"As an organisation that relies on dedicated volunteers to run the service, we value the time that our volunteers spend at DRCS, supporting women who have experienced sexual violence. But we also appreciate there will be an ever-changing volunteer base as lives change and evolve.
Our organisation is relatively young and the three workers who were employed in mid-2011 to set up the service are still here, as are a few of the original volunteers that we trained in September 2011. It was both an exciting and daunting time for us, as we all learnt and developed together, supporting and motivating each other along the way. Up until now, we have been lucky enough to still have three of the "first wavers", as we affectionately call them, however I recently received the sad news that Hannah, who was our youngest volunteer, is leaving us for pastures new.
Hannah was a university student when she started the training and finished her degree last summer, so we are lucky to have kept her for as long as we have! I think that the trustees, staff and volunteers will all agree that Hannah has touched all of our lives, as well as those of the women who have accessed the service for support.
What can I say about Hannah? She has an incredible passion for the DRCS's work, she is dedicated and committed, she has a gentle and warm nature and a real connection with those who she comes into contact with. Even when Hannah joined our organisation at the ripe old age of 20 years old, she had already been volunteering at Childline and continues to strongly support young people as well as those who may need support with mental health issues. She is also incredibly talented in so many ways, and modest with it, she's a musician, an excellent baker (Gin and Tonic cake-tastic!) and has talented dress-making skills too!
Hannah really threw herself into work at DRCS, not only supporting women on our helpline and through our email support service, but also providing regular one to one emotional support and advocacy for women. If that wasn't enough, she has also been heavily involved in the events and campaigns run by DRCS, such as awareness raising at Exeter University, Reclaim the Night, International Women's Day and the Respect Festival. Hannah was also nominated for the Volunteer of the Year Award last year with the Devon Community Foundation and won her category, which was "Keeping People Safe and Well".
Hannah will be sorely missed and we wish her well with all her future plans. I'm sure it won't be the last that we hear of this amazing young woman."
Blog by Anna Janota, Volunteer Co-ordinator
"On Saturday 21st June, I went to a pub to watch the World Cup with some friends and then went to another pub to have dinner.
As I was walking home that night, I had to walk through a group of 8 or 9 drunk 'lads', and as I walked past them, one of them slapped my butt and ran away. I started shouting at him and of course his friends thought it was hilarious; a couple of them stood there laughing at me, surprised at my reaction. The rest walked away laughing. As they were walking away, heading into town for a night of fun and sexual harassment, I called the police.
Nothing came out of that because there was no CCTV evidence and I have no idea who the guys were. It was quite a strange experience, having police officers in my house at 2:00am.
Since then, I have heard all sorts of comments, some bad, some good, but two that stuck out were 'you don't have to go around telling everybody about this now, it was horrible, but just get over it' and 'it wasn't personal, it was just a lads' prank'. The latter comment came from one of the police officers who visited me.
I have not doubt in my mind that every single response and piece of advice that I was given was well intentioned. My friends and family want me to be safe, so they want me to protect myself and be careful.
However, telling ME to be more careful, means it's my responsibility to not get hurt, rather than the perpetrator's responsibility to not hurt me. It also creates the illusion that if you follow this advice, you are safe. It's dangerous to teach girls and women that if you avoid certain men, certain streets or walking alone at certain times of the day will guarantee that we are safe, because that's simply not true; perpetrators of harassment and violence do not always have a particular look, they don't always hang out in dark alleys and they're not only out and about after midnight.
Finally, telling ME to be more careful, means that I wasn't 'careful enough' when this guy hit me. That I wasn't careful enough when I engaged in the risky and provocative behaviour of walking home. That a week before that, when a guy grabbed my butt in a club, I wasn't careful enough, my bad! That'a year ago, when I was walking home alone after work, and a young man picked up his girlfriend and threw her on me, I wasn't careful enough. She wasn't careful enough either.
There is a discrepancy between my friends' intentions and the actual outcomes of their words and advice, when they give me advice after such an event. Their intention is to make me feel better and help me be safer; the outcome is that they lay the responsibility of my safety on me, and suggest that I protect myself by somehow never coming across men that I don't know. The first is hurtful and the second impossible.
A man who is very dear to me and loves me alot summaried 'my problem' when it comes to street harassment: "Your problem is that you think that you deserve to be left alone. Nobody else thinks that".
