"It's easy sometimes to get caught up in this work and lose perspective. We do regularly hear about the absolute worst of humanity and the devastating impacts of this. Of course one of the things that keeps us all so positive is seeing women recover from their trauma and move on with their lives again. We witness this every week; the remarkable resilience of women. And I'm sure that those involved in the organisation wouldn't want to do the work if we didn't see these positive changes.
But still, being surrounded by the epidemic of sexual violence, in person and in the media constantly, runs the risk of seeing the world through a certain lens. That's why it is so good for us to have experiences that run counter to the overriding narrative. July was one of those months when we had a series of wonderful pieces of evidence of the very best of the world.
We received 4 donations out of the blue in July! First off, the older lesbians group, SWALLOWS sent us a very welcome cheque for £85 with a lovely message of support for the work we do. A local group of women just thinking about other women and how they can help - superb! Then, following a visit by our Chair, Linda, Teignmouth Baptist Church sent us a cheque for £250. We've no idea how they raised the money but we are absolutely clear of their intention to support women in Teignmouth and beyond. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the month came with an email from Gavin, a teacher at Teignmouth Community College. His year 8 tutor group had decided to raise money for DRCSAS and had achieved an amazing £301. This was impressive because a group of 14 year olds had come up with the idea themselves, discussed and agreed to make us their beneficiaries. It strikes me that this year 8 tutor group had a particular level of maturity and compassion which is often missing from adult mainstream conversations where victims are judged and held (at least partially) responsible for their attack. I'm really looking forward to meeting them in person at the start of the new term - real role models for their peers and ambassadors for their school.
Finally, International Dance Supplies ran an event with a raffle and raised £612 for us. The founder of IDS, Anne Walker MBE, has been a patron with us from the very beginning and is supportive in so many ways. We're really grateful for our ongoing relationship with her.
And we're really grateful for all the people out there who take the issue of sexual violence seriously, who don't pretend it's not happening, who do want to do something to help and who think about our organisation when they have something to give."
I went out for a meal last night, with Linda our Chair and "M" an ex-service user. It's quite an unusual thing to do but then it is quite an unusual situation and I think we are quite an unusual organisation.
We've been going as an organisation for nearly 5 years and "M" has been involved with us in one way or another for about 4 of those years. She was initially a service user and now, although not receiving a formal therapeutic service from us, maintains her contact by coming in several times a year. I think organisations like ours are unusual as we can remain accessible to people even if they have ceased their formal work with us. It is not something that we seek but in the delivery of a very real and human service, real relationship occurs and this is - and is felt to be - important.
It means we get cards months down the line, it means that women call in to tell us about big events in their lives; attending a trial, forming a relationship, going to university, it means we are thrilled to hear good news. It means that sometimes, women who have felt sufficiently recovered to end support know that they can come back at any time, knowing they will receive the same skilled compassion and belief. It means that women who use our service have a sense of the real humanity within the organisation and know that we will be interested in what happens in their lives next, whether it is good or not so good.
I think that "M" has this sense of us. She maintains a link with a worker 4 times a year as an acknowledgement and respect of the two years of intense work done together. "M" also uses the helpline and email support service if she needs to and occasionally asks us for some very practical assistance with medical appointment. But alongside this she has also spent the last year raising an enormous amount of money for us. Through her fundraising Devon Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Services are £7,420 better off and we couldn't be more proud of her.
Sadly, because of her safety needs, "M" can't be identified and so we couldn't take a photo for the press or our website and recognise her in that very public way. Linda and I were very keen that she felt our real human gratitude - hence the meal- which was lovely!
Thank you M.
"What can I say about the so called tampon tax that has not been voiced already by colleagues locally and nationally? Maybe to be fair I could congratulate the government on the parts that they have done well with; bringing the VAT on sanitary products down to the lowest possible in EU law and campaigning for the rate to be abolished completely across member states. I genuinely think the government can see how ridiculous and unfair the tax is and would rather not be tasked with collecting it.
