‘My partner cleared out my bank account and left me thousands in debt’

‘My partner cleared out my bank account and left me thousands in debt’


Often misunderstood and unrecognised, financial abuse was not the most-talked about form of abusive behaviour but as Marisa Bate reports it forces many women into poverty and despair. Now, at last, banks and the government are taking it seriously

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‘We met when I was only 19. I was very insecure about how I looked, so when somebody came along and was willing to call me their girlfriend, I couldn’t believe my luck.’ What Rosie*, 31, didn’t know then was that she was about to enter a five-year abusive relationship that would leave her with PTSD, needing reconstructive surgery – and financially devastated.

 Throughout her violent and emotional abusive relationship, Rosie’s ex-partner also demanded her pin codes and cleaned out her bank account by taking out loans and store cards in her name, and leaving her responsible for finding work to support them, even when she was pregnant and then looking after their child.

‘You’re made to feel bad whenever you dare to ask for money; you’re constantly kept in this poor financial state. And what people don’t understand is if you’re being abused, you do not feel confident to say in an interview ‘employ me, I’m employable’. You feel like you have nothing to offer because you’ve been worn down,’ says Rosie. ‘There are so many factors to economic abuse that are just so damaging. You are kept in a state of confusion, fear, low self-esteem, you are isolated.’

When they finally separated, and he was put in prison for his violence, Rosie was left with mountains of debt. ‘The letters started coming in. And it was thousands and thousands and thousands of pounds. I would ring the debt companies and plead with them but they didn’t listen. I moved into a house that had no flooring, no furniture, no cooking equipment. I had no money whatsoever.’

It is common that economic abuse accompanies domestic violence and coercive control – even if victims don’t realise it is happening at the time. According to research from the Co-operative bank and Refuge, 86% of women who have experienced economic abuse have done so along with other types of intimate partner abuse. Yet despite its prevalence, it has, until very recently, been misunderstood and unrecognised. Dr Nicola Sharp Jeffs, the founder of Surviving Economic Abuse, the UK’s only charity dedicated to the issue said, ‘It’s a little bit like how physical abuse was responded to 40 years ago where victims were not getting a response and feeling really helpless.’

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Making a difference

Things are changing, albeit slowly. In January 2019, the government included economic abuse as part of the statutory definition of domestic abuse in the Domestic Abuse Bill (which is currently still hovering around parliament, pushed off the table thanks to the Prime Minister’s prorogation of parliament and then the election). By October, UK Finance, an industry trade body had published a voluntary Code of Conduct which most banks and building societies have signed up to (but not all). Stories of how perpetrators were using financial products to control thier partners started to be reported in newspapers and on TV and radio.

 And in light of this, a few things became startlingly clear: economic abuse is a form of coercive control that forces women into poverty. Perpetrators control spending, force loans to be taken out, rack up debt in their partner’s names, spend their partner’s savings and destroy their credit history.  If abuse is about control, then economic abuse is a particularly effective strain because we exist in a society that functions entirely around money. The abuse, therefore, not only controls the victim, but in every way possible, the victim’s interaction with the rest of the world, and how the rest of the world interacts with them. In particular, financial institutions.

With an awareness of economic abuse has come an understanding how financial institutions, such as banks and building societies, have unwittingly been aiding perpetrators through their procedures and protocols. For instance, letters have been sent to perpetrators with their victims’ new address on; women have had to pay off loans that they were coerced to take out; women have had their homes threatened with repossession by mortgage lenders when partners have stolen money from joint mortgage accounts or refused to pay their share of the mortgage. Additionally, many victims speak of the agony of having to repeatedly tell their predicament to several different members of staff, many of whom shrugged and pointed at the small print.

 Yet banks are beginning to listen. Take NatWest, which has recently appointed Kim Chambers as Customer Protection Manager, a dedicated role supporting victims of economic abuse in its existing customer protection unit. Chambers, a NatWest employee and customer of 18 years says tackling the issue was long overdue. ‘It goes without saying that this is something that has needed to be done for a long time. We’ve always had channels of support but maybe not with that true understanding of what support is needed. There is more that needs to be done and it’s going to be a constant learning.’

financial abuse

Kim Chambers (credit: NatWest)

In a partnership with SafeLives, a charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, Chambers and her team have undergone months of training in how to respond to customers who are victims of economic abuse. Staff are taught how to respond sensitively and appropriately to customers who are explaining situations of abuse or to recognize the signs vulnerable customers might display. All customers are then referred to Chambers. Chambers speaks to these customers on the phone weekly, or monthly – sometimes even daily –  and over the course of many months, acknowledging how potentially dangerous each situation can be and that every case is different and needs tailored support.

‘Your bank account is the footprint of your life, it tells everybody what you do every single day,’ says Chambers. ‘If I make a  change [to a victim’s account], for instance, if there’s funds that need safeguarding, and I make that decision to do that, then I’m prompting the abuser to know that there’s something going on and that can make the situation worse. The training has helped me understand the consequences of making these decisions.’

Raising awareness

In other words, banks are beginning to understand how high the stakes are for women who are trying to ask for help. With the introduction of video banking Chambers is hoping to increase the trust between her and the survivors. Chambers also works with relatives or refuges to help women who have to flee without being able to access bank account details or have had all thier belongings including bank statements and passports, taken from them and destroyed. ‘The person going through this knows what they want and what they need to do. It’s my job to make sure I do that as safely as possible for them.’

For Rosie, it’s not just banks and building societies that can enable the abuser. ‘He’s still financially abusing me through the child maintenance service,’ she says.  Rosie claims he pays her the absolute minimum he can get away with before being dragged back to court. As he gets close, he ups the payment and avoids the fine but leaves her in financial precarity. ‘It’s the last invisible chain pulling me in,’ she says.

But despite this Rosie is moving forward. Paying back the debt ‘is a bitter pill to swallow. You are a victim. You’re dealing with so many different things. But I have to say to myself, this debt isn’t going to go away.’ She’s recently set up her own business and is trying to raise awareness to help other survivors. ‘When you suffer abuse, any kind of abuse, it doesn’t always go away, it gets easier to deal with. You find positive ways of managing it, and moving on from it in your own way, but it doesn’t ever go away.’

* Name has been changed

Is someone you know a victim of economic abuse?

