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"Local elections are looming and because this is so exciting, I've decided to break with (personal) protocol, and write a more upbeat blog. Let's see how long I can keep this up for ...

Our sisters at EVAW (End Violence Against Women Coalition) have just published the results of a YouGov poll that they commissioned and it makes for positive reading. They were asking people about services for women who have experienced sexual or domestic violence and, despite what we might have feared, the responses were really supportive.

67% believe that their council should fund services for women who have been raped

87% think these services should be independent and confidential

81% think they should be run by women

86% believe that services should be run by people with specialist knowledge

So, society is on our side, people do take the issues seriously, do believe that rape support is important, that women are important. Contrast this with the level of reporting in some sections of the press and some of the vicious hate campaigns waged on social media sites against women. It really is encouraging that despite this constant background noise, the majority of people in England, understand why Rape Crisis Centres exist, and support our work.

If you are minded to contact your local councillor after the elections on the 2nd May to let them know these poll results - we'd be really happy..."

http://local.direct.gov.uk/LDGRedirect/index.jsp?LGSL=358&LGIL=8

 

"When I woke up this morning, the first story I heard on the news was the report by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) into the incidence of false allegations of rape. It was a real relief to hear that one of the biggest and most damaging myths about rape was being busted; it is 'very rare' for women to make false allegations of rape. The head of the CPS, Kier Starmer, had tracked the number of reported rapes, prosecutions of attackers and prosecutions for false allegations over a 17 month period and found that of 16,041 reports of rape, 5,651 were prosecuted and only 35 of these were prosecutions for false allegations. This means that just 0.2% of reported rapes were false allegations.

We knew this in the Rape Crisis movement all the time of course. What we know is that it is incredibly hard to report a rape at all; only around 15% of women ever report the crime. And we know that women don't report because they fear not being believed and they fear the humilation and the exposure and the questions and the justifications they'll need to make for their behaviour or dress or drinking. Women also know that the myth that false reporting is common is all pervasive, and fear being labelled in this way. So, reporting is a huge step and most never do. The myth is very, very effective in silencing women.

And our society, fuelled by the media, colludes with these untruths and provides perpetrators with cover for their crimes.

Don't doubt that this is the case. Within hours of the CPS report being published, BBC Radio One's Newsbeat reported on the story. With the angle that women were much maligned? Er.... no. With the angle that allegations are 'common' and that the effects on men were 'devastating'. By 7.30am, the BBC Radio 4 Today programme had used part of it's interview with Kier Starmer to ask whether in the light of these findings, shouldn't the anonymity of those accused of rape be protected. Mmmmm...... interesting angle, totally missing the point of the story. Tired myths, lazy journalism, collusive and misogynistic reporting.

In DRCS we know the truth. We believe women. We don't judge women. We don't label women or mistrust them. We validate them. And we continue to fight for accurate representation."

"The Rape Crisis England and Wales Conference comes once a year; good job too as it is exhausting............... But exhausting for all the right reasons; there was a lot of information to take on, a lot of ideas to reflect on, many new colleagues to meet, projects to plan - and just a touch of staying up too late.

What is really remarkable is to be part of a network of 50 feminist rape crisis services across the country and to have debates about issues within this feminist ethos and understanding. So often, our feminist analysis of sexual violence is a point of contention so to be in a place where it is taken as read is a real relief. The rape crisis movement is strong and what is particularly gratifying is that after a couple of decades of decline, new centres are opening at a steady pace, supported by the government in line with their commitment to dealing with violence against women and girls. Devon has obviously been a recipient of this policy when we were set up by the Ministry of Justice in 2011. Since then a further 6 new centres have opened and an announcement is due very soon to confirm two more - watch this space!

Something else which is good news for Devon Rape Crisis Service is that the South West region is becoming bigger and better, with the four centres in Cornwall, Devon, Bristol and Gloucestershire making stronger links and supported by our amazing Regional Development Worker. It can only be a matter of time before we organise a joint conference or training event .................."

"I read a really disturbing report in the Exeter Express & Echo at the end of 2012. A report that left me confused, frustrated and angry.

A man was given a Sexual Offences Provention Order by the courts after admitting harassing a female colleague at work - so far, not a very unusual story. Which is not to say it doesn't matter - every act of sexual violence matters - but just, unfortunately, that the sexual harassment of women is endemic; it does happen everyday.

