EXCLUSIVE Revealed: Sex attack of woman INSIDE domestic abuse refuge

After years of abuse at the hands of her domineering partner, finding a place at a women’s refuge in Shropshire provided Ann Cartright with the security she craved.

‘The staff kept saying: ‘You’re safe, everything’s going to be fine,’ ‘ she recalls. ‘I was told I didn’t need to worry any more.’

It was the reassurance the 21-year-old mother of two desperately needed after fleeing the violent relationship that had left her in fear of her life.

Her new home offered precisely the sort of the environment she needed to rebuild her broken confidence and sense of self-worth.

Instead, she found her trust abused in the most heinous way imaginable. Over the course of several months, Ann was repeatedly sexually abused by a 44-year-old man who worked there.

Her rapist, Steven Russell, had been employed as a handyman after lying about his qualifications. He gained the confidence of staff so effectively that he had access to confidential files and could come and go as he pleased.

After years of abuse at the hands of her domineering partner, finding a place at a women's refuge in Shropshire provided Ann Cartright with the security she craved (stock image)

After years of abuse at the hands of her domineering partner, finding a place at a women's refuge in Shropshire provided Ann Cartright with the security she craved (stock image)

After years of abuse at the hands of her domineering partner, finding a place at a women’s refuge in Shropshire provided Ann Cartright with the security she craved (stock image)

Through a combination of threats and abuse, he terrified into silence Ann and other women in the refuge.

It was only after a new arrival raised a complaint against Russell that together they testified against him.

He pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault and attempted rape in March 2019, and was jailed for three years and six months.

Ann is finally speaking out about an ordeal she describes as ‘six months of complete hell’ in light of a cultural shift that has seen increasing numbers of male-bodied trans women being allowed to transfer into female-only spaces such as women’s prisons and refuges.

In recent weeks, a shaven-headed thug by the name of Adam Graham, who carried out two violent rapes between 2016 and 2019 but later claimed to identify as a woman, was admitted into an all-female prison in Scotland. The case set the debate alight across Britain.

In light of impassioned protests from women’s rights campaigners, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was forced into a screeching U-turn and Graham was sent to an all-male unit.

And while trans women can, of course, also be victims of male violence, Ann admits whe was horrified to read that Graham had first been assigned to a female prison. ‘It made my blood run cold,’ she says.

The episode has raised stark questions as to why a double rapist was ever accepted into a women’s prison — particularly since female inmates, whatever their crimes, are often themselves victims of sexual and domestic violence and coercive control.

And Ann knows better than anyone the inherent risks of allowing a biological male — whether they identify as a man or woman — access to refuges for those fleeing domestic violence.

‘I cannot express how vulnerable we all were,’ she says. ‘I hope what happened to me is a warning against any men in refuges — as workers or residents, whether regular men or male-bodied trans women.

Adam Graham

Adam Graham

Isla Bryson

Isla Bryson

In recent weeks, a shaven-headed thug by the name of Adam Graham, who carried out two violent rapes between 2016 and 2019 but later claimed to identify as a woman, was admitted into an all-female prison in Scotland. The case set the debate alight across Britain

‘What I went through was complete suffocation and degradation in a place I should have been safe. The detectives at the time said they had never seen something this happen in a refuge — but it did.’

Today Ann — striking and slightly built, with auburn hair — is a world away from the terrified, vulnerable young woman she once was.

Now 29, she is studying for a degree and is a devoted mother.

‘Some people may call me boring, but just being able to do my work and then pick up my kids and take them to after-school clubs — I count myself very lucky to be able to do that.’

Nonetheless, her fragility is not far from the surface: Ann takes medication for anxiety and PTSD and suffers from nightmares.

‘It took a lot of therapy, but I am getting stronger,’ she says.

Like many women forced to enter refuges, her background was plagued by neglect and mistreatment. The product of what she calls an ‘unstable’ childhood at the hands of alcoholic parents, Ann recalls that as early as 14 she was being targeted by older men who knew she was vulnerable.

At 16, she met the man who would become the father of her children, an alcoholic who was ten years her senior and already had a long criminal record.

Ann yearned for the kindness he showed her at the beginning of their relationship. Her parents had left her alone in a cold, empty flat and he had offered to pay for the food and heating she needed.

Within three months, she was pregnant, but the relationship descended into violence and abuse. Ann was repeatedly raped, beaten and subjected to coercive control over the course of almost five years.

Finally, following an altercation during which her partner threatened to stab her, Ann — who by then had two children under four — summoned the courage to call the police.

‘They said I needed to get out,’ she recalls. The terrified 21-year-old fled in a taxi with her children.

‘I didn’t even know where I was going. It’s as traumatic as you can imagine.’

She arrived at the refuge in the Shropshire town of Shrewsbury and was greeted by the assistant manager, who told her: ‘You’re safe now; we have a room for you here.’

Just two days after her arrival, Ann — still traumatised from her ordeal — was introduced to Steve Russell, who, she was told, was ‘in charge’ of the building.

Steve was supposed to help her with her housing benefit — but Ann was immediately intimidated when he took her into a cramped room and shut the door.

‘He was a big, masculine bloke, and it was just me and him, a metre apart across the table in this little room,’ she recalls. ‘I shouldn’t have been put in that position.’

Steve asked for Ann’s phone number and when she refused, sensing it might be inappropriate, he took it from her case file.

No matter how much she tried to avoid him, Steve was a constant presence in the refuge — and his behaviour became increasingly threatening.

As ‘housing manager’, he had access to the communal areas and even the women’s bedrooms.