So, if they really do have an understanding of the territory and the politics then how on earth did they come up with the scheme for the tax to be spent on women's health, domestic and sexual violence charities? How did they come up with such a thoughtless, derisory, misguided and offensive solution? Did nobody around the table when discussing consider the implicit message such a decision would send to women? And to men.
Why is it that when you talk about gender issues people assume you are talking about women? Why is it that when we talk about gender issues this is seen to be a problem and a problem for women to address? Why is it that the vast majority of campaigns against sexual violence are instigated and carried out by women? How can we absolve half of the population from issues that very much concern them.
I don't believe that women are responsible for sexual violence and I don't believe that women are responsible for ending it. I think that each one of us has a stake in creating a society free from the gendered crimes of rape, harassment and childhood sexual abuse; men and women. But the message from the government is that these issues are the responsibility of women and now women can pay for them through this bizarre tax. How are we helping men to see it as their issue too? How are we encouraging men to take some responsibility for the changes we need to see?
The issue of responsibility is often on my mind in relation to Devon Rape Crisis Service, particularly when I'm worrying about the future of the organisation. We are very lucky to have a number of local and national commissioners who have made a financial commitment to our service and therefore to the women who use it. The Ministry of Justice, The Police and Crime Commissioner, Safer Devon, Exeter City Council, Torbay Council, Devon County Council and North Devon Council. This broad range of funders makes some sense because the impacts of sexual violence are not confined to one area. Women experience trauma, loss of trust, fear of going out, relationship issues, drug and alcohol use, mental and physical health amongst others. The residents of Devon deserve to have their needs met by those responsible for those needs and by contributing relatively small amounts each, each organisation can meet their obligations.
It is a continuing disappointment to us that whilst most funding bodies have taken responsibility and contributed to our ability to deliver specialist support to those affected by sexual violence - to this point, no funding has been contributed by any health body. My wish for Christmas is that this situation will change in 2016 and that those women with mental and physical health needs can be assured of a continued specialist service. When over 30% of our referrals come from health professionals, it seems perverse that no funding is in place to support this.
We've been incredibly lucky this year to have two amazing women fundraising for us. Wendy and M have separately raised £20K for our organisation. It is a staggering amount and we are bowled over by their commitment. I'd love to be able to see these monies as a pot where we could work creatively and develop new and innovate services. Sadly, right now, these two women's efforts will need to be channelled into our essential services. We thank them for taking some responsibility and for modelling to others how this can be done."
"I have for 2 years had a lot of support from Devon Rape Crisis. They have been a lifeline for me whilst I have tried to come to terms with the abuse I suffered as a child but which continued into adulthood. I have always wondered how my life would of been if I had support as a child. Would I have told someone of my abuse meaning it ended sooner? Would the support back then mean my abuse has a lesser impact on me today? If I could of spoken out about my abuse as a child could I have helped my brother too? The sad fact is I won't ever know. It's too late for me as a child or young woman to get support as it simply didn't happen & I can't turn back the clock. There was no support full stop. I was alone being abused with no one to turn to for help. I was trapped and continued to be trapped for many years. I found out on Facebook that Devon Rape Crisis wanted to help young women under the age of 18. Because I often look back on how lonely and desperate I was as a child and young woman I decided to start fundraising myself. I originally decided to set myself a target of £1000 but have so far raised £5000. My flat has often looked like I'm hosting a jumble sale and I'm constantly collecting donations, selling donations and delivering donations. It takes a lot of my time but it gives me a sense of purpose. If I can help in a small way make sure teenage girls have a place to go for support I will be happy. If my fundraising means that it helps one young girl get away from abuse earlier than she would without support it will be worth it. I know from the suppot I have had as an adult how much it can help and I am sure the staff at the centre would be sensitive to the needs of younger women & girls helping them regain control of their lives. I'm not sure when I will stop fundraising, I guess when we eradicate abuse of all types and there is no need for such services. Until that day I will continue to do the small amount I can to help.
Each year I am honoured to meet up with Fee and do something together to mark the anniversary of a very tragic and personal loss. This meet up always means a great deal to me and it gives me the chance to acknowledge my loss with another person who cares. It helps make a very difficult and sad time more bearable and highlights the fact the service don't just stop caring when face to face support ends. During times when I am likely to struggle more I am grateful of the support I still receive. I can manage better knowing there is a safe person who when the time comes will stand by me."
