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Students and Society: Red Flag Campaign

Kirsten Murray speaks with Grace Clark, founder of the Red Flag Campaign about how the project started and why it has never been more important to support people in abusive relationships.

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Image Credit: Nouse Team

Content Warning: Abusive relationships

‘Students and Society’ is a new series exploring the ways in which York students are giving back to communities both locally and globally. If you have a story you would like to share, get in touch with MUSE’s Features Editor at alice.manning@nouse.co.uk.

2020 was a difficult year for all of us. We have all felt the impact of being trapped indoors during various lockdowns - yet as Grace Clark, founder of the Red Flag Campaign explains, for people in abusive relationships it is more than just an inconvenience.

The Red Flag Campaign is a student-run project designed to help those trapped in toxic, abusive or controlling relationships. The campaign aims to help people identify the signs that they may not be able to see for themselves, and then signpost them to the appropriate support. As the universal symbol of warning, the red flag seemed the perfect name for the campaign, as whilst one red flag may not be an instant sign of something toxic, when they are displayed together the warning signs become more obvious.

Sadly, even as university students, all too many of us either have experienced, or know someone who has experienced a toxic or abusive relationship and I think it is admirable how Grace has chosen to utilise her experience to help others.

Grace started the campaign in late 2019 whilst in the process of rebuilding herself after her own experience in an abusive relationship. She told me: “I had a lot of anger and sadness, which I decided to channel into helping people to recognise the signs of these types of relationships. There is no right way to deal with moving on from a toxic relationship, but I found throwing myself into something positive really helped me to become myself again. From the position of wanting to help people in a similar situation, I decided that it didn’t matter if I helped one person or a hundred, it would be worth trying, so I decided to start research.”

Grace began researching abusive relationships, reading professional advice and utilising her own experience to put together a comprehensive list of how it feels to be in an abusive relationship – the ‘red flags’. The campaign’s website clearly sets out these red flags for people to look out for, as Grace explains: “identifying abuse is incredibly hard, especially if you are in the relationship, so I really wanted to make sure that I was giving a well-rounded description of abusive characteristics and how it feels to be the victim of them.”

Both the Instagram page and website are incredibly professional. Grace told me she had created it all herself, teaching herself an array of new skills, from designing graphics, to setting up a website and gaining contacts across the University and various charities. She revealed that the entire project has required zero funding: “I think that it goes to show that if you care about something and want to make a difference, you can do it no matter what your platform or your funding is. We are growing by the day and I would encourage anyone who is thinking about starting up a campaign to do it.” She has also been supported by some fantastic volunteers: Olivia Burness, who volunteered as photographer; Chris Oldnall who was the Equal Opportunities Officer for the York Sports Committee; and the Women’s and Non-Binary Committee, all of whom have been incredibly supportive.

Since launching, the response has been incredibly positive, with so many individuals and societies eager to show their support. Working with the York Sports Committee enabled university sports teams to get involved, with Lacrosse, Hockey and James College Netball among those who shared their support on Instagram last term. YUSU’s Women and Non-Binary Network have also been a huge part of the campaign from the very beginning, helping Grace to get in touch with vital charities such as York-based sexual assault charity Survive, and national charity Refuge. In the near future, Grace hopes to organise speaking events with members of these charities who are trained to give specific advice and carry out their work.

With the rise of social media, it has become even harder to switch off and escape from an abusive relationship. Even if you are not physically with the abuser, they can continue to track your online activity. Especially for young people and students in schools, it is more important than ever to be aware of what constitutes a healthy relationship and what constitutes a toxic one.

Grace agrees that relationship wellbeing is not discussed enough among young people, and therefore it can be impossible to know where to turn to when trying to escape a controlling person. She says that social media can make it feel like “no matter what you do they will always be able to have contact with you. This is a key reason why it is so hard to leave an abusive relationship and why victims of abuse often feel incredibly trapped and alone. I think we should be talking about abusive relationships, and the support available, from a young age in order to educate on abuse and highlight routes to leave relationships before they become too dangerous.”

Tragically the pandemic has also seen a significant increase in domestic violence and abuse cases. Grace informs me that Refuge reported a 700% increase in calls to its hotline in a single day during lockdown, and Police recorded 259,324 domestic abuse offences between March and June – a 7% increase from the same period in 2019. She states “these statistics can’t be ignored”, and quite rightly so. . A statement from Women’s Aid website reads “Covid-19 does not cause domestic abuse, only abusers are responsible for their actions. The pandemic has, however, escalated abuse and closed down routes to safety for women to escape.” It is now more important than ever now for victims to have access to pages like The Red Flag Campaign, and know that support is available to them.

After hearing all about the campaign I was keen to find out how other students can get involved and further help the campaign. Whilst there isn’t a committee set up, Grace is always happy to receive ideas from anyone and explains: “if you would like to show your support and raise awareness, we would love to see photos of you wearing something red or holding a red flag sign. Sharing our posts is always helpful and spreading the word to friends at other universities would be a big help since we are currently trying to branch out to students across the country! More personally, educate yourself on the signs and look out for those around you. Having support from loved ones can be so important in these situations.”

A new feature to the website is a section titled ‘Raise Your Flag - Share Your Story’ which provides a space for victims of an abusive or toxic relationship to share their experiences. An anonymous form gives you the opportunity to do this without judgement. Grace acknowledges how it can be difficult to share experiences with people that you know, so this feature removes that anxiety. You can then choose if you would like your story shared to their social media to help people that may be in a similar situation, with these stories being found under the ‘Raise Your Flag’ page on the website.

The Red Flag Campaign is an incredible platform, and as Grace says, “it is a lot of work but I genuinely believe if you care about a cause anyone can make a difference.” We can help support Grace and continue to make a difference by spreading the word and supporting any friends or family who you think may be trapped in a toxic relationship. To support The Red Flag Campaign, follow them on Instagram and Facebook or check out their website, Red Flag Campaign for access to support links, a list of all the red flags, white flags, and survivor stories. Remember, if you are in an abusive relationship, you are not alone.

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We at Nouse wish to support the Red Flag Campaign and help spread awareness.

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