A profile of the City alumna and writer, in the wake of her six-page investigative feature in the Financial Times which lifted the lid on the taboo subject of domestic abuse by police officers

By City Press Office(City Press Office), Published

Sarah Haque graduated from City, University of London in 2020 with a BA in English with Journalism. Now a successful freelance journalist, her work spans a wide range of topics including violence against women, abortion, and xenophobia.

Having transferred to City from another London university, she found the course was “ideal for critical students who are passionate about literature but also want to gain applicable, professional skills for their future career”.

During her time at City, she co-founded The Bard, an online magazine that promotes City students’ creative work.

Sarah has previously worked as a production assistant for ITV, and as a freelance journalist has had bylines in VICE, British Vogue, Wired and Byline Times. She also joined The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) as a fellow before becoming a freelance reporter.

Sarah’s most recent investigation exploring the story of a woman who suffered domestic abuse at the hands of her police officer husband was published in a six-page spread for the Financial Times Weekend Magazine, in partnership with TBIJ.

Sarah interviewed ‘Cora’, who described how her husband ‘Steve’ used his authority to abuse her, an experience which led to her being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

A training course on trauma-led responses to domestic abuse cases allowed ‘Steve’ to “sharpen” his treatment of his wife, using what he had learned against her.

As part of Sarah’s investigation, she uncovered improper handling of cases regarding sexually abusive police officers. She found that police officers accused of abuse avoid convictions and keep their jobs – 82 per cent of police staff reported for domestic abuse in the past three years are still working.

Out of more than 1,300 officers and staff, only 36 have been dismissed, while 203 have retired, resigned or left for other reasons. These findings were directly linked to a watchdog report where Metropolitan Police officers were found exchanging messages that made light of sexual violence, leading to the resignation of former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick.

Sarah’s first major journalistic piece, about Covid-19 misinformation in India, was written as a fellow at TBIJ in collaboration with fellow City alumni Jasper Jackson and Alexandra Heal, as well as Rahul Meesaraganda. For this piece, the team made the British Journalism Awards shortlist for Technology Journalism.

Sarah will shortly be starting a Creative Writing master’s at the University of Oxford, a competitive course that allocates around 30 places each year. The course is spread over two years, allowing its students to retain full-time jobs while pursuing their studies. Clustered writing retreats, residences and research placements allow students to experiment with genre and form through critical and creative reflection before specialising in their chosen area.

Sarah will be a member of the graduate-only Kellogg College, whose alumni include Olympic and Paralympic athletes and writers such as JC Niala, Prajwal Parajuly and Jingan Young. The actor, comedian and mental health campaigner Ruby Wax also attended Kellogg.

Part of Sarah’s application included a creative writing piece on her writerly journey, in which she reflected on how reading and writing helped her to process her grief in the wake of her father’s death.

In the following Q&A, Sarah discusses her time at City and her writing experiences to date.

What was distinctive about your course at City?

The BA English course at City is unlike most traditional literature courses. It isn’t restricted to a stale reading list of texts you should read, if only to regularly tell people that you have (collect clout points for Homer, Keats, Hemingway, pass Go). It isn’t about churning out analytical essays, either. Its approach is hybrid, weaving together academic, creative, and professional strands of writing, while being grounded in a foundation of noteworthy literature all the same. But the course felt limber and ever-shifting, unafraid to ask: who decides what is deemed noteworthy, anyway?

Did you come into City knowing what route you wanted to take for your future?

At the time I believed the pragmatic thing to do would be to pursue a career in journalism – namely investigative journalism, which I saw as the quieter, grittier underbelly of a largely boisterous industry. I applied, and got in, to the MA Investigative Journalism course at City. I had a plan: get my master’s, work at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (or ‘The Bureau’), then maybe The Guardian, then The New York Times. But then, the pandemic hit. I deferred a year, the thought of undergoing a virtual degree from the remote confines of my bedroom fuelling my nightmares.

In that time, I wrote features for the Financial Times Weekend Magazine, British Vogue, Wired, Vice World News, Elle, and landed a three-month fellowship at The Bureau, during which I racked up further bylines in The Independent, The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, and two shortlisted nominations for the British Journalism Awards. But while I appreciated the rigorous research of The Bureau, it wasn’t deliberate or thoughtful about prose. I wanted, more than anything, to tell human stories, turning sentences in my hands, this way and that. I dropped out of the MA Investigative Journalism before September came around. During my time at City, I had ended up choosing several journalism electives, which were practical and revealing. But it was in my English seminars, where conversations waded deep – into ideas around history, religion, philosophy, sex, psychology, socioeconomics – that I was truly enthralled. I’m headed, instead, into a master’s in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford this autumn.

How did City help you with your career?

City has an inimitable reputation in the media landscape. City alumni are dispersed across various editorial roles in major, national publications. It makes cold pitching a new editor much easier.

What is your favourite article you’ve written so far?

That has to be my most recent one, for Financial Times Weekend Magazine, also published without a paywall here. It’s the story of one woman’s decade-long experience of abuse, at the hands of her police officer husband. It’s also a story about abuses of power, misogyny in our police forces, the lingering fear of intimate abuse, and what it means to refuse to be defined by your sexual and emotional trauma.

What is your plan for the future (near and far)?

I’m about to start the master’s in Creative Writing, which is both thrilling and terrifying. I’m venturing out from my comfort zone to write more personal essays and fiction (and poetry). I want to write a novel if the literati will let me. Maybe two. I also hope to continue writing longform narrative non-fiction, for dream publications like The New Yorker.

Sarah Haque is a writer and freelance features writer based in London. Her website can be found here.

Article and interview: Ruth Almodal