I saw you
Struggling for breath.
This is how it is,
You no longer arrive.
A hundred, thousand years
secrets and lies.
No one knew.
No one would say boo to you.
I saw you
I had to bide.
The years and years
I held on
All of me
I saw you
For a long time
I did more than fight.
Still and quiet
Fight or flight.
Again and again
and the pain
crucified me so much,
sometimes I actually felt insane.
"God" I hated you.
You, to me
never felt true or good
You wasn't my blood.
"Mother" did, never should.
The dark cloak came down
You were ugly,
so full of crap!
You had your own personal map.
You done it because you could
leaving a stain
like dirty, stinking, wet sewage mud.
Much was spoken
You stole me
there wasn't time.
You exposed my very being.
You freezed me.
Bled me red.
You made me tense,
I hardly cried.
I was sleepless.
I was lonely.
I was tried.
I saw you
Your ego loud and high.
You were brutal.
Every day Worse.
I saw you
you were driving
like a machine.
I held out
I heard you suffered
I heard you'd died.
Written by "I"
"We've undergone some huge changes in the past few months, so much so that it's prevented me from writing a blog!
We have increased our staff team from three to eight - an amazing expansion for us. We now have two Specialist Support Workers, Beverley and Ally who work with women in Torbay and North Devon. I'm so proud of the fact that we've been able to expand into the furthest reaches of the county. We know how frustrating it is when services are really Exeter-centric which is why we've always worked with women in various locations. But having permanent bases in Torquay and Barnstaple just makes it so much easier logistically for our workers and volunteers to be flexible and accessible.
And then we have our new counselling service for young women and men aged 13 - 18, staffed by Ilaria and Tracey. It has always been an aim of ours to offer services to young people so to see it come alive is quite wonderful.
And there's more! We have a new administration and monitoring worker, Jo, who joined us recently to take us to the next level with all things data! And Vanessa has just joined us as a Service Co-ordinator to take on many of the responsibilities held by Anna, our Service Manager, who is about to leave us for 6 months maternity leave - we wish her very well with her own expanding family!
The changes and increase in personnel have had quite an impact on the organisation. Where to sit down for one thing! And our Trustees are quite bemused by the constant stream of new faces appearing at their Board meetings to introduce themselves (our chair, Linda keeps asking me to repeat the numbers in our workforce now ...)
What's not changed is the culture of the organisation; the belief we all share in the empowerment of women, the way we deliver our services in a human and transparent manner, the skills and commitment of the team. And of course, the 'team' is so much more than our paid workers; it includes our 23 volunteer support workers and our 8 trustees - all of whom give so much and make this place so remarkable."
Everyone in the office is readying for the onslaught known as "end of year" on 5th April. For a small charity like us, which is also a registered company - it takes a great deal of time and attention to detail to ensure everything is in order. Chasing unpaid invoices, petty cash reconciliations, inputting data about the work we do, gathering paperwork ready for the auditors, the list is pretty long. We're lucky to have a solid team in the office who keep on top of things month in and month out but you can never quite avoid the stress!
And of course, while this is happening, we can never take our eye of our main ball - delivering quality specialist services to women who want our help. I'm reminded today when all three paid workers have been up to their ears, that one of the main reasons we can get so much done is because we have such a solid, experienced and dedicated team of Volunteer Support Workers who carry out so much of the support. Two women were staffing the helpline line last Friday evening, with another working face to face with one of our service users. On Saturday most of our volunteers turned out to receive some specialist training as part of our regular programme - and this afternoon as I write this, yet another of the team is back in taking calls on the helpline and answering emails from women. Our team of 24 volunteer support workers give up so much of their time for the organisation - much of it in the evenings and weekends. Their core training involves 5 evenings and 3 weekends, plus then additional weekends given up to additional training courses, events and organisational awaydays.And they do it cheerfully!The Trustees too are volunteers and give acres of time to overseeing the vision and strategy for the organisation. This often involves reading and analysing huge amounts of information and again, they do this cheerfully!