The harassing behaviour in this case was the man sitting behind the woman in her office, masturbating - on at least 50 occasions. He also admitted doing this before, to another woman at work. Yes, he was convicted. But amazingly, he is still employed at the same firm - as is the woman, although it is she who has been moved to another location!

And to add insult to injury, the defending solicitor talked disparagingly in court about the use of the Sexual Offences Prevention Orders, which she said were designed for serious matters, not to protect someone with "an eggshell personality being upset by needless scratching of your bottom".

What on earth do these two things say to the woman who was the victim of this crime? That she shouldn't be so sensitive to a man deliberately targeting her? That it's not such a big deal if a man is masturbating right behind you? That it's not a big deal? That his rights to continued employment are greater than hers to dignity and safety?

What a truly perverse and damaging message to send out to the victim of this crime - and to all other women".

"There are some amazing campaigns around at the moment focused on sexism in the media - not just 'innocuous', everyday sexism, but big, contemptuous sexism that builds and stokes lies about women. Sexism that presents images of women naked and objectified across the pages of the national press day after day, sexism that propagates that myths about women who 'ask for it', sexism that belittles women and their achievements and elevates the status of men. These everyday acts of contempt and humiliation affect the thoughts and feelings of everyone in our society and as a consequence, affect the lives of all women.

Most people who resist sexism in the media will at some point be told that they need to "chill out" and "develop a sense of humour". Indeed, what is the harm in a little bare flesh - unless of course you're a prude? A piece of amazing irony happened around one of the recent campaigns - it would be called delicious irony if it wasn't so harmful..... A campaign, led by Object made a six foot tall birthday card for the Sun newspaper to commemorate the 42nd birthday of page 3. On one half of the card were images taken from the paper of men, and on the other were images of women as they had appeared in the paper. The difference between the two?

Overwhelmingly, the men had clothes on and the women didn't (no, of course you're not surprised). The campaign organisers put the giant card up on their facebook page but it was taken down because it violated their code on explicit images! Similar material was presented to the Levenson Inquiry earlier in the year but this was censored because of its offensive nature! Ironic, illogical, bizarre..... but then of course, that's exactly what sexism is and why we need to keep drawing attention to it.

To read more about the issues - and to get hold of a wider report on sexism in the media called 'Just the Women', go to

www.object.org.uk

www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk

 

"What can be said about the unfolding tale of Jimmy Saville, his countless victims and the possible inaction of those who knew or suspected?

Two view points I have heard and read about in amongst the headlines and enquiries are that 'Surely this kind of thing couldn't (doesn't) happen anymore' and 'This shows that sexual violence and child abuse is being taken much more seriously these days'.

Mmmmmm... without wanting to be overly negative, I don't subscribe wholly to either view. Regarding the idea of targeting, grooming and exploitation of children is an historic issue, the evidence definitely does not point in that direction. The most recent figures show that 21% of girls and 11% of boys experience sexual abuse in childhood. And, just as appallingly, that 30% of these children reach adulthood without telling anyone. That's not 20, 30 or 40 years ago. That's now. The majority of people contacting Rape Crisis Centres nationally, are calling about sexual abuse that occurred in their childhood. Children too scared to tell anyone; too ashamed. Children who have been manipulated and frightened into silence. Children who feel they have no where to go and no one to turn to.

And I think that this links into the second viewpoint, that all the current publicity and abhorrence is evidence that our society has turned a corner on acknowledging the seriousness of these crimes. I do think that progress has been made in the last few years: safeguarding children has been acknowledged as the responsibility of all organisations, not just social services and the response from the Police has vastly improved. More than that, the last two governments have been more proactive in highlighting violence against women and girls as a priority (Devon Rape Crisis Service wouldn't exist without the commitment of the Ministry of Justice).

Yet, what the current headlines show about British society are:

- it's easy to accept the notion of a child abuser who is seen as different, wicked, depraved - it's easy to swallow the demonised abuser.

- we love to see an iconic celebrity topple from grace.

But does this help us understand and accept that most child abuse is perpetrated by parents and care givers? Does it enable the child who is being abused by a father anywhere new to go? Does it make it more likely that a fearful child will feel confident to tell someone?"

 

"We've recently started our new training programme for volunteers. What a short, simple statement - but what a lot it covers.

Firstly of course, it is a lot of hard work - more so this time around as Anna and myself have written a brand new accredited training programme and have been approved as a training centre by the Open College Network. You can just imagine the time and paperwork this has generated!