There are no quick solutions, because street harassment is so widespread and so accepted that it will take time for society to realise that it's harmful and problematic. However, what we can do now is stop telling women to be safe, and start telling men to not make women unsafe. It's time to focus on the perpetrator instead of the victim. Stop shrugging harassment off as a 'lads' prank', and 'not such a big deal', because 'boys will be boys' and lad culture makes all this acceptable. If a woman tells you she's been harassed please listen to her, accept her feelings and don't blame the harassment on her failure to protect herself".
"We were delighted to be invited down to International Dance supplies in Newton Abbot this month. The Chief Executive, Anne Walker, is one of our patrons and very kindly put our name forward to become their charity of the year.
Two charities were picked out of the hat to go into the 'final' - and we were one of them. Linda Regan our Chair and Fee Scott, Service Manager went down to give a presentation to the whole staff team and try to persuade them to vote for us. We were well received but unfortunately, the staff vote was very close and the eventual winner was Macmillan Cancer Nurses. We were obviously disappointed but still glad of the opportunity to talk about our work, and we know how important this is. Anne Walker is an inspiration to us and now uses every opportunity to bring the topic of sexual violence into conversations she has. We know that if we are to break the stigma, shame and taboo around rape and sexual violence, we need to be having regular, matter of fact conversations to counter many of the stories in the media which often do little than propagate the tired old myths.
But the experience also brought the challenges of fundraising to the fore for us. Rape is not a popular topic. Many people feel embarrassed talking about it. It is easier for people to give money to topics they feel comfortable with. It is really no surprise that one of the richest charities in the country is the Donkey Sanctuary! It will remain a challenge to DRCS to raise funds through donations, supermarkets or businesses whilst the stigma and myths surrounding rape continues. But conversely, as long as the societal response to rape continues in the same way - the demand for our services will remain high.
If you are reading this and it resonates with you - perhaps you'd like to make a one off or regular donation. If so, there is a page on our website with information on all the ways you can do this".
"We're about to end the financial year and the reporting year, so the pressure is on in the office to make sure we end in the place we need to. There is a huge amount to consider; getting all invoices paid, processing volunteer travel claims and making sure our montoring data is inputted. Being up to date is crucial so that we are quick off the block to get our accounts to the auditor and also so we can analyse the information gathered on our work to inform the evaluation reports we need to write for funders.
There are a lot of these this year, and, whilst they take a lot of time and effort from the whole team, I am grateful to see how many are on the 'to do' list. Because this is evidence of just how much support we have received over the year. Funders have included the Public Health teams in Devon and Torbay, The Police and Crime Commissioner, Exeter Board, The Dulverton Trust, Fawcett Devon, Trusthouse Charitable Trust, Safer Communities Torbay and the Southwest Foundation. Now, all of these monies are for one year only, and none are for huge amounts of money, but we are grateful for every organisation that has engaged with us, listened to the needs of women in Devon, supported what we do and entrusted us with public and private money. The hours spent on individual evaluation reports are our part of the bargain and we're happy to provide as much information as we can. We're also very pleased that we have such a clever database to work with, which is making our lives much easier. It is a bizarre but true fact that if you were to walk into the office any day of the week, the most likely conversation you would catch us having would be about the benefits of DPMS! (thank you to Rape Crisis England and Wales for putting so much work into getting this right).
So we're all feeling pretty positive about the future. Sure, we would like more certainty, more stability, more longer-term commissioning but we just trust this will happen in good time. And, as long as we have volunteers like Catriona, who shaved all her hair off and raised £620 for us - we're not doing too bad......."
"Devon and Cornwall Police have released crime figures for 2013 which show that the rate of sexual offences across the peninsula rose by 11.7%.
The figures are not surprising to us at DRCS as we are only too aware of how much sexual violence there is in our communities but it is always difficult to know exactly what these figures could mean. It may be that more women are feeling confident in reporting these crimes to the Police or it could mean that more actual crimes are being committed but the level of reporting is remaining static. We know that the service that women receive from the police has much improved in recent years and that the specialist police officers (SOLOs) and the SARCs (Sexual Assault Referral Centres) have led to a more co-ordinated and thoughtful approach for women coming forward. However, it is still true today that the vast majority of women do not report what has happened to them and that for many of the women using our services, reporting to the police is the last thing on their minds. If women want to report, we will assist them all the way, but we acknowledge the difficulty and distress this causes and never try and steer women into any course of action. For the 90% of women who do not report rape and sexual offences, they say that they fear being believed and judged and blamed for what has happened to them.
