UK

Social worker 'gave safe house address to woman's abuser'

  • 25 January 2017
  • From the section UK
Media caption'Social worker gave abusive ex my address'

A victim of domestic violence was assaulted after a social worker twice disclosed the address of her safe house to her abusive ex-husband, the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire show understands.

"Ivy", who was considered by police to be at high risk of being murdered, was at the safe house with her children.

It is claimed the social worker believed it was the husband's "parental right" to know where his children were.

The local social services have apologised for failings in the case.

'Degraded and humiliated'

Ivy - not her real name - says she was raped on a weekly basis over a period of two decades, at first by her ex-husband but later by his associates too.

She was also subjected to extreme physical violence - she remembers incidents in which knives were used - and she was strangled until unconscious.

Ivy was told by her ex-husband that their children would be harmed if she went to the police.

When she finally decided to go to the authorities, she says, a police officer told her "very bluntly" that he did not believe her - that such crimes "don't happen in our leafy, green area".

Ivy says he told her she had derived "sexual gratification" from the sexual assaults.

"I left feeling completely degraded and humiliated," she says.

'Breach of trust'

Police officers then went to the home of one of her ex-husband's associates to seize his phone for evidence.

But the associate told Ivy's ex-husband, who subsequently violently assaulted her, leaving her with broken ribs.

Ivy was now considered to be at high risk of being murdered and was moved to safe accommodation with her two children.

But she says her location was disclosed by her social worker, who said it was the father's "parental right" to know where his children were staying.

Ivy was found, and attacked.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The location of the second safe house was divulged to Ivy's ex-husband despite the social worker knowing of the previous attack

She was then moved to new safe accommodation and her identity changed but the social worker informed Ivy's ex-husband of her new phone number.

"You trust them... that they're going to be there to protect you as the victim," Ivy says. "[The social worker] completely breached our trust."

Nushra Mansuri, from the British Association of Social Workers, says incidents like this "should never happen".

Social workers are "trained extensively in safeguarding in domestic violence cases", she adds, and have a "very clear responsibility".

"It is a given not to disclose information that could make a parent unsafe, or put their life at risk."

The local social services in Ivy's case have acknowledged that they "fell well short of the expected standard", and she has received an apology and a small amount of compensation.

She does not know if the social worker received disciplinary proceedings.

'No equality'

Claire Waxman, founder of campaign group Voice4Victims, describes Ivy's case as "one of the worst I've ever heard".

But, she adds, there are "countless other victims" who have been let down by the system.

She says victims suffer from a lack of enforceable rights and find it difficult to navigate a complicated justice system.

"Victims in these cases are overlooked, they are dismissed," she says.

Ms Waxman believes there should be better training for agencies and that victims such as Ivy should have a "case companion" that can guide them through the system.

She also wants a complaints procedure that makes it easier and quicker for victims to highlight when they believe they have been failed.

While the government has agreed to review the Victims' Code over the next 12 months, Ms Waxman says it is "dismissive" of the problems and believes the current system is working.

"They are not hearing what's happening on the front line," she says.

The Ministry of Justice said in a statement: "The Victims' Code makes it clear that all victims are entitled to support from a range of organisations at every stage of the justice process.

"In addition, we have protected the victims' budget and given Police and Crime Commissioners almost £70m to support victims in their areas."

Ivy had hoped a single specialist unit would investigate her allegations but instead 18 officers across different police forces dealt with her claims.

This meant she had to undergo 18 separate interviews, reliving her ordeal in full on each occasion.

"It just became incredibly distressing," she says. "I ultimately ended up standing on a motorway bridge just wanting to put an end to it all, because I couldn't cope."

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Ivy was told that police could not guarantee her protection if she continued to bring the charges

Ivy and her children were moved four times in three months then, even though her ex-husband was trying to find her, the police halted their investigations.

One inspector worried that, because the family were living under new identities and their details were being shared across 18 officers, it would be "impossible" to keep them safe.

Ivy was advised to drop the remaining charges, and complied.

She says the inspector told her that "neither her life, nor her children's lives, were worth losing in the pursuit of justice".

She describes dropping the charges as a "devastating decision".

"I was filled with guilt, guilt that it allowed my ex-husband and the other offenders to go free, therefore allowing them to potentially go on and harm other people," Ivy says.

New life

Her children, she says, have found it "incredibly difficult" to adapt.

"The youngest walked into school one day last year and said they didn't want to be alive any more."

Ivy suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

She knows her ex-husband may see this interview, but is happy to speak publicly.

"You reach a point where you kind of say, 'No, I'm going to take back control over my life and not allow you to dictate what I can and can't do.'"

Due to Ivy's high levels of anonymity and risk to her life as a result of identifying details, we have been unable to independently verify all details in her story. Police officers are using her case in training and she has spoken to MPs and Lords about her story.

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