Thinking about what is important to women who use our service has been central to how we have developed our training programme and tying this into our values and policies to ensure volunteers really 'get' what we are trying to do.

The training last for 12 weeks, one evening a week plus a residential weekend and every moment is packed. We look at policies and procedures, and we examine our values and how to bring these alive in our work. We spend a lot of time looking at sexual violence of course; the truth and the myths, the definitions and the statistics - helping our volunteers to place sexual violence within the context of our society - where few rapes are reported, where women feel blamed for what's happened to them and where pornography stalks our daughters.

When they start on the training course, lots of volunteers worry that they might be shocked by the things they'll learn. Of course there is the shock of so much information at one time, but many volunteers realise that the things we talk about are not entirely new to them; as women, they unfortunately know a lot of this stuff already.

So what kind of women volunteer for Devon Rape Crisis Service then? Well, thankfully a whole range of women that make doing the training a real pleasure. Women with previous skills in working with people, women without but who want to offer their humanity to another, women who are solid, strong, funny, smart and real. Women you'll sit next to on the bus and women who you'll stand next to in a supermarket. In short, women just like us. Women just like the women who need our services, who call and email and turn up in person to talk.

That's why it works."

"I really wish that when rape was in the news, it was because some perpetrator was getting an appropriate sentence for this appalling crime. Unfortunately, rape in the news generally means anything but - and this week is more of the same.

Watch the news on TV, listen to the reports on radio or read about Wikipedia's Julian Assange on the press and you could easily miss the fact that this man is accused of two counts of Rape in Sweden. His crimes are virtually obscured by all the other aspects of the situation and the experiences of the women involved are negated by what is judged as important in this case. When is rape seen as important? That's not difficult to ascertain when you read all the stories that do make it into our media; Maybe the best way to guarantee that a rape is seen as important is if the rapist is a stranger. This allows people to feel genuine empathy for the victim without any 'grey edges' of doubt for her story. It's this particular myth that is so, so damaging for women who then consider their own experiences of sexual assault in the light of how they might be perceived. So women ask themselves "will I be believed?" rather than "was that a crime?" and in doing so are silenced and negated. Many, many women never tell a soul about their attack for fear of this judgement - never tell their partner or their mum or their best friend, let alone their employer or the police.

We hear from lots of women who have never told anyone their story before for fear of not being believed - for fear that their attack wasn't a 'real' rape because it wasn't perpetrated by a stranger (given that only 8% ever are, that's a huge number of women to be silenced). The current reporting of the Julian Assange case - where the rapes are hardly mentioned and where his supporters are playing them down too is outrageous - and it affects all women."

"I can't believe that we've been in our office for a full year; this time last year we were waiting for the carpet to be laid and we didn't even have a kettle to our name! What a difference a year makes .... now we have a team of three paid workers and 16 amazingly skilled and committed volunteers answering the helpline and supporting women in person all over the county. We also have a fine looking office and a kettle! It was a big moment when we received the keys to the office in July 2011 and we were able to start building the organisation; recruiting staff, recruiting and training volunteers, writing policies and procedures to make us a safe, professional and high quality organisation - but bigger still was the day we opened our helpline in November last year. We have been astounded by the demand for support from women ever since and in our first six months of operation we have been contacted 300 times by women or agencies representing them. We have some interesting discussions in the office about these figures because whilst we are all very pleased that our services are needed and women are finding us - they also represent a huge amount of sexual violence in the county, which is sobering. It's important that we remember that the women contacting us have rarely reported the offence to the police and often told no-one about what has happened to them; for these women we are the place where they can begin to tell their stories, safe in the knowledge that we will believe them. It's simple stuff in one way - but represents something huge to a woman who has been silenced and scared".

11th June 2012 - Reclaim the Night march in Exeter last night!

Small but perfectly formed ....

Thank you to the university Gender Equality Society for organising it and for the 50 or so people who came along on a rainy Sunday night. There is commitment, there is energy, there is a drive to change the status quo - Sexual Violence is a huge problem globally and sometimes it can feel just too big to tackle. Events like Reclaim the Night remind me that we can make a difference and we should never give up on our hope.

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What People Say About Us

"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."

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"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."

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"Helped to make sense of things and re-assurance that just because he was found not guilty doesn't mean it didn't happen."

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