And this culture of blaming victims is still very strong in our society and you only have to read news stories in certain sections of the media to see how this plays out (lots of these are covered in older blogs!). News reports that focus on the victim's dress, motives, behaviour and decisions all imply that she is somehow to blame for what happened to her. If we were to focus more on the behaviour and motivations of perpetrators, we would be sending out a much clearer emphasis on where responsibility for rape actually lies. There is clearly always more that the police can do to send out reassuring messages to victims but what is also needed is a cultural shift in awareness and understanding of sexual violence. Because if women fear being judged, even by their friends, then they will find it difficult to tell anyone at all. And if women do report to the police and their case goes forward to court, they will be faced with a jury who live in a world saturated by messages about women. Perspectives on rape that give skewed views on women who are raped ignore male perpetrators completely".
"It's been suggested that I write a positive blog to end the year - and I'm happy to comply with this!
This morning was beautifully eventful; three volunteers in the office to work, one who is newly trained and took her first phone call on the helpline! We had a visit from a member of staff with her 5 week old baby and the office was full of warmth and love ...
Warmth is a feature of the office at the moment; after 2 and a half years of asking, begging, cajoling and sulking - we finally have our new UPVC double-glazed windows installed. This has made a huge difference to the temperature, the noise levels and our bills!
Yesterday we finished analysing our data from November and it turned out to be our busiest month yet. This of course is a bitter-sweet achievement; we are continually and painfully struck by the huge level of need by women who have experienced childhood sexual abuse, rape and other forms of sexual violence. But the positive reading of this is that our services are reaching out to support women to cope and recover from their experiences.
We have three relatively new Trustees on our Board which sees their numbers swelling and skills increasing.
All adding up to a healthy, vibrant and strong organisation, poised to enter 2014 in a confident and positive way.
We wish everyone a warm and peaceful break if they are taking one".
"Some of you will of heard about the Kenyan woman, 'Liz' who was raped and beaten by six men and then left for dead. As well as the terror, pain and humiliation she experienced at the time, she was also left with horrendous injuries and, as a woman with little money, no hope of buying the medical treatment she needed. Fortunately, following a campaign in Nairobi, sufficient funds have been donated to pay for Liz's medical treatment. But that is not the end of it. Of course it isn't; with rape endemic in every country in the world, it is rarely the end of it. Kenyan laws allow for sentences for convicted rapists of up to 15 years and for the state to pay for medical treatment arising out of. Neither of these things have happened in Liz's case. The six men were arrested and held overnight in a police cell. The next morning they were required to spend half a day cutting grass as some form of community compensation. Then they were released with no charges.
Sure, the law says sexual violence should be punished but as we know in the UK, and as we know for all other countries - the law is not enough if the culture essentially supports violence against women. The law needs to be recognised, to be accepted, to be championed, to be actioned. Women need to have confidence in the law and confidence in those whose job it is to enforce it. And more than that - they need to have confidence that the media who report it fundamentally acknowledge the rights of women to be safe. We support many women at Devon Rape Crisis Service who just don't have that confidence, so essentially the law - and our society - fails them.
I was reading the weekly newspaper at the weekend, the Express and Echo covering Exeter and surrounding areas. My eye is drawn to a headline on page 25, 'Recluse obsessed with Porn' and on reading it, it is clear that 'porn' actually refers to 2million images of child abuse (and a second offence of this type). What is this headline saying about the gravity of this crime? And what does the suspended sentence say about the importance we place on childrens safety? I carry on and skim through all the outcomes from the magistrates court. I know I was not there and do not know all the details but this leaps out at me;
Man jailed for 12 weeks for two counts of shoplifting.
Man given suspended sentence for beating two women in two separate incidents on the same day.
First crime - items worth £60.04
Second crime - items worth ............... what exactly?"
"Training time of year again and we have an amazing group of women signed up as usual. It is remarkable how little we ever need to advertise for volunteers as generally, the women who want to work with us have been carrying around the thought for years and then, when the time is right, they come straight to us. We do of course have a recruitment plan to make sure we get a diverse group of women within the organisation and we also have clear criteria for becoming a volunteer. But typically, if a woman has the commitment and 'gets us', then she tends to pass the interview and get on our training programme.
