The mother of a teenager who took her own life after suffering a catalogue of mental and physical abuse at the hands of a fellow student, will tomorrow launch a new campaign to ensure no other students suffer in silence.
Fiona Drouet said A5 information stickers will be put on the doors of every Scottish university and college halls’ to ensure that young people know where to access support for psychological, emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
Mrs Drouet’s daughter Emily died three years ago in her Aberdeen University student accommodation at the age of 18. She had suffered a catalogue of psychological and physical abuse, at the hands of her 20-year-old boyfriend Angus Milligan. In 2017 he admitted assault and threatening behaviour and was ordered to carry out 180 hours of unpaid work and told he would be under supervision for one year.
The stickers, which give helpline numbers of rape crisis and domestic abuse services, as well as the Samaritans and Breathing Space, build on support cards which were given out last year to thousands of staff in universities and colleges, enabling them to offer advice to students.
Emily’s family launched a campaign to tackle gender based violence on Scottish campuses in the hope that no other student would “suffer like Emily”. They had been unaware of the abuse she had been receiving, and after her death it was revealed that she had reported “problems with an aggressive boyfriend” to a Student Resident Assistant, but did not disclose that he had hit her. The report was closed and there was no follow-up.
Today at a roundtable event in Holyrood, organised by the University and College Union Scotland, Mrs Drouet told MSPs of the moment her family were woken in the early hours of March 17, 2016 by police officers to tell them her oldest child had taken her own life. “I can never explain the darkness and devastation our family has fallen into and has remained in ever since,” she said.
She has poured her grief into establishing the Emily Test charity campaign which wants to see increased funding for colleges and universities to support students affected by gender-based violence.
She said: “Phase two of our campaign is tomorrow. Stickers will go on the back of the doors of student flats in halls, on toilet doors, and in wardrobes. We want all students to know where they can access help if they need it.
“It was months after Emily’s death that we got to go into her room, into the place where she lost her life. When we got in to collect her things and bring them home. The lack of any signposting to support became painfully apparent. Why was there no mention of gender based violence which we know students face all too often?
“That’s why we’re delighted to see one of our visions, the stickers, come to fruition - to let people know they’re not alone. No student should be left to suffer in silence like Emily was, help and support is, and should always be there.”
She added: “I’ve also been actively campaigning into the removal of declaration of criminal convictions on UCAS forms, a change triggered by GDPR. But the change has created a significant risk to students - how can universities responsibly manage the risks on campus if they’re not aware of them in the first place? We took this to UCAS, Universities Scotland, Universities UK and they’re working collectively to find a solution that puts safety of students first.”
Mrs Drouet said that she believed Non-Disclosure Agreements were being used by universities across the UK to silence victims of sexual violence. But Susannah Lane, head of public affairs with Universities Scotland, who was also in attendance, said: “There’s been a few reports of NDAs in higher education sector in the UK. There’s one massive block in a number, there’s no way of knowing what they apply to. We’re having a lot of conversations with HR directors and are told the vast majority of NDAs apply to voluntary severance arrangements, rather than sexual misconduct cases. They’re also used in commercial cases in research and development. They should absolutely not be used to prevent victims of sexual violence from speaking out.”
However Mrs Drouet said: “I understand there’s no breakdown in figures but sadly there is a proportion of that money, £87m that has gone on silencing victims... victims statements would suggest that strongly. There’s no place for them. They are an abuse of power in themselves.”