SafeLives and NatWest pinpoint five ways to spot if a loved one may be experiencing economic abuse.

1. Restricted spending and access to finances: for example, if a friend unexpectedly and frequently uses money as a reason for cancelling plans. Or a loved one borrows money when it is out of character and they’re being elusive about why.

2. Problems with joint finances: you might become aware of ‘conflicts’ between a friend and their partner concerning money, earnings or savings. Or a partner taking complete charge of their joint finances.

3.Unusual shopping behaviours: this might be a friend obsessively asking for receipts for every purchase and becoming anxious when this isn’t possible. Or someone hiding purchases from their partner or asking permission before buying anything.

4. A change in working habits or attitudes: has a close friend unexpectedly quit a job they love with no real explanation. Or someone is expressing a desire to work but their partner’s not supporting them to do so?

5. Becoming increasingly isolated: unusual and frequent excuses to avoid socialising or a sudden decision to move away from close family can be signs of being controlled by a partner, especially if that person doesn’t have access to their own finances.

* If you want to know more about the signs and impact of economic abuse visit Survivingeconomicabuse.org

* If you, or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge on freephone 0808 2000 247. Lines are open 24/7.

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'I was only 24 and had no symptoms' – one woman's shocking cervical cancer diagnosis

'I was only 24 and had no symptoms' – one woman's shocking cervical cancer diagnosis


Stephanie Varden shares her powerful story – from chemo to seemingly having the all clear

cervical cancer

When you’re told you have cervical cancer, you ask yourself – why me? I was a good person. I didn’t have any symptoms and I had a long-term boyfriend. It didn’t seem real.

I was invited for my first routine smear test in April, six months before my 25th birthday in October 2016. I didn’t see the point in putting it off and waiting, so I booked an appointment with my GP and attended straight away.

With no symptoms, I had no reason to think anything would be wrong, but I started to feel worried and anxious after I received a letter asking me to attend a colposcopy [a procedure to examine the cervix], as my cervical screening (formerly known as a smear test) showed I had abnormal cells. It was in this letter I was also told I had human papilloma virus (HPV). I’d never heard of it and immediately thought it was a sexually-transmitted disease, rather than the common infection it is.

In June I had the colposcopy, and a few weeks later I was called in to the hospital in Leicester to receive the devastating news that I had cervical cancer – stage 1b. As soon as I heard the word ‘cancer,’ I went numb, and didn’t listen to anything else I was being told. I was with my partner at the time, and he made the call to my mum and dad, explaining what stage 1b meant. I was completely shocked and couldn’t speak. When I left the room I couldn’t stop crying.

I was given two treatment options: a hysterectomy or trachelectomy. I chose a trachelectomy [part of the cervix is removed] because I want to have children in the future. And so, because of my age and situation, I took the risk of cancer reoccurring. I was 24; I wasn’t even thinking about babies or becoming a mum, but I knew at some stage of my life I would want a family.

Before the surgery I had chemotherapy, after being advised by my consultant that this would more likely stop the cancer from coming back. It’s not actually common to have chemotherapy with cervical cancer, normally they do radiotherapy, but that kills your fertility.

In a bid to stop my hair falling out from the drugs, I wore a cold cap before, during and after chemotherapy. Unfortunately, the scalp-cooling hat wasn’t successful for me, and it was so painful (your head feels like it’s trapped inside a freezer). I wouldn’t recommend it.

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Stephanie in the cold cap – a hat that is worn during some chemotherapy treatments

I had three rounds of chemotherapy, in three-week intervals, and all my hair fell out. I was devastated. I was given a real-hair blonde wig from the Prince’s Trust, and I wouldn’t leave the house without it. During the nine weeks of chemo I was a bridesmaid, and managed to style the wig to fit with the bridal party look, but I didn’t feel the same. I didn’t feel comfortable going out in public places and not having the energy to play with my little sister Dulcie, who was two at the time, broke my heart.

cervical cancer

Stephanie pictured with her mum, wearing the blonde wig

My Dad came with me when it was time to have the trachelectomy surgery, as I wanted the stronger, less emotional parent to sit with me until I was called in – but as we said goodbye he broke down. It was the first time I had ever seen my dad cry, and seeing him so upset has stayed with me ever since that day.

Seven hours and five scars later, I was awake. I stayed in hospital for five days and was off work from my job as a marketing manager for six weeks. To this day, the happiest day of my life (28 November 2016) is being told by doctors my cancer was in remission. Finally, it was all over.

Or so I thought.

It’s been over three years since I got the all clear, but I had a smear test in August last year [after two years my cervical screenings went from 3-month checks to six-months], and unfortunately the results have come back as abnormal. In December I had a biopsy, and the results show pre-cancerous cells. Next, I’ll have another biopsy to see if I need to have a hysterectomy. The ideal situation is taking more of my cervix away, as fertility is my priority.

I split from the partner I was with six months after I received the letter saying I was in remission. It was a combination of the cancer testing our relationship (I felt nervous about having sex for months afterwards) and us naturally growing apart. I met someone else, and now we live together – but we’re not at the stage where we would ideally like to have a child. I’m 28 and if this wasn’t happening, I wouldn’t be ready to be a mum for a couple more years. Now, we are talking about surrogacy, but it’s still very early days.

cervical cancer

Stephanie today, pictured with her boyfriend

Cervical cancer made me grow up a lot faster than my friends. Life is back to normal now, but I still suffer from side effects of chemotherapy. I get tired very easily (and work one day a week from home), and my feet give me cramp-like symptoms, making walking agony if I’ve been on them all day.

My advice to anyone going through a cancer diagnosis is don’t Google! Instead, read people’s stories of survival. I found out about Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust when I was first diagnosed, as I was given a leaflet in hospital, and it was so informative and relatable.

I cannot stress how important it is to go for a cervical screening; I had no symptoms, so I was very lucky that I did. It sounds cliché but life is short: I’ve learned to live every day like it’s my last, and I’m thankful for that.

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust provides information and support to anyone affected and campaigns for excellence in cervical cancer treatment, care and prevention. Its national Helpline is free, confidential and on 0808 802 8000. Or for more information see jostrust.org.uk/information/hpv

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We're more open about sexual violence than ever but has anything changed for the better

We're more open about sexual violence than ever but has anything changed for the better


Over the last decade we’ve realised we’re stronger when raising our voices together as the #metoo movement shows, but despite this there’s been a staggering drop in convictions for sexual violence. Writer Lizzy Dening asks how can we help survivors in 2020?

