My Daughter Died By Suicide After Being Abused at College
Emily Drouet. Photo courtesy of Fiona Drouet
Every year, women in the UK are killed by stalkers and domestic abusers—despite previously reporting them to the police. Unfollow Me is a campaign highlighting the under-reported issue of stalking and domestic abuse in support of anti-stalking charity Paladin's calls to introduce a Stalkers Register in the UK. Follow all of our coverage here.
Emily was my first child. She was always so happy, and exceptionally loving and kind. She'd bounce into every room, and was the center of every family occasion. From a young age she talked about going to university, and she felt studying UK law with French law was the natural route for her to pursue.
I remember when we dropped her off at the University of Aberdeen. She embraced the experience from the moment we arrived. We decorated her room and put fairy lights around her family photo display. We helped to make everything really cosy. She was settling in well and making lots of new friends.
The first time I heard about Angus Milligan is when Emily called me one day from a train. She’d been planning to meet a friend in Edinburgh to go Christmas shopping, but they’d cancelled on her at late notice, because they were ill. Emily called me and said, “Mom, I’m already on the train, what should I do?” Shortly afterwards, she sent me a text saying, “Actually, don’t worry—one of my friends has offered to meet me in Edinburgh.” I asked who it was, and she said, “It’s a friend called Angus.” I asked her to thank him from me, because I was relieved she wouldn't be on her own. That was in December 2015.
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I met Angus a few weeks later, and wasn't sure about him instantly. He seemed very arrogant and didn’t make any conversation. He had a cold, uncomfortable stare. It’s strange, because everyone would always say he was a charmer. But I never saw that side of him. I had a bad feeling about him. I didn't think too much of it though, as Emily had said he was only a friend.
After they became romantically involved, Emily told me that they weren’t in an exclusive relationship because that was the norm at college. I told her to be careful; that it could end in heartbreak, because one person might end up getting more emotionally involved, and things could be difficult. A few months after they’d been dating, in February 2016, Emily tweeted something unusual. She said, “Why are moms always right about boys?” I asked her about it, but she brushed it off.
The day of March 17, 2016 seemed normal. Emily and I talked a couple of times during the day, and sent each other routine texts. I put her in touch with an estate agent to discuss viewing a new flat. She was excited, because she was going out that evening to celebrate St Patrick’s night, with some friends. The last text she sent me was at 9:17 PM, to say she was getting ready for her night out.
At 1:30 AM, our doorbell rang. The police were on our doorstep. I knew something was wrong immediately, but I didn’t think it was Emily. I thought maybe something had happened to my brother, or my dad.
The police officers took my hand, and asked: “Is your daughter Emily a student at the University of Aberdeen?” They told me she had taken her own life. I can honestly say that our world descended into complete darkness. On that day, my life ended too.
We slowly found out about what had been going on after Emily’s death. I spoke to one of Emily’s friends, and she said, “Angus has been really bad to her.” I said, “What do you mean?” Over the next few days, the truth trickled out. Emily’s friends sent me screenshots of texts and messages where he’d been abusive towards Emily.
At her funeral, Emily's friends came up to me: “Did you know he almost killed her on the tenth of March? He strangled her and she nearly passed out, she said she thought she was going to die.” Things were beginning to make sense.
Through information from Emily’s friends—and a postmortem which showed that Emily was covered in bruises—a police investigation was launched. We learned that Angus had assaulted Emily at least twice and had visited her on the night she died. On March 10, Angus slapped Emily, choked her, and slammed her head against her own desk. Emily took a picture of her injuries and sent it to a friend. In it, the left side of her face is bruised and swollen. Her friend urged her to report the assault to police, but Emily had been so worn out by Angus’ physical and psychological abuse that she believed she deserved the assault, and it was her fault.
