and confusing and we do what we can to survive in them. I’ve learned that however dark, desperate and impossible the situation can feel, things can and do change. I would never have believed that I would be practicing law now.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned that children only need one safe parent to flourish.

What would you say the most common misconception of domestic abuse is?

That it occurs only to a certain ‘type’. It doesn’t. Domestic abuse occurs at/on all levels and with all ‘types.’ The problem is so widespread that if you haven’t directly experienced it yourself, you probably know or are close to someone who is or has been subjected to it.

If you could pass one message to others living with domestic abuse what would it be

I know how complicated the situation can be and how there are barriers to leaving but if you can get out safely, there is so much amazing support. Not just from agencies but from other survivors. I worry that survivors fear the family justice system and think that they shouldn’t highlight domestic abuse. I’d want them to know that it can and does work (please see the channel for how). I completely accept that the justice system has been inconsistent about it to date.

What would your motto be for others?

You know your truth about what happened. It’s so difficult coming out of this kind of relationship. Abusers gaslight, minimise and lie about things that have happened, both in the relationship and to others after. It can feel hazy at first and is genuinely difficult to exactly recall traumatic events. But we know. You know.

What makes you laugh/happy?

There are a few things!

There was a time when I didn’t think that I would survive the relationship and see our child grow up. They have done and I have survived. Not just that but being our child’s mother is still my most happy (and funny) experience. I have never stopped being happy to have escaped. To be free now and for as long as we have been is priceless. No matter how dark things have felt since; it has always been better than what the alternative could have been.

Seeing the incredible strength and resilience of survivors, even when still in the relationship, makes me feel happy and honoured to help. I loved teaching because it provides information to empower people. I am in a position to provide information and advice about the law. Survivors can use that to empower themselves, at least to some degree, against the abuse and see how the law may help them. I love my work. I love making a real difference.

Finally, anyone who knows me can tell you that I laugh – a lot – at myself and my own follies. There are a few. I’m human and frankly open about that. I stay humble.

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