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The last decade has changed how we think and speak about sexual violence. A few years ago, it would have been unimaginable that Hollywood A-listers would rise up against powerful men within their industry; let alone that 200,000 survivors of sexual violence would tweet about it in just one day; or millions would take to the streets as part of the Women’s March. But, for all that, it can be easy to feel that we’re sliding backwards, too. Rape conviction rates in the UK are at an all-time low, and arguably the most powerful man in the world is a misogynist who thinks it’s acceptable to ‘grab ‘em by the pussy’. We might be more open about sexual violence than ever – but has anything actually changed for the better since 2010?

First, a disclaimer. This is clearly a massive topic, with arms branching out into sexual abuse in war zones; institutions of power such as the church and army; not to mention the abuse perpetuated against children, men and non-binary survivors. This isn’t a definitive list of sexual violence over the past decade. In one article, it’s impossible to delve down into every murky depth. But if you identify as a woman and live in the UK, these are likely to be the stories that have directly affected you and your peers, or been given the most time in news outlets.

Operation Yewtree

The first of the decade’s high profile cases began in 2012, with the posthumous investigation of Jimmy Savile and other TV personalities. This had several positive effects: firstly we were finally able to talk about the effects of historic abuse and secondly, the ‘untouchable’ nature of celebrities seemed to crumble, and finally many people felt able to seek help, with an instant 80% spike in calls to Rape Crisis. ‘The police improved after Savile, and started to realise they had to become more welcoming to victims,’ says Victims Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC. ‘Women started to feel more confident and it showed there was a bit of equality in the law after all, even for powerful men.’

Women’s March

sexual violence

Protesters gather at the Women’s March in Washington, 2017 (Getty Images)

Just when it felt like society was getting fairer, Trump happened in 2016. When a man who brags about grabbing women ‘by the pussy’ is elected into the highest office, it’s clear society is far from equal. Trump’s presidency took us all by surprise – even him – and led to millions of outraged women marching on 21st January, 2017 (his first day in office). Not only was the Washington DC Women’s March believed to be the largest of its kind in US history, but it was echoed around the world by similar protests. Gotta love those pink knitted pussy hats. [Find a free pattern here!]

The #metoo movement

While the phrase is credited to activist Tarana Burke, who first used it in 2006, it gained wider traction on October 15, 2017. Actor Alyssa Milano posted on Twitter: ‘If all the women who have ever been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, then we give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.’ By the end of the day there were 200,000 tweets; within a year, 19 million. At least 417 executives and employees were outed by the movement and lost their jobs within 18 months.

Weinstein is called out

sexual violence

Weinstein leaves the courthouse at New York City criminal court during his sex crimes trial on 7th January, 2020 (Getty Images)

After Ashley Judd publicly spoke about her sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein in the New York Times in October 2017, numerous others came forward, including 13 women in the New Yorker. Rose McGowan became a powerful voice against the Miramax film producer, too – calling out other men in Hollywood who claimed not to know about the producer’s abuse. Weinstein was swiftly fired from his company that same month – although his rape trial has only just begun, two years later.

The Weinstein effect

After the lid came off that Pandora’s box, accusations came thick and fast, from both men and women. Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, the Affleck brothers, James Franco, Aziz Ansari, and more were all called out in the press for differing levels of sexual misconduct. While Bill Cosby was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison for sexual assault, most of the men accused weren’t taken to court (or have yet to reach a trial). Many people seemed to give up on the legal system and relied on verified journalism to deliver justice and cases arguably became more about public shaming via the media. In some ways this feels like progress – especially when conviction rates for sexual violence have always been low, but mob justice isn’t quite the same as legal justice, and it’s an unpredictable energy to release.

High profile support

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Oprah Winfrey delivers an inspiring speech at the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards, 7th January, 2020 (Getty Images)

The Time’s Up movement was announced in January 2018, with 300 women working in film, TV and theatre creating a legal defence fund to support sexual harassment cases. Shout out to Oprah for praising survivors for coming forward, during her acceptance speech for a Golden Globe. We’ve also had long-term supporter of women’s causes, Emma Watson, promoting survivor Fern Champion’s petition to garner increased funding for rape crisis centres. Hermione would approve.

Convictions rates are falling

It’s wild to think that documentaries Surviving R Kelly and Leaving Neverland were only released this year, when they’re already so embedded in the public consciousness. Both manage to be utterly shocking but sadly unsurprising, given what the past few years have shown us about men of privilege hiding their crimes in plain sight.  Still, despite the overwhelming evidence that a vast percentage of us have been affected by sexual violence, sadly the support for survivors in many law courts and police interviews across the UK is less effective than ever. ‘Things were getting better at the start of the decade, from a criminal justice perspective, and now they’re terribly worse,’ says Dame Vera Baird.

What can we do?

If nothing else, the last decade has shown we are stronger when we raise our voices together. Whether it’s via Twitter or by taking to the streets, we’re better than ever at taking action to redress power imbalances. Society is – slowly – getting better at listening to survivors of sexual violence too. In my work as founder of Survivor Stories  – a collection of interviews with survivors of sexual violence – I’ve learned first-hand how important it is for survivors to feel heard, and for us to listen and learn from them. I also believe the responsibility lies with us to shut down victim-blaming when we see it, including contacting publications or writing in the comments section if you disagree with how a story has been written. Rape Crisis centres are also still struggling to find enough funding, so consider donating money or time. ‘Sign petitions to support change within sexual violence,’ says Dame Vera, ‘and put pressure on your MP to back funding for crisis centres. You can make a difference in your community to drive cultural change for the next generation.’

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‘Stalking’ Instagram accounts are now a thing – here’s why they’re so dangerous

‘Stalking’ Instagram accounts are now a thing – here’s why they’re so dangerous


Hands up who’s running a secret ‘snooping’ feed? It’s a trend that’s on the rise so when Olivia Adams’s mate confessed to one, she asked an expert about the damaging effects on our mental wellbeing

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Be honest, do you have – or have you ever used – a fake Instagram account to keep tabs on someone anonymously? First of all, thanks for owning up. Secondly, you’re not alone.