It's an exciting time for Devon Rape Crisis Services right now as we're about to expand our paid staff team from three bodies to six in the next few months (see our vacancies page for details!) and they'll have a real job on their hands to keep on top of everything. We do need a core team of paid workers to keep the organisation going but we also know we are the sum of our parts and a huge part are the volunteers who just keep turning up, doing amazing work and developing their skills and so the skills of the whole organisation."
Guest Blog -Journey to Physical Peace
I begin my story with a short letter to my friend and foe, V, reflecting on how we have lived together all this time, often fractiously, sometimes gratefully, but mostly in a state of bewilderment.
How you have held me.
Held me prisoner.
Held me safe.
Kept me in the dark,
Vaguely waved your existence to me from the shadows.
Caused me to blame the other person for years, protected me from attack, from undesirables, from accidental embryos. Kept me single, humiliated, unable to share my trauma with others.
May we make peace?
In this still patriarchal society, I see girls and women all around me who settle for less, or worse, in the masculine counterpart. They believe that they have no choice. Once doomed with that lesser value, many of them even fight to protect it, to prevent it from leaving them. For these beautiful women, anything is better than being alone, the fear and stigma of which holds such great power in our culture.
When I was attacked nearly four years ago, by someone I initially chose to become involved with, it triggered a pinnacle to an existing condition. The man involved went to prison, not for his crime to me, but for violence to a woman who went before me. In my low self worth I did not speak out, believing myself to be to blame - I had chosen to become involved with him. It did not matter that I had had to lock my door at least once to stop him entering my room.
Further back in time, whilst still an angry teenager, my drink one night was spiked by colleagues, and I was teased for being a drunk, because they were accustomed to me partying. Then a recently overheard conversation about Rohypnol shook me to the core, as I learned of its proper use as a relaxant, and how a friend who had had an operation remembered the point at which he regained consciousness, only for his sister to tell him he had been laughing and chatting with her for an hour already. Of this, he had no memory. Of what may have happened to me that night, I have no memory.
Vaginismus is: "a condition where there is involuntary tightness of the vagina during attempted intercourse The tightness is actually caused by involuntary contractions of the pelvic floor muscles surrounding the vagina. The woman does not directly control or 'will' the tightness to occur; it is an involuntary pelvic response. She may not even have any awareness that the muscle response is causing the tightness or penetration problem. "
Until about five years ago I did not even know Vaginismus existed. I had suffered quietly, and for a long time. Repeatedly I had told myself it was the other party's fault, that they did not know how to treat me, and that I just needed to find the right person. Then, I blamed myself. I was lurching from one disastrous relationship to another, never recovering, and the condition was getting worse. I was rejected repeatedly for sexual reasons. Some men tried to rescue me, to be the knight in shining armour, "we will get through this", but they would lose confidence at the first hurdle, running away in fear, their egos distressed.
Vaginismus comes in different guises, for different women. The options for 'curing' it are depressing. Unable to find much through my GP, I was eventually referred for some short term counselling through the sexual health unit, which was held in a redundant hospital, and ran out after a few weeks because of funding. I then paid for some Tantra counselling, at around £120 a session, thinking an alternative route might help me, but my savings were finished by the third session and I was no further forward.
My last cervical smear test had to be done under general anaesthetic, and I sobbed all the way through the gynaecologist pre-appointment. My family were far away, and only a casual friend was free on the day to come with me.
The hospital provided me with dilators: depressing, pink plastic objects or 'vaginal trainers' which I was meant to practice inserting daily, until the vagina was stretched. To say this felt cold, clinical and disheartening is an understatement. Another option I learned was to have an operation, where the vaginal walls are forcibly stretched. I wondered, do we live in an era of barbarism.
Finally I quit relationships. I was fully in my own company for around 18 months. I recovered strength and confidence, and felt more comfortable in my body than I had for a very long time. With a childhood in shadow of the traumas of boarding school, initiations and long term humiliation, this was a powerful piece of progress. Although my journey is long, and I am approaching the age beyond which I can have children, I am growing in confidence, and making peace with myself and my experiences.