On March 17, Angus came to Emily's room. He left four minutes later, and Emily ran into another room, screaming: "He's just put his hands on my throat again, I can't go on." She then returned to her room, alone, and texted a friend saying she didn’t think she could go out as planned because “Angus [has] just visited me [and] he’s angry.” Her friend texted back, saying she'd be there in ten minutes. When she arrived, Emily didn't answer her door. Later that evening, Emily’s friends returned with security, and opened the door. Emily had taken her own life.
During the court process, I saw no remorse or emotion from Angus. He even tried to stare me out in court. It was chilling. I was disappointed with the sentence, but not surprised, because he had no previous convictions. [Angus Milligan pled guilty to assault to injury and threatening or abusive behavior, as well as sending offensive or menacing messages, and was sentenced to a Community Payback Order in July 2017.]
After Emily’s death, I learned that she’d spoken with University of Aberdeen staff about Angus’ abuse. She didn’t want to get him into trouble, so her report was signed off with a note reading, “No Follow Up required.” Staff knew she’d been missing tutorials, but they didn’t physically check up on her. They received an email from Emily saying she had been suffering from excessive stress, but no one approached her about the email. No one joined up the dots. Safeguarding was disjointed at all levels.
I find it very alarming that, after being expelled from the University of Aberdeen, Angus was admitted to Oxford Brookes University as an undergraduate student. Oxford Brookes University told me that they were aware of his convictions, and had conducted adequate risk assessments. But this points towards a worrying trend in the UK: Currently, students who have been excluded from university for violence against women are able to continue their studies at another institution.
Through our charity, the Emilytest, I’ve been lobbying the government and universities to implement clear support pathways, staff training, and data collection on campuses. Government response has been strong and there is change, but policies and practices remain patchy at best. We are developing The Emilytest Charter which will allow for continuous independent assessment of the levels of support, policies, staff training, and reporting systems in place at individual universities. We believe this will ensure that the highest standards of support are being offered to students. Crucially, it will allow students and parents to make informed decisions when choosing their place of study.
Everything I do now, I do for Emily. She’s not here any more for me to do all the normal things that I should be doing for her, as her mom. So this is what I do. I help Emily to help other people, because I know that's what she would want. I share her story to make campuses safer places for young adults to live and study.
I’ll always be Emily's mom and am so blessed to say that. She’ll always be my beautiful and adored daughter. Although I can’t see her right now, I'll do my best to ensure she didn't lose her life for nothing.
Lessons must be learned, and no one else should be left to suffer alone like Emily was.
Editor's note: Broadly reached out to Oxford Brookes University, and the University of Aberdeen, for comment on Emily's case. They provided the following:
"The University remains committed to its duty of care for students and staff. We can confirm that the University adheres to the UCAS applications policy and processes followed by higher education institutions across the sector. In addition, risk assessments are implemented and the University works in close partnership with the police and probation services when required," said a spokesperson for Oxford Brookes University.
“Emily was a bright and capable student, and her death was a tragedy that was deeply upsetting for all of us here at the University of Aberdeen," said a spokesperson for the University of Aberdeen. "The University is committed to supporting any students who are experiencing difficulties during their time here. We have to balance respecting our students’ rights as independent adults with our own responsibilities to offer and provide support.
"Having reviewed the circumstances surrounding Emily’s death, we are satisfied that the level of support offered by the University prior to her death was appropriate based on our knowledge of the circumstances at the time, and the need to respect her wishes. Nonetheless we have since we carried out a review of our student support procedures, and have enhanced the level of support available where we have identified opportunities to do so. This includes the launch of a support service to tackle gender-based violence, which forms part of the Equally Safe in Higher Education (ESHE) campaign which Emily’s mother has played a leading role in.”
If you are being stalked and you are based in the UK, you can call Paladin on 020 3866 4107. If you are based in the US, you can call the Stalking Resource Center at the National Center for Victims of Crime on 855-484-2846. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please call 116 123 (if you are based in the UK), or 1-800-273-8255 (if you are based in the USA), for confidential and impartial support.