Yes, a new trend for 2020 is having not one, but two Instagram accounts. And I don’t mean one for business and one for personal use.

The second is a fake account, created to keep tabs on people you don’t want to know you’re watching. It’s creepy, time consuming (keeping one Instagram page relevant, thoughtful and interesting is challenge enough). And, more importantly, it’s not mentally healthy.

I was unfamiliar with the concept until recently. I had enjoyed a couple of dates with a guy and I was, erm, keen to keep an eye on his antics over Instagram Story – but I didn’t want him to know it. ‘You view him from my travel inspiration account, if you like’, my friend offered whilst we were out for dinner. ‘You’ve never mentioned this page before – or a particular interest in travel,’ I replied. ‘I know!’ She grinned. It turns out, she made the profile to keep watch on her ex, but for it to look legitimate, she began researching travel destinations, editing, filtering, writing captions and buying followers. Scary behaviour, and I promise she’s sane.

Instagram stalking

My friend created an account filled with aspirational travel content – so she could spy on her ex freely (Unsplash)

It didn’t take long for temptation to take hold, and I added her account to my phone so I could switch between the two. For a while, it relaxed me knowing I could watch inconspicuously. But anonymous social media stalking can have a significantly negative impact on our mental health, as Leading Psychotherapist Noel McDermott warns.

‘Using social media through a phone or computer tends to produce a chemical in the brain called dopamine. In this instance, it feels good to create and check the second account, but it’s a temporary feeling. Like with anything that gives too much of a good thing, you’ve got to come down. As soon as you put the phone down you’re going to get irritable and twitchy – most people don’t even realise this is a symptom of withdrawal. And because it’s a mood-altering chemical, you can even develop anxiety or depression.’

He goes on to say, ‘Operating a second account increases the chances of ending up with mood issues because of the social, emotional and psychological consequences of things that can happen on your social media, such as seeing photos or comments you weren’t expecting.’

The second account also means you will be spending even more time on Instagram. Noel advises moderation, stating that if you’re doing more than three to four hours a day, you’ve got a problem.

‘Like any activity, it should be done in a thoughtful and mindful manner. If checking Instagram becomes something that is interfering with your day, and stopping you from getting on with other things, usage needs to be altered. Problematic usage can trigger something more serious, like addiction.’

Instagram stalking

‘If you’re doing more than three to four hours a day on Instagram, you’ve got a problem’ (Unsplash)

Lack of accountability is one of the biggest problems on social media. Organisations like the Facebook-owned business Instagram are largely unregulated, which means so are its users. This is quite frightening, as while Instagram doesn’t promote anonymous stalking behaviour, it’s not condemning it, either.

Responding to this, Instagram told me that if a person sees or receives anything that makes them feel uncomfortable, they can report it via its in-app tools. I was also reminded that people have the ability to block accounts to prevent contact from those they do not wish to interact with (blocking someone also means they cannot search for your profile).

With lack of accountability in mind, while the second, anonymous account may not have malicious intent in mind, it means the option is there to write a mean comment and get away with it. Noel expands, ‘Fundamentally what stops us as human beings from hurting each other is our ‘disgust’ reaction. It’s a gut reaction consisting of guilt and shame, and we feel it when we do something horrible to another person.’

‘We just don’t get those same reactions with social media. We can get away with doing so much more and not having an impact on ourselves. Effectively, social media cuts out our ability to empathise with each other, and essentially turns us into a more psychopathic version of ourselves.’

Last year, senior MPs backed Manchester United defender Harry Maguire‘s call for social media firms to verify accounts with users’ passports, after his teammate Paul Pogba was subjected to a torrent of racial abuse from anonymous trolls. It raises the question that surely we should only be allowed to set up a social media account if you can demonstrate evidence of your identity in some way?

When it comes to bullying and harassment, Instagram says its investment into tools that prevent unwanted interactions – such as the ‘offensive comments filter,’ which automatically hides offensive or inappropriate comments, or the ‘bullying comment filter’, that removes comments containing attacks on a person’s appearance or character – proves its zero-tolerance policy.

When it comes to mental health, there’s no denying that social media has caused a rise in social anxiety – but it’s not going away, and so we have to learn how to use and manage platforms as effectively and as healthily as possible. Multiple accounts are reprehensible, because they not only can damage your mental health, but be used in a damaging way towards others.

Want to change your behaviour? Having a strong support network around you is the best system to self-regulate your conduct, Noel says. Ah, what a surprise. Real – not cyber – friends are the solution to the problem. Aren’t they always?

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‘My rapist was never convicted but I would still urge any woman to report the crime’

‘My rapist was never convicted but I would still urge any woman to report the crime’


It’s not just in Cyprus where rape survivors are being badly treated. As Leigh’s story shows, at a time when unprecedented numbers are coming forward seeking justice, the UK criminal justice system is systematically failing women

report rape
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The recent rape case in Cyprus sparked international outrage. A 19-year-old British woman claimed she was gang-raped by 12 Israeli tourists, then allegedly urged by police to retract her statement days later, only to find herself charged with ‘public mischief’, held in jail in Cyprus before being given a four-month suspended prison sentence. She’s returned to the UK, suffering from post-traumatic stress, trying to piece her life back together. But it’s not just on holiday where rapists routinely escape justice. In April 2019 new Home Office statistics revealed the proportion of reported rapes being prosecuted in England and Wales had fallen to just 1.7% compared to 3.3% in 2017. In 2018 only 3.8% of sexual offences led to a charge or summons, down from 5.6% in 2017. Campaigners say these latest stats suggest the alleged perpetrators of more than 98% of rapes reported to the police are allowed to go free. Not surprisingly, this deters many women from ever reporting the crime. Leigh, 29, a secretary from Warwickshire, who reported her rape to police in the UK, but didn’t get justice, still urges any woman to do the same.

Leigh’s story

‘It was April 2011 and I was 20. My relationship was deteriorating so I had very little self-esteem. I’d recently started a new job and made new ‘friends’ there. One evening I went out with a new male ‘friend’ from work Carl* and we met up with some of our other colleagues.