I envision a future where our culture reveres womens' sensuality and sexuality as the highest, most powerful life force. Where it is only ever honoured, and men find strength and masculinity in the process of encountering it. Where girls reaching puberty are allowed to embrace their changing body and chemistry, and fully honour its transformation. Where men are content in society, and in harmony with the feminine.
I write this for any woman who has suffered or is suffering from Vaginismus. For some, a label is unhelpful, restricting. For me, it has brought relief and clarity and something to work with. I hope that this writing shows that there is support out there. And I wish to encourage the truth that penetration is only one part of intimacy, and that as women we do not have to bow to the societal pressure that it is the only goal, or acceptable form of that intimacy.
Finally DRCS, who I rang from a public payphone in distress after the attack four years previously, have, for me, been a miraculous source of support, empathy, and empowerment. I am deeply grateful to them for their women-centred work and their service.
We will not pass your details on to anyone, just explore practicalities.
"This blog is a bit unusual and needs a little introduction. We've just finished the formal training part of our volunteer training programme and have just welcomed 8 new volunteer support workers into the organisation for their 6 month induction. The training is intense and of course we are dealing with challenging issues, such is the nature of our work. The training programme is accredited and women have to produce a portfolio of written work. One of the assessment tools we use is reflective logs and reproduced below (with full permission) is the log done by Laura recently on pornography. We're using this because she's managed to write so eloquently and honestly about pornography and we are delighted to welcome her and the other 7 members of the group into our organisation."
The log is reproduced in full for ease of reading.
What was the situation, event or experience?
The whole session on pornography.
What did it make me feel and think initially?
Feelings: indifference, embarrassment, surprise, confusion. Some initial thoughts: pornography has always been part of the furniture;
- isn't this strange, talking about porn with someone I barely know? Aren't we confident? Wait a minute no, we're awkward
-372 million pornographic pages on the internet - no surprises there
- can pornography be good sometimes?
What did I do/how did I react?
At the start I kept thinking about sex scenes in films and having naughty thoughts. I looked around at the rest of the group to see how they were faring. They looked either concerned, a bit cross, or closed-bookish. My partner in the -what does porn mean to you? exercise had a poker face. I became shy. I was glad there were lots of facts and figures for us to go "ooh" and "ah" at, so I didn't have to risk speaking and possibly ruining it all.
My own memories of encounters with porn bubbled up: aged nine, in a place I'd known was forbidden so of course I'd gone straight in; next at about 16 when I got a boyfriend it was all around his bedroom. Then at university I watched it on DVDs with friends out of curiosity. As a photography student my thoughts were always first and foremost, what terrible lighting.
As the session went on it occurred to me that the "actual" pornography I've come across I've not enjoyed that much at all.
Watching the Blurred Lines documentary I found the mention of the Steubenville rape case particularly upsetting. The perpetrators were shown joking around like they were just playing cards. To me this seemed to get to the heart of what's happened to porn and the way it's been distributed in my lifetime. What's unacceptable has been changed somehow, and sprinkled into everyday activities and gestures. It's really hard to explain how this is - partly because of shame I think, at my own passive role in it all?
During the video of Ran Gavrieli's "Why I Stopped Watching Porn" talk the remark that hurt most was have you seen any Miley Cirus, Lady Gaga video clips or commercials? That's porn with clothes on. So girls get this notion that if you want to be worthy of love first and foremost you have to be worthy of sexual desire. I looked at one of our handouts and it showed pictures of women on the front covers of "lads" mags. Their eyes were pleading "love me, love me" and it made me want to cry.
What were my thoughts and feelings afterwards?
I enjoyed the atmosphere of the creative /collage session at the end. You could feel the processing and sifting of people's thoughts. For some reason I wanted to recall childhood and safety. When I was little I invented my own names for people, things and events. At one point I used to carefully arrange beads and pieces of paper on a tray and call it a "dumper hance." So that is why my piece of card says "dumper hance." My feelings later on were most of the ones listed above plus resentment, horror and quite a bit of despair.
What I was curious about in terms of my thoughts, feelings and actions?
