Kat's* Story

*Name changed to protect identities

I came to the UK from South Africa with a friend when I was 15 years old. My friend said I could live with her, in a town on the border between Wales and England, if I looked after her daughter while she worked.

I had no idea about immigration rules in the UK, but my friend did. She knew that when I arrived, I would only be able to look after daughter. It was a struggle for a long time. I plucked up the courage to tell her that I wanted to go to college.

She said that if I could no longer help her, I should leave, so I did. I packed my bag, got on the train, and ended up in Warrington.

Warrington felt more like home. I had a friend there and knew there was a more diverse community. I stayed there for a bit and worked in a hair shop, but then my friend said we should go to London.

We did it, living out of our suitcases, surfing from sofa to sofa, for about a year. It was difficult as I still didn’t have the right immigration paperwork, but I managed to find another job in a hair shop. It was in London that I met my ex-partner and eventually fell pregnant.

When I got pregnant, he introduced me to his family and I swiftly moved in with them. His family spoke a different language to me. At first, I was so consumed by being a new mum that it didn’t bother me. But when I realised that they were talking about me and my child, it started to get to me.

That’s when the verbal abuse started.

It got the point where I had to leave. I had to lie to them to get away; I told them I had been arrested, but I had gone to the Home Office. I was going to report myself. Having to leave the UK was a better option than staying in that house.

The Home Office helped me to start getting my immigration documents sorted, but my ex found out. We got into an altercation and he assaulted me.

I contacted the police and was moved out of London, but I kept going back to him, and later had two more children with him. People say, “why didn’t you leave”, but you don’t know what it’s like unless you have been in that situation. I didn’t have any other family in the UK. He was my family.

When I left for the last time, I met someone else, but he was just the same. He threatened me. I decided I had had enough.

I tried to find a refuge, but because there are four of us, we couldn’t find one with enough space. Then I found Hestia.

That was in 2018. I was in a dark place, but the staff were so good. They asked me how I wanted to be supported. That person-centred approach was helpful.

I now have all my immigration papers and I’ve started volunteering for Hestia, with the Better Lives Forum. It’s a group run by service users which works to improve Hestia’s services.

As soon as I came to the refuge, I knew I wanted to volunteer. I wanted to tell my story and help people.

That’s why I’ve started campaigning. I have been to the Houses of Parliament and met with Carolyn Harris MP, champion of the UK SAYS NO MORE campaign, and spoke about my experience. I want to fight for women who have no recourse to public funds. Women who are in the UK on a spousal visa, for example, can’t access resources like welfare benefits. You don’t have any income. Everything you eat, everything you wear, it comes from your partner. It makes you dependant.

This happens to so many women. We must find a way to make these women feel able to come forward. The Domestic Abuse Bill must work to help these women, so they don’t feel they are stuck in an abusive relationship.

As well as starting to campaign, other things have changed for me too. I finally moved into my own house last year. It was just as the pandemic hit, so we haven’t been able to do much, but my children are happy here. If they are happy, settled in school and doing well, I am happy. I feel blessed.