Soon, Carl and I got chatting to three other new men in the bar. It turned out they were all soldiers serving in the British Army, the same as my boyfriend, which naively made me feel instantly ‘safe’. They were friendly and the one I spent most of the time in conversation with mentioned he had a girlfriend. We chatted, danced and they bought the drinks all night. I was enjoying myself and secretly flattered by all the attention. I now think the drinks may have been laced with drugs.

report rape

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What still haunts me is that my memory of the night is unclear,­ but according to statements from the three soldiers and Carl, we later agreed to go back to their hotel room. I now know we arrived at the hotel between 3-4am. I passed out and at around 6am I awoke to find the perpetrator Sam* on top and inside me. It took me a moment to realise what was happening. My arms seemed to be pinned down beside my body and I couldn’t move my legs. My body was frozen stiff. I remember realising something awful was happening and been bitten on my shoulder blade – I told him, ‘No! Stop it!’ and again, ‘No!’

Sam’s friend stood in the doorway telling him to stop too, saying, ‘Just leave it’ while Carl (apparently) lay asleep in the bed beside us, oblivious to my ordeal. I remember Sam getting off me and me rolling onto my side, before I got up and ran to the bathroom. I came out to find Carl awake, saying we needed to leave. I started to collect my belongings but couldn’t find my knickers or tights. We found them – in Sam’s bag.

When we left, I knew something awful had happened, but I felt like a child again, knowing what had happened was wrong but being unable to articulate into words what it was. Carl was relatively sensitive to the situation and calmly told me I’d been raped and we should go to the police.

We did – I walked into the station and told them I’d been raped. And I don’t doubt for a minute I did the right thing. I was escorted to a room to wait for specialist officers to arrive. I called my mum, but found it so difficult to speak a policewoman took the phone and explained. Two female officers then drove me to a special unit, and my mum and stepdad met us there.

I had to have a full-body examination. Not only had this man ripped me of my spirit, his horrendous violating act had resulted in another stranger having to violate the most private part of my body all over again, yet I understood why they needed to examine me. Afterwards, the original investigating officer kept me informed of the process and treated me with the dignity I deserved.

report rape

Women’s rights activists gather to protest at the Cypriot Embassy on January 6, 2020 (Getty Images)

However the three men had almost three weeks to ensure their ‘stories’ matched. Carl gave his statement the same day I reported it. The police told me he’d admitted giving each of the men oral sex in the hope ‘they didn’t do anything to me’ which I knew nothing about. And that the three men had left the hotel room only 10 minutes after we did. The police officer advised that the CPS would look at this as if it was a group of people having an ‘orgy’ and I had woken up regretting what ‘I’d done’.

This couldn’t have been further from the truth, but I understood the police were trying to prepare me for the outcome from the Crown Prosecution Service, who had to look at how a defence barrister would pull apart ‘my side of the story’.

Six to eight weeks later, the original investigating officer called and asked if he could come to my home to discuss the decision the CPS had reached. He arrived and explained that the CPS wouldn’t be taking it any further due to ‘lack of evidence’ particularly as no date rape drugs had shown up in my toxicology reports. Regardless of the fact that I had met the men between 9pm and 10pm so it’s possible any drugs would have left my system by the time I was tested over 12 hours later. It was my word against theirs.

The officer however wanted to tell me that he and his team believed me. I know I it’s not justice, but to this day, I still hold onto that. My statement will remain on record and if the perpetrator should commit a further offence, my statement will be there, awaiting use.

I realise I’m one of very few who have had a positive experience with the police. I fall into the 15% that choose to report and I wouldn’t change that decision. If I can help convince just one survivor to report, then it’s worth sharing my story. Maybe one day when the true volume of victims come forward, offenders will be forced to face the punishment for their crimes.’

Leigh’s account appears in To Report or Not to Report: Survivor Testimony of the (In)Justice System by Emily Jacob (available on Amazon). Emily is a rape survivor, coach and founder of www.reconnected.life. Through the site, she supports women recovering from rape, however long ago, helping them to lead fulfilling lives.

For further support or to find your local Rape Crisis Centre visit  https://rapecrisis.org.uk/

*Some names have been changed.

The post ‘My rapist was never convicted but I would still urge any woman to report the crime’ appeared first on Marie Claire.

Typhoons are forcing these women into the Philippines' sex trade

Typhoons are forcing these women into the Philippines' sex trade


In the Philippines, women and girls are increasingly falling victim to trafficking amidst displacement due to the effects of climate change

Philippines' sex trade
Shelter from the Storm

Words and photographs by Hannah Reyes Morales

When Gemma first started working in the red light district of Angeles City, Philippines, she was given a knife and pepper spray by her sisters. The eldest, Jojo, asked that she always text the name and room number of the motel where a man would take her.

The sisters wept.

Angeles City, home to a red light district just North of Manila, has been dubbed the ‘Supermarket of Sex’. The sisters never planned to come here. They were honors students in high school, and their mother described them as having been “godly children”.

Jojo and Gemma are among the Filipino women that have entered the Philippines’ sex trade amidst displacement from typhoons, coupled with a lack of decent livelihood in their provinces. The Philippines consistently makes the lists of countries most affected by climate change with its frequent storms. Among the most vulnerable regions is Eastern Visayas, where Jojo and Gemma are from. It’s a place reliant on agriculture and one of the poorest regions in the Philippines. It was Ground Zero for typhoon Haiyan.

Philippines' sex trade

Sisters Gemma (right) and Joanne in their home in Angeles City

A report from ADB links natural disasters with extreme poverty, stating: “This reliance [on agriculture] is most striking in Eastern Visayas where almost half of household incomes of the poorest 40% households are derived from earnings from agriculture highlighting their vulnerability to poverty from natural calamities.”

Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013, displacing an estimate of 4 million people. It is one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded. After Typhoon Haiyan, the United Nations Population Fund estimated that 5,000 women were subjected to sexual violence just in the month after the storm. Darlene Pajarito, the head of the Philippines Anti Trafficking unit, describes the wake of typhoon Haiyan as a ‘feast for human traffickers.’ The U.S. State Department’s Trafficking In Persons Report stated that internally displaced people, particularly from typhoon-stricken communities, “…are subjected to domestic servitude, forced begging, forced labor in small factories, and sex trafficking in Manila, Cebu, Angeles, and urbanized cities in Mindanao.”

