Immigration barrister and women’s rights trailblazer Helen Foot describes the challenges facing her clients and how, along with her solicitors, she can help them get the legal protection they are entitled to.
A high proportion of my clients are refugee and migrant women who face huge obstacles to asserting their rights in the legal system. Many of them are victims of sexual violence or abuse, and as the result of this abuse they often find it very difficult even to articulate what has happened to them, let alone realise that they are entitled to legal protection. Some victims of trafficking, for example, do not even recognise their experiences as exploitative because they have only ever experienced abusive relationships. It can be difficult to obtain evidence of the harm these women suffer, because it takes place behind closed doors, and is perpetrated by men who have taken advantage of a world in which their word counts for everything, and a woman’s word counts for nothing. So in addition to the individual woman’s testimony, these cases often turn on psychiatric or medical evidence, and expert evidence about the country in question.
With the help of some brilliant solicitors I work with, it is possible to win these cases against the odds. It can be life-changing for these women finally to be believed, and to be granted safety in the form of refugee status or leave to remain. I find it hugely rewarding to be part of that.