In going back over the material provided I noticed how my initial reaction to some of the things presented was one of flatness, like for example with the slide on the alarming use of "rape" in pornography. Why was that?
I have an urge to look more closely at how pornography is "marketed" in the present day and what it is actually doing to us, particularly younger people. I want to read "Pornland" by Gail Dines. I want hard facts. On the other hand do I want to know, or do I risk curling up in a ball saying, "the world was full of wonder 'til you opened my eyes?"
What I have learned from this experience, event or situation?
That pornography has a lot to answer for! I might be slow on the uptake but I think the session helped re-define the boundary between erotica /loveliness and hard, unkind porn. I think we can become confused about this boundary. I've also learned more about the role of new technology in perpetuating ideas of women as useless, throwaway things. Porn has always been around, but now what was once an individual's passing idea can be shared instantly and on a massive scale. In this sense the collision of our still-patriarchal system with the internet has got to be one of the most harmful meetings of modern times.
How might this be helpful to me in my work for Devon rape Crisis Service?
A caller to DRCS might wonder whether what she's been through might actually be classed as "OK these days;" she might perhaps question this out loud. I feel the information on pornography we've looked at has helped to properly re-align us with what we already know: women are not just there to be used and objectified; this will hopefully strengthen my skills and confidence in helping a survivor to start to distance herself from such thoughts.
"So the plane landed and I knew immediately where I was, Africa. The vibrancy, life and soul hits you immediately. To be precise I was visiting Malawi to see friends and whilst there I visited a project called Fountain of Life to hear about their work and donate some books, children's toys and toiletries. Malwai is one of the poorest countries in the world but one with a strong identity. But Malawi, like the UK is battling the issue of rape and sexual abuse. Fountain of Life was set up to support victims (female, male and children) of rape and sexual abuse in the country to recover. They co-ordinate a number of projects including counselling for victims in a range of locations in the country, offering comfort packs for victims distributed at hospitals and police stations as well as delivering training to organisations and those in the community.
Their mission is clear 'Fountain of Life restores self-esteem, returns smiles and revitalizes a vision for the future in the lives of innocent children, women and men who have been victims of rape. These young women and girls need to be CARED for. To heal. To make sure this horrible act does not destroy or define the rest of their lives'.
I met Natalia in their head office in Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. I was met with a huge smile and was instantly struck by her warmth and passion for the charity and their work. Unfortunately due to my short time in Lilongwe I was unable to meet the volunteers who are mainly based in the city hospital and another other large city (about 4 hours south of Lilongwe). I wasn't surprised to hear that women in Malawi aren't aware of what rape is and don't see experiences in marriage as rape. However I was shocked to know the statistic that 50% of women in Malawi are raped, that's 1 in 2. The average age of victims in Malawi is 12 years old. Like the UK most rape and sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone known to the victim. In Malawi, most victims are aged under 16 and hence Fountain of Life are planning a school education programme to raise awareness. The parallels with the UK are apparent and I was impacted by how this organisation strongly mirrors the ethos of DRCS - this was really positive to see, like we are united! I as humbled by this passionate organisation which with little resources is reaching out to those affected by rape and sexual abuse. Zikomo (thank you in Chichewa, the language of Malawi) Fountain of Life! A few days after visiting this inspiring project I received an email expressing gratitude for my visit and the donations I delivered. I felt touched by this simple act of thanks. The project has so much to offer not least of all a warm heart much like Malawi itself which is known as the 'warm heart of Africa'. I feel very privileged to have visited this inspirational project and hope to go back and see more of what they do in future visits to the country."
You can here all about their work at http://www.mwfountainoflife.org/
Follow them on facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fountain-Of-Life-Malawi-LTD/1402014993391705
Or Twitter "FOLLOW" @MalawiFol
"I feel like I have a much calmer outlook in how I deal with difficult emotions. It has given me space to process my experiences safely."
"It helped me move forward. I have been able to leave my house and go out. I can now do things I never thought I would be able to do again."
"Helped to make sense of things and re-assurance that just because he was found not guilty doesn't mean it didn't happen."