For many, leaving the sex trade is not an option. In Angeles City, the Philippines’ primary red light district thrives with foreigners, and Filipina women making money in its bars. They can make money from various acts, from earning commission when a customer buys them drinks, engaging in sexual activities after a customer pays the ‘bar fine’ to take them out of their shift, or selling their virginity as a ‘cherry girl’.

Philippines' sex trade

Women in Angeles City, notorious for its sex tourism industry, provide daytime entertainment for foreign clients

“In this town, most of the women are from Samar and Leyte,” a sex worker tells us. Around the Philippines, these women are perceived by society as ‘gold diggers’. But what echoes in the stories is that they are not gold diggers — they are breadwinners.

Jojo, Gemma, and Joanne have the responsibility to feed their family and maintain their home. They are working so their mom can seek treatment for her breast cancer. “We have no plans to go back there,” Jojo says. “Here there’s at least some way to make a living. And here, there’s tequila.”

When Haiyan came, the roof of their house got blown off, the walls completely destroyed. The store their mother ran was looted, and almost nothing was left. Jojo describes nights on the streets of Angeles City as affording small steps in rebuilding a home — going home with a foreigner can get her enough money for hollow blocks, then maybe next time a bit of plywood, the roof. Their house is by a lush green field and the mountains, and Jojo worked nights to help get it rebuilt. The walls inside are blue, with photographs of the girls, still water damaged from typhoons.

Back in Leyte, their mother lives in that house. It withstood the last rainfall.

*’Shelter from the Storm’ is a photo project that examines the displacement of Filipina women after frequent typhoons, and how this has made them more vulnerable to sexual violence and trafficking. The project was produced by Hannah Reyes Morales*

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Join Marie Claire and Salesforce in the New Year to build up the women around you

Join Marie Claire and Salesforce in the New Year to build up the women around you


We’re teaming up with Salesforce…

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We are at a crucial time in history. Never before have opportunities been so great for women in the world of work. And yet there is still so much to be done to achieve genuine gender equality in the workplace.

Everyone who is in leadership was influenced, helped, supported, or directed in a way that allowed for progression and development to happen. But for women, that path to leadership isn’t always so accessible, encountering challenges that men don’t always face. And the effects of intersectionality present additional, unique barriers for women from underrepresented groups.

While women are mobilising themselves, campaigning, and working towards achieving the equality they deserve, a real transformation is not possible without a vital component – the allyship of others in the workplace, particularly men.

Salesforce

It is time to stop seeing women’s empowerment at work as just a women’s issue. Women can only achieve gender parity at work and reach leadership positions when they have the support and mentorship of coworkers who understand the unique career challenges women and underrepresented groups face.

When we support each other, we can all thrive and succeed. Channelling the power of collaboration across our communities, workplaces, and ultimately our world, is truly how we’ll change the equation for women.

Marie Claire wants to help, so we are joining forces once more with our pioneering friends at Salesforce to create change.

Salesforce

In partnership with Salesforce, we will be hosting Building up the women around you, an inspiring live panel discussion of industry experts chaired by Marie Claire UK’s Editor-in-Chief, Andrea Thompson.

Taking place on Thursday 23 January 2020 at the Salesforce Tower London, the live panel discussion will look at how people of all gender identities can stand in solidarity with women to create a bold, visible, and united force for gender equality — something that benefits everyone.

The Salesforce and Marie Claire event will hear from men in senior positions who have nurtured female talent within their company and championed equality for all. They’ll discuss how Salesforce has created a more inclusive work environment through initiatives like the annual equal pay assessment and comprehensive parental leave. We’ll also hear from women who have been mentored by men to support them into leadership positions and what has been most helpful in achieving their goals. Not to mention, HR managers and career psychologists will be on hand to offer their insight into the importance of a gender-balanced workforce for both office wellbeing and company output.

Space is limited! Grab your seat today to gain:

● A deeper understanding of the unique challenges women, including those from underrepresented groups, face in the workforce
● Actionable insights to become a more inclusive coworker
● Tips to find career mentors and advocates
● A chance to network with gender equality leaders at Salesforce
● Plus the one thing a Marie Claire event isn’t complete without — an exclusive goodie bag!

Salesforce

Tickets to the event are available on Eventbrite. Come along and learn with us because together we really can build a future full of fair and equitable opportunities.

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Meghan and Kate: Is it time to stop forcing this friendship?

Meghan and Kate: Is it time to stop forcing this friendship?


Meghan and Harry’s decision to spend Christmas in the States, far away from the royal family has increased speculation that Meghan and Kate don’t get on. But why does being related mean they must be friends?

Meghan and Kate
Getty Images

Words by Michelle Davies

The last time the duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex were pictured at the same event was at the Remembrance Day service in Whitehall in November – where the fact they were standing on separate balconies was immediately seized upon as further proof they can’t bear to be in each other’s company. The actual explanation for their separation was, unsurprisingly, far more technical and pedestrian: Royal protocol demands family members stand in order of precedence, so while Kate, wife to a future King, was with the Queen and Prince Charles’s wife Camilla, Meghan was positioned with the other lower-ranking royals.

But even if it was true and they didn’t want to stand together, what does it matter? Where does it say in the constitution that sisters-in-law must be best friends and why, as a nation, are we so obsessed with wanting Kate and Meghan to like each other?

Meghan and Kate

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Family doesn’t equal friendship

Whether you marry into the same family, like Kate and Meghan did, or if either of you is the sibling of the other woman’s partner, anyone who has a sister-in-law knows what a fraught and peculiar relationship it can be. You have no shared history and chances are very little in common. The triggers that spark other friendships – university, working in the same profession, a shared hobby – don’t exist here, yet people assume you will get on regardless and if you don’t there must be something wrong.

‘“Sisters” is a very loaded term – it carries an expectation,’ said Dr Terri Apter, psychologist and author of What Do You Want From Me? Learning To Get Along With In-Laws. ‘There’s a moral heft for sisters-in-law to be caring, the kinship keepers. If you’re not a good sister, there’s an implication that maybe you’re a bad woman.’

Diana and Fergie’s legacy

Two royal sisters-in-law who did manage to forge a close relationship were Sarah ‘Fergie’ Ferguson and Diana, Princess of Wales. Brought together by their marriages to Andrew and Charles and thrust into a spotlight neither was prepared for, they clung to each other like barnacles. ‘Diana was my best friend and the funniest person I knew,’ said Fergie in a 2018 interview. ‘She had such timing and wit. It was a total joy to be with her because we just laughed and enjoyed life so much.’

