Emily Drouet took her own life aged 18 after her boyfriend was abusive
Photo: Emily Drouet (Facebook)
Photo: Emily Drouet (Facebook)

OPINION

We urgently need to shatter domestic violence myths to save girls like this

Texts being shared by her mother show that Emily Drouet, 18, blamed herself for her boyfriend’s physical and emotional abuse in the weeks before she took her own life. Laura Bates reports

Added on

By Laura Bates on

“It scared me so much” … “I made him so angry” … “I deserve it”.

These are some of the devastating final text messages sent by 18-year old student Emily Drouet in the weeks leading up to her death. After enduring a physically and emotionally abusive relationship with fellow student Angus Milligan, Drouet eventually killed herself.

Reading through the messages on her daughter’s phone after her death, Emily’s mother Fiona described her pain at realising how her bubbly, smiling daughter had been made to blame herself for the abuse she was experiencing: “Emily was a strong young woman, and yet she was made to feel this way.”

Now, Fiona Drouet is spearheading a campaign to use Emily’s heartbreaking last messages to raise awareness of domestic abuse across Scottish universities. A poster campaign supported by NUS Scotland will share Emily’s story, with student associations encouraged to lobby for better on-campus services and support.

Fiona is also calling for mandatory staff training, after discovering that Emily had approached a student resident assistant for support before she died, but when asked if the abuse was physical, had said “no” and that she didn’t want to get her boyfriend into trouble. Her mother hopes that bystander intervention training will help encourage people to step in and find ways to support victims of abuse.

Milligan pleaded guilty to assaulting Emily, seizing her by the neck, choking and slapping her just days before her death. He also admitted sending her offensive text messages, calling her a “slut” and “bitch”, shouting and using abusive language towards her and behaving in a threatening manner. Yet he was sentenced to just 180 hours of community service and told he would be under supervision for one year.

The case is important because it throws a spotlight on the widespread but often hidden problem of abuse in young people’s relationships. When we hear the words “domestic abuse”, we often think of older women in marriages, as Fiona Drouet told the Guardian: “Young women don’t imagine themselves as being victims of domestic violence. It’s that word ‘domestic’ – they imagine it has to happen in a family home, or in a long-term relationship.”

It is tragic that so many young women like Emily can be made to feel that they are to blame for what is happening to them

But figures released last week by the Office for National Statistics revealed that young women aged between 16 and 19 are actually the most likely victims, with one in 10 experiencing domestic abuse in the last year alone.

With so many young women affected, campaigns like Drouet’s are vital to help shatter the myths and misconceptions that still surround relationship violence. More early prevention work in schools is desperately needed to help young people recognise the signs of an abusive relationship and to let them know that help and support is available.

In a society where two women per week on average are killed by a current or former partner, much more needs to be done to raise awareness of the varied and complex forms partner violence can take. It is tragic that so many young women like Emily can be made to feel that they are to blame for what is happening to them.

When I speak to young people around the country as part of my work with the Everyday Sexism Project, many are not aware of the potential for abuse to exist within an intimate relationship, believing, for example, that only a stranger can commit rape, because “if he’s your boyfriend, you have to have sex with him.” There is also a widespread lack of understanding of other aspects of abuse such as coercive control and emotional abuse, which can have just as great an impact as physical violence, but are likely to be taken less seriously by friends and bystanders.

But informing young women of their rights and encouraging people to watch out for signs of abuse are not enough. Our entire societal approach to domestic abuse needs to improve if we want to see real change, from tougher sentences for perpetrators like Milligan to better support for survivors. The Office for National Statistics data released last week also revealed a postcode lottery for victim services, with just two refuge beds available per 1,000 domestic abuse victims in some parts of the country. Until we start taking the problem seriously and addressing it accordingly, with education, training and resources, stories like Emily’s will remain tragically common.

@EverydaySexism

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