And the programme is quite some undertaking. We ask women to give up 5 evenings and 3 whole days so we have the time to cover what is needed as part of our level 2 accredited course. There is of course lots of specific information about the incidence and effects of sexual violence and lots and lots of practice about 'being there' for women who call in, email or come and see us in person. But the first part of the training really sets the stage for us all, looking at inequality and locating sexual violence within this to help us make sense of our feminist perspective on sexual violence; that 'sexual violence is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality'. It can be scary to talk about the 'F' word because of how it is often used to denigrate women but for me, this session is often the most alive and relevant to our work. After this, we start to get down to how to offer human, skilled and knowledgeable support to women.
I am so enjoying the experience of training and looking forward to next weekend when we have the residential part of our programme; essential because of the intensity of the material and so we develop greater trust and support amongst the group. I never fail to come back exhausted - and humbled.
"I had the most bizarre email a few months ago - could I call the Office of the Lord Lieutenant of Devon? Could I call them on a matter of utmost delicacy? Hmmm, surely I'm not the only one in that situation to think that I'd done something wrong and was in deep trouble? Luckily, I got over my old stuff and took the plunge, pausing only to wonder what business a naval officer could possible want with Devon Rape Crisis.
My, I've learned a lot since May.....
Firstly, that the Lord Lieutenant is the Queen's representative in Devon (maybe everyone else has always known this?)
Secondly, that his office organises royal visits, including for HRH The Duchess of Cornwall
Thirdly, that it takes a lot of work to arrange a royal visit ........., guest lists, invitations, itinerary's, pen portraits, refreshments, media management, briefings (internal and external), Police liaison and office tidying. And ours was a low key, private visit!
But we're not complaining - anything but. It was a huge honour to host a visit from Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall and we were all very touched by her desire to meet with us. Because most visits like this are low-key, it is not well known that HRH has a particular interest in the support offered to women who have experienced sexual violence and has visited a number of Rape Crisis centres across the UK. This interest and commitment was very evident from how HRH both approached the visit and engaged with us on the day. The first part of her hour with us involved a private meeting with two of our service users and this was a warm and emotional time which left them all feeling very touched. The Duchess of Cornwall continued to show her knowledge of the issues as she moved around our offices, talking with patrons, trustees, volunteers, staff and our specially invited guests. Everyone who met her was struck by her warmth, humanity and sensitivity and it was a real pleasure to have such a committed visitor to our organisation.
This was a highly significant visit for DRCS. We are only just two years old; solid but not yet totally established, operating well but without secure, sustainable funding. To be the recipients of such an important and high profile visit really is testament to everyone who is (and has been) involved in setting the organisation up. Onwards and upwards ..............."
"I have to give credit where it's due... and today, it's due to the Exeter Express and Echo newspaper.
We buy the paper for the office every week; it keeps us linked into our community and alerts us to any local news or events that have a bearing on our work. In terms of sexual violence, it's often a depressing read because of the regular reporting of rape, sexual assault and child sexual abuse. But generally, cases are reported in a responsible and factual manner.
However, last week I read through the paper and found it had treated one report in a really irresponsible manner; it referred in a report to an incidence of indecent exposure in a pretty matter of fact way, but the headline accompanying the story described the crime as 'flashing' incredible!
I was totally incensed by this misrepresentation and how it could and would be perceived by readers of the paper. 'Flashing' is easily explained away as abit of harmless fun as depicted on 'humorous' holiday picture postcards; a kind of 'carry-on' act that shouldn't be treated too seriously. In actuality, it is a crime of sexual violence which can be terrifying for women and children and means that their access to public spaces is curtailed as a consequence. To call it 'flashing' is to downplay the severity of the crime and to collude with a world where women feel unsafe. More than that, it sends a message out that women who object to 'harmless, jokey, flashing' are just a little too uptight. Do we expect women to report these crimes when they are likely to be judged and not believed and even ridiculed? If we are to tackle the endemic of sexual violence in the world, we need all to be taking crimes of sexual violence much more seriously; individuals, communities and journalists.
I'm happy to report that the media involved in this tale were very responsive to our arguments. After writing to the Express and Echo, I received a personal call to confirm that they had made a mistake, that it was not their policy to use such a word and that they would be printing my letter that week as well as sending a message round to the whole newsroom to remind them of the care to use when writing about sexual violence. Thank you."
"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."