Meghan and Kate

Fergie and Diana together at the Guard’s Polo Club, Windsor, June 1983 (Getty Images)

However, Sarah and Diana didn’t just share the same sense of humour, they also came from similar aristocratic backgrounds (Diana’s father was the 8th Earl Spencer – the family can trace their ancestry back to the 15th century – and Fergie’s dad is Major Ronald Ferguson – a descendent of King Charles II through one of his illegitimate children) and both women were actually fourth cousins whose mothers went to school together, meaning they knew each other as teens. All Kate and Meghan had in common ground prior to becoming royal brides is that they were, well, women.

Different squad goals

The bottom line is, Kate and Meghan are simply too unalike to be best friends – and you only have to look at their close friends to know that. Meghan, perhaps befitting her LA upbringing, is drawn to women whose super-charged endeavours empower others, such as clothing designer Misha Nonoo, with whom she collaborated putting together her Smart Works clothing collection to help unemployed women dress with confidence for job interviews. Another best friend is Jessica Mulroney, a Toronto-based stylist she met while acting on Suits.

Meghan and Jessica attend the Equinox Yorkville Dinner in Toronto, 2015 (Getty Images)

Kate’s squad, meanwhile, goes about life under the radar – it includes ex-Marlborough classmates Emilia Jardine-Paterson, an interior designer whose credits include renovating the Kensington Palace apartment where Kate and William live and Amner Hall, their Norfolk home, and Trini Foyle, once an assistant to Jeremy Hunt MP.

Kate and William attend a church service with Emilia Jardine-Paterson and friends in January 2019 (Getty Images)

Challenging times

Their polar opposite friendships doesn’t mean one sister-in-law is better than the other, however, or more successful, or more popular – it merely demonstrates the differences they have that mean their friendship might never go any deeper than a cup of tea and a catch-up at a family event. To continually pit them against each other is unsisterly – and something both women hate, according to an insider who spoke to People on the subject last November. ‘What’s challenging is when they are pitted against each other,’ said the source. ‘That’s been challenging to both of them; Meghan has her life, Kate has hers.’

So let’s just leave them to get on with it.

The post Meghan and Kate: Is it time to stop forcing this friendship? appeared first on Marie Claire.

The Queen’s ruined childhood and why she won't let Prince George suffer the same heartbreak

The Queen’s ruined childhood and why she won't let Prince George suffer the same heartbreak


At 145 Piccadilly Elizabeth lived a carefree and happy life until one dark December day when her world of freedom and playdates with friends came to an abrupt end forever

Queen's childhood
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Words by Michelle Davies

Every morning without fail, the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret would rush from their beds and pile noisily into their parents’ bedroom to wake them up. This daily get-together was symptomatic of the carefree, loving atmosphere their parents had created for them at their five-storey mansion at 145 Piccadilly in London, where the girls had French lessons with their friends and played freely in the private gardens at the rear of the property. It was the most idyllic place for Elizabeth to grow up – until a shocking decision by her uncle, King Edward VIII, to abdicate the throne brought her happy childhood to a crashing halt when she was just ten years old.

A life she never wanted 

Edward’s decision to rescind the throne to marry his twice-divorced lover Wallis Simpson in 1936 meant his brother, Elizabeth’s father Bertie, had to take over, becoming King George VI – and as his eldest child she was next in succession. Her then governess Marion ‘Crawfie’ Crawford said that on hearing they were to move from 145 Piccadilly to Buckingham Palace, a horrified Elizabeth exclaimed, ‘What? You mean forever?’

Being Queen was ‘not a life she wanted’, according to Sonia Berry, the best friend Elizabeth met aged four in the gardens behind 145 Piccadilly and to whom she remained close until Sonia’s death in 2012. ‘I think she would have been happier married and living in the country with her dogs and horses.’

So upset was Elizabeth at having to move that she gave Sonia her favourite toy – a wooden horse called Ben – because she ‘was concerned that Ben would not like being packed away in a removal van and put in storage’. Their days of pretending to be horses themselves as they romped about the garden were now over.

Queen's childhood

Princess Elizabeth with two corgi dogs at her home at 145 Piccadilly, London, July 1936 (Getty Images)

A palace prison

Life at Buckingham Palace was chilly and austere. Not only was the 775-room palace draughty and plagued by mice, but electricity had only just been installed (145 Piccadilly had its own elevator) and there was constant protocol to follow. ‘We all felt the palace was far too big: I was separated from the girls by interminable corridors, and it was a five-minute walk to the gardens. Food had to come the better part of half-a-mile from the kitchens at the Buckingham Palace Road end to the dining room at the Constitution Hill end,’ wrote Crawfie in her 1949 memoir, The Little Princesses. ‘I felt a glass curtain had come down between us and the outer world.’

In an attempt to give Elizabeth some normality, Crawfie set up the Buckingham Palace Girl Guides Company for her and Margaret, their cousins and the offspring of palace employees. But pitching tents on the palace lawn was no substitute for camping in the countryside as other guides would have done – and it was because of her closeted experience growing up and her childhood being cut short that the Queen now actively supports her six-year-old great-grandson and heir Prince George living as normal life as possible.

Queen's childhood

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Gan-Gan’s surprise

The Queen and Prince George are already known to have a strong bond. He calls her Gan-Gan (an improvement on the nickname his dad William had for her as a boy – Gary!) and whenever he and his siblings Charlotte and Louis stay with her she always makes sure he feels extra special. ‘She always leaves a little gift in their room or something in the room,’ the Duchess of Cambridge once divulged.

As George is heir to the crown, the Queen would have been consulted on him attending his relatively low-key primary school in Battersea where, according to reports, he’s listed on the register as George Cambridge and has lots of friends who get invited to playdates at Kensington Palace. She will also have approved of William’s decision to delay telling his son about his eventual role in life. ‘There will be a time and a place to bring George up and understand how he fits in, in the world,’ said William in 2016.