‘He could go where he liked under the guise of fixing things,’ Ann says. ‘He acted like he owned the building and everyone in it. He used to walk up to me and just grab my breast and backside. He was cornering me in the corridors, getting really close and touching me.’

On one occasion, he confronted Ann in the communal showers.

‘My bedroom was just across the corridor, so I had to walk over in my towel. I was just stepping into the shower, and he walked behind me and said: ‘I wish I could come in there and rape you right now.’

‘I froze, then turned around and he really enjoyed the look of horror on my face. He just laughed maniacally and walked off down the corridor.’

But that threat soon became real after Steve invited her to meet him outside the refuge. ‘He started saying to me: ‘You’ve been in an abusive relationship for so long, you haven’t even been able to leave the house. Why don’t you come and meet me?’

‘I don’t know why I did. The only way I can describe it was that by then it was like I was in a hostage situation.

‘He ordered me into his car then drove me to a place next to a really fast-flowing river.

‘It was pitch black. He put my seat down, and then with his dead weight on top of me, he raped me. Now I look back and scream at myself. Why did I do that? Why did I leave the refuge? But from a young age, I had learned that saying no to men would have bad consequences.’

Nor was this a coincidence. Ann now realises that, with access to the case notes of all the women in the refuge, Steve was ‘tailoring’ his abuse. ‘He knew where we were most vulnerable,’ she says.

He told Ann he would contact her ex-partner if he felt she was not being sufficiently compliant, and ensured her silence by threatening to contact social services. They’d believe a ‘welfare professional’ like him over her any time, he assured her.

‘This was later confirmed to me by a social worker — they would have believed him because of the role he was in,’ says Ann.

‘I was living in absolute fear that my children were going to be taken away from me.’

Isolated and terrified, Ann says she had no idea Steve was doing the same to other women in the refuge. ‘He created this climate of fear,’ she recalls.

‘He had absolute control. He would shout at women to go to their room if they had been ‘disobedient’, or he would constantly remind them they ‘owed’ him. I remember him shouting at one woman: ‘You had no shoes when you got here — I gave you those shoes.’

‘He’d convinced us all that we were all bad mothers and to stay away from each other. I remember a manager came back from maternity leave, and said: ‘There’s something really wrong here, there’s ten women living together and none of them talks to each other.’

Ann now knows Steve even had control of the internal and external CCTV, which he would wipe to conceal his abuse.

Who knows how long his reign of terror might have lasted, were it not for the arrival of a woman Ann describes as a ‘fabulous singer from Paris’ to the refuge in late 2015.

‘She was amazing and very strong, but Steve was so confident that the first thing he said to her was ‘When was the last time you had a f***?’ So she got everyone together and asked what was going on.’

It was the first time the women began to open up.

‘As soon as we started speaking to each other, we had strength. We called the manager who then called the police.’

Steve was charged with three counts of rape and three counts of sexual assault against Ann and another woman, as well as one count of fraud for lying about his qualifications.

‘The police said he knew exactly what he was going to do when he applied for this job,’ Ann says. ‘From day one it was so measured and calculated.’

Such was the control Steve exerted over Ann that during her initial police interviews she refused to believe she had been raped.

‘I said to the police: ‘He didn’t rape me because I didn’t say no.’ But the police said to me: ‘He raped you.’ ‘

Even so, during the lead-up to the court case Ann was so traumatised that she considered pulling out of giving evidence.

‘I’d come from one abusive relationship into another form of abuse. I just wanted to move on.’

Yet shortly before the case was due to be heard at Shrewsbury Crown Court, Ann learned that Russell had pleaded guilty to the lesser charges of attempted rape and sexual assault, alongside the one count of fraud — meaning she did not have to give evidence.

A claim was subsequently brought on her behalf against Connexus Homes Limited, a large commercial enterprise which oversaw the refuge where Ann was housed and which employed Russell.

Her claim was settled in January and she was paid an undisclosed sum in compensation.

Within a year or so, she finally settled in a home of her own.

She remains grateful that, despite the horror she has endured, her story has a happy ending.

Shockingly the Shropshire refuge where Russell’s campaign of abuse took place still proudly boasts online: ‘Our refuge is women-only spaces[sic], although men may sometimes come in to perform essential services e.g. repairing the boiler.’

Richard Scorer, specialist abuse and safeguarding lawyer at Slater Gordon, believes this needs to change. He says Ann’s case graphically demonstrates why it is so important to preserve female-only safe spaces and services.

‘A women’s refuge should be a place of sanctuary and safety for vulnerable women,’ he says.

‘In this shocking case, a predatory male sex offender was not only able to gain entry to the refuge but, incredibly, to get a job which gave him access to women’s rooms and their personal records.

‘Sadly, given the erosion of the principle that women’s refuges should be women-only, it is unlikely to be a one-off.

‘This case demonstrates that predatory male sex offenders will try to find and exploit any possible means to gain access to, and target, vulnerable women. In 25 years of dealing with sexual assault cases, I have seen this happen over and over again.’

He adds that, despite the clamour by trans activists for anyone who identifies as a woman to be allowed into these spaces, the only way to ensure women’s safety is for refuges to employ, house and be run solely by biological females.

It is a sentiment echoed by Ann. ‘The women in refuges are so vulnerable — completely broken,’ she says. ‘They want their privacy, they want their dignity. It’s so easy to abuse that position of power.’

*Some names have been changed to protect privacy.

Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk

https://www.soundhealthandlastingwealth.com/celebrity/exclusive-revealed-sex-attack-of-woman-inside-domestic-abuse-refuge/ EXCLUSIVE Revealed: Sex attack of woman INSIDE domestic abuse refuge

Brian Ashcraft

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