A victim of rape and sexual abuse was left crying in the queue to enter a shop in Belfast on Boxing Day in front of 20 other people and her children when she was asked for proof of her facemask exemption.
She said that, although on good days she can wear one and understands that it is a safety precaution, on other days when her anxiety is triggered, she cannot.
Jane – which is not her real name - told listeners on Monday’s BBC Nolan Show that she has been diagnosed with prolonged duress stress disorder (PDSD) as well as borderline personality disorder meaning that she cannot wear a facemask.
She said that wearing a mask can sometimes trigger her past abuse.
“People who have been effected by sexual abuse or rape will understand what I mean,” she told the Nolan show.
“When I wear that mask sometimes it makes me feel like there’s somebody’s hands over my face, it triggers me completely.
“It reminds me of what happened because of the hand over my mouth,” she added.
“It sends me into a full panic.”
Jane said that when she was asked by the security guard of the shop to wear one, she felt “shaken and humiliated” and forced to tell him her reason despite not feeling comfortable.
In December, the Executive indicated it would remove some exemptions on face coverings and place the onus on the individual to provide medical proof on why they cannot wear one.
Paul Givan said last Thursday, however, that the policy in terms of the onus being on the individual to provide proof has now been suspended.
He said there has been clear evidence brought forward that individuals with “very valid reasons for being exempt” were becoming very distressed around providing proof.
Jane said that when she was asked for proof of exemption, she got upset and started to cry.
“There was a whole queue of people behind me at this point and I leaned forward and I told him why, I told him I was a victim of sexual abuse and rape and I have PDSD, but then he said ‘no but you need to show me proof of that’ then I questioned how do I do that, how do I prove that?” she said.
“I was just so embarrassed by it, how does someone like me prove that, standing in a queue with my children in front of 20 other strangers?
“It really shook me I ended up having to go home I couldn’t continue with the day.”
She added: “He didn’t make me say it, but I got in that much of a tizzy I felt that I needed to explain myself, and I know he is just doing his job and what he’s been told to do.
“But the thing that annoyed me more was that when he was asking me questions, I asked him how to prove that, he then told me to go onto the internet and order a lanyard.
“So, after I had disclosed real personal information to him to back myself up, he then told me to go onto the internet,” she revealed.
“I was horrified by that, all that proves is that I know how to shop online, it doesn’t prove that I’m exempt in any way, I felt it was a real slap in the face for the reasons that I was exempt in the first place.”
The woman then explained that she phoned her GP that day in order to seek further advice if the incident arose again.
“They then said that they weren’t handing out letters,” she said.
“So, what do I do now, do I carry around my letter which has my diagnosis on it, and my personal details on it? I think it is completely wrong.”