Queen's childhood

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Lonely at the top

By advocating George has as normal upbringing as possible, the Queen knows she is giving him the best preparation for becoming sovereign. As her friend Sonia Berry remarked, ‘It’s a very lonely job’. One of the few occasions where the Queen could properly relax was at Berry’s house in Bath, where she would visit for the afternoon and Sonia would draw the curtains to keep out prying eyes while they had a cup of tea and nattered. ‘We discuss our families, what we have done, who we have seen, the issues of the day,’ Sonia revealed in an interview before her death. That George is now able to foster his own special childhood friendships must bring the Queen great comfort. Indeed, her cousin and confidant Margaret Rhodes, whom HRH often sanctioned to speak on her behalf, said before George’s birth that she hoped he would have a ‘jolly, happy, ordinary child’s life.’

The post The Queen’s ruined childhood and why she won’t let Prince George suffer the same heartbreak appeared first on Marie Claire.

Meet the Dirty Girls helping refugees with life's simple comforts

Meet the Dirty Girls helping refugees with life's simple comforts


On International Migrants Day we spent time on the Greek island of Lesvos to find out how the Dirty Girls initiative are transforming lives with clean clothes and bedding

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Words by Louise Court 

Slipping her hand into the pocket of the grubby, sea-sodden coat she’d picked up from the stony beach Alison Terry, the founder of Dirty Girls of Lesvos, felt the unmistakable shape of a door key. Running her fingers along the distinctive metal ridges she tried to imagine what had gone through the mind of its owner as they had locked their home for the last time and said goodbye to everything that was safe and warm.

She imagined them fleeing with their family and friends from the shattered streets of Syria, pocketing their key and with it all their dreams of returning home and picking up the torn threads of their old lives. Instead their reality had been to wash up cold, tired and terrified on a beach of this Greek island. With a flimsy life jacket strapped tightly across all the clothes they owned, the key holder had managed to survive the perilous sea crossing from Turkey to Greece crammed in a dinghy that was never fit for purpose.

Terry, a UK-based entrepreneur and regular visitor to the island explains: ‘It was the one thing I found that evoked the greatest sense of loss in me. When arrivals started to escalate in 2015 I found myself on the shores meeting boats. People were arriving in sea-drenched clothes. I was astonished to see that after exchanging wet clothes for dry donated ones their perfectly good clothes were trashed. The clothes of thousands of people were trashed every day. I knew immediately I was going to stop it because it made no sense environmentally or economically.’

And so Dirty Girls was born in 2015, with an understanding that simple access to clean clothing and bedding is crucial to maintaining the refugees’ dignity. And that good quality wet and dirty clothing discarded by thousands of people fleeing war and terror would not be trashed. Now with three huge commercial laundries, one in Lesvos, one in Athens and the third in Northern Greece, Dirty Girls can clean 2,000 blankets and sleeping bags a day, if necessary, as well as clothing. According to UNHCR, 55,189 people arrived by sea in 2019 and are currently stuck on the Aegean islands. Around half of them (24,472) arrived just on Lesvos, the island that is actually hosting 20,060 individuals. Terry tells Marie Claire that people in Moria were hit by heavy rains and an extreme drop of temperature in December 2019 and the picture coming from the island is not different from the ones of the past years: families forced to live in mud, with no shelter and no protection from the harsh winter to come. An image that Europe knows too well, sadly. So with about 60,000 people living in makeshift campsites all over Greece, washing their blankets and sleeping bags is necessary for comfort, health and dignity. Without Dirty Girls washing them, they would most probably be trashed and replaced.

‘Government and non-government organisations have a cavalier attitude of replacement rather than washing,’ explains Alison. ‘A new blanket costs more than seven euros plus the environmental cost of trashing the one it is replacing. Washing one costs two euros fifty and gives employment to local people. In four years we have diverted 1400 tons of material from landfill.’

Everything is laundered to a level of hospital cleanliness  – scorching temperatures eliminate germs, lice and bed bugs. Some items are so filthy they need numerous washes.

‘Everyone who works with Dirty Girls has a keen awareness that we aren’t just dealing with dirty materials, but with items that represent individual people,’ says Alison. ‘In pockets of discarded clothing I have found wet photos. Pictures of people looking happy and relaxed in their homes or on a holiday perhaps. The life jackets were worn on treacherous journeys from which some people survived and others didn’t.’

Dirty Girls also has a busy upcycling programme – using life jacket material for messenger bags for example and collaborating with social enterprises such as lovewelcomes.org that sells products made by refugees.

Rosamund Hutchison

Rosamund Hutchison, 37, from London, normally works in publishing but has spent time during July and December 2019 volunteering on Lesvos and explains what she did. ‘I collected a lot of very dirty and wet blankets, pulling some from the mud and sand. I also went bin diving to rescue clothes from landfill. We’ve all seen the images of Greek beaches strewn with life jackets and clothes but nothing prepared me for coming across a toddler’s life jacket lying on the sand,’ she recalls. ‘That’s when I imagined the small scared person wearing that jacket and their desperate parents. What’s also shocking is when it’s pulled apart, it’s made from the thinnest wedge of polystyrene. A family fleeing a war probably paid well over £100 for it.’

After collecting the filthy and often wet clothes and blankets, they are gathered into huge bags and transported to the laundries. ‘I once saw a truck pick up about sixty bags of blankets and clothes that we had retrieved,’ says Hutchinson. ‘I never imagined they’d ever be usable because they were so dirty. It was a massive surprise to see them look like items I’d have in my own home after being laundered.’

Hala, a 30-year-old Syrian, arrived on Lesvos in July 2019, sobbing, exhausted and scared. She came with her family including her three-year-old son Adam. Since then Dirty Girls has regularly supplied them with clean sleeping bags, blanket and pillows as well as clothes.

 

Hala

‘We were given blankets when we arrived but they weren’t enough because it was very cold at night,’ says Hala. ‘Then after a month, our sleeping bags became very dirty. Dirty Girls gave us more and are helping us survive the winter safely. Alison and her friends give us a positive energy to be brave against the bad situation here. We used to have clean bedding before we had to leave our homes, it is important for our health and to fight things like lice. I feel comfortable, healthy and safe when I have clean blankets, sheets and pillows. It is that simple.’

* Dirty Girls operations are funded by donors: people with a common compassion for other people who have become refugees, and a concern for our shared environment. To donate and help Dirty Girls carry on: dirtygirlsoflesvos.com/donate

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