Home Office interview traumatises victim and prevents her from reporting rape

A rape survivor in one of our self-help cases session had never been able to speak about the rape and exploitation she suffered after losing her parents as a child.

 “I am very scared to open up because of the things I went through. I grew up a camp in Uganda without my family with militants, police officers and prison officers. I faced a lot of problems, of rape and child abuse. So I am fearful and scared of officials.”

With support and encouragement, she began to overcome her fears and felt sufficiently strengthened to embark on the process of claiming asylum. She travelled to Croydon to register her claim at the Home Office, prepared for a short ‘screening interview” where she would confirm her identity and give just a few basic details about her situation.

She took her partner along with a supporter from AAWG. To her dismay she found herself trapped in a lengthy and distressing online interrogation by a male officer: 

“I was so shocked and embarrassed when this man on a screen asked me whether I was raped. Some things you do not rush to tell your partner and he was right there so what could I say? I said no, that I hadn’t been raped.  Then I stopped the interview and asked if my partner could go out. That was not good for my relationship with him. He thought I hadn’t been honest with him. I was crying but the interviewer didn’t say anything. I insisted that he let me have my supporter come in. He waited while she was trying to calm me down, then just carried on with firing questions at me – was I gang raped, did the men have guns. I was not able to explain what had happened to me. I just said no. It was so upsetting and I still haven’t got over it. It also really undermined my relationship, to the point that he nearly asked me to leave which was really frightening, especially when the pandemic was so bad.”

Ms C was left devastated by this experience and has struggled to pursue her case, feeling hopeless and defeated even before a decision is reached on her claim. WAR complained about her treatment and said she shouldn’t have to endure any more interviews; her case should be considered on the basis of our own and other expert evidence. Her relationship broke down and fortunately she was offered free accommodation through a voluntary group. But this is outside London, preventing her from joining our activities when these resumed in May.

The anti-rape movement has established over decades that rape is a horrific crime which leaves lifelong psychological and sometimes physical scars. The very least that victims have a right to expect when they come forward to report, is that they should not face hostile, insensitive, stigmatising treatment. Even the Home Office’s own guidance states that: “A reassuring environment will help to establish trust between the interviewer and the claimant, and should help the full disclosure of sensitive and personal information.” [iii]   

Asylum procedures are still being kept online, despite the additional difficulties this can pose to traumatised victims, including “remote” appeal hearings becoming the norm.

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