Tuesday 15th September 2015
Thank you everyone for coming. Thank you particularly to our team of staff and volunteers. I am immensely proud of us all. Everyone has worked extremely hard and shown great commitment to Rape Crisis this last year. Thanks especially to anyone who put work into tonight’s AGM, particularly the main organisers, Mayura and Ashlie, and the speakers.
Details about the year 2014 to 2015 are in the Annual Report, so I will just say that demand continues to rise, as the battle for funding continues to intensify., and move on to my usual kind of speech, which, as usual will sweep from the big picture, to the details, and out again. Tonight I want to link big issues which have become inseparable in my feminist activist mind, which you may, or may not, find become linked in yours.
Bear with me, I may seem not to be talking about Rape Crisis and sexual violence at first, but there is a link.
The greatest challenge facing human beings at the present moment, whether we like to think about it or not, is climate change. We are all urged to cut down individually our carbon footprint, to recycle, to spend money on ethically produced clothing etc, without actually consuming less.
Many of us are doing our best, and everything we do counts, but our individual actions will not mitigate the effects of climate change, because the main problem is a structural one. Big corporations are continuing to influence governments and to extract the resources of the earth – the oil, gas and coal that release carbon into the atmosphere, in the name of profit. Profit is not a dirty word, it’s true, but it is when the profit is huge, and made at the expense of our children and grandchildren’s future. Corporations are choosing not to switch to renewables to the extent that is necessary, and although we can hope that the climate talks in Paris in November will bring about change, this is not a given. To try to focus the minds of the world’s leaders on bringing about structural change, many activists are planning events throughout the world, to remind them of their duty to humanity.
To bring this back into the world of sexual violence and Rape Crisis – we make a real beneficial difference to the lives of the women we work with. They tell us this frequently. And yet, the work we do on a day to day basis will not bring about an end to sexual violence. For that to happen, substantial structural change will need to take place. We need to remind our government and society of the need for structural change, just as the green movement does about climate change.
Rape Crisis started as a movement to bring about structural change, as well as to support women survivors. It continues to be a movement, in spite of funding being increasingly tied to outcomes which are not chosen by the women who come to us. We are kept in limbo by a chronic uncertainty about funding, which hampers our attempts to bring about the structural changes which are necessary to end sexual violence.
If you doubt that things need to change, let’s look at the statistics in England and Wales:
85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped by men in England and Wales every year. That’s 11 rapes of adults an hour.
Nearly 500,000 adults are sexually assaulted in England and Wales each year. That’s 57 per hour, nearly 1 per minute.
1 in 5 women aged16 to 59 has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16.
Only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence chose to report to the police.
31% of young women aged 16 to25 have experienced sexual abuse in childhood
In 2012 -2013 22,654 sexual offences against under 18s were reported to police. 4 out of 5 were against girls.
Most women in the UK do not have access to Rape Crisis Centres
Only 5.7% rape cases reported to the police result in a conviction.
Figures like this, or worse, sometimes much worse, are reported across the world.
Women’s lives are limited, sometimes in ways we are unaware of, by this war on our bodies. It doesn’t take more than a few reports of rape and assault to keep women out of certain places, when in reality the world is ours, too.
What happens when women attempt to take up more space, or to speak out about sexism, or to make changes? We do have a feminist resurgence in this country, although the backlash is taking the fun out of it. It is instructive to note the lengths to which misogynists (women haters) will go to try to destroy the voices of women.
Let’s look at a few cases from the last few years.
Take Laura Bates author of a blog and a book collecting incidents of every day sexism. She says:
When I started writing about sexism, the responses shocked me. People told me where and when they’d rape me. They said I was a slut who deserved to die. They listed the weapons they’d use. They threatened to hurt my family. Unsurprisingly, this hurt the most. Politicians told me I’m too “glass half empty” and newspaper picture editors said they needed to make me look “as sexy as possible”. I spoke at a school where an entire hall of boys wolf whistled as I walked on stage, and I gave a speech where a “men’s rights activist” (MRA) handed out fliers to the audience calling me a liar. It hasn’t been the easiest ride.
Then there’s Mary Beard – classics professor, after her appearance on Question Time
The internet trolls posted dozens of horrifying sexual taunts, in language too offensive to reprint. The level of the abuse was so shocking that even those accustomed to the cut-and-thrust of online debate were appalled. In one of the milder examples, Beard was called "a vile, spiteful excuse for a woman, who eats too much cabbage and has cheese straws for teeth". Beard's features were even superimposed on an image of female genitalia. "It was so ghastly it didn't feel personal, or personally critical," Mary Beard says, "It was such generic, violent misogyny. In a way, I didn't feel it was about me."
Caroline Criado – Perez is the woman who took on the Bank of England and campaigned to have a woman on a banknote. (Other than the queen, who is there by accident of birth.) Although she won, Caroline was receiving about 50 threats of rape or death each hourand found somewhat inadequate the suggestion that she fill in an on-line form for Twitter detailing the behaviour she had experienced. At the height of the abuse, Caroline said she "lost half a stone in two days" and "couldn't eat or sleep". She commented later: "I don't know if I had a kind of breakdown. I was unable to function, unable to have normal interactions." Caroline said the campaign of abuse, provoked by a small issue, "shows it's not about what women are doing. It's that some men don't like women, and don't like women in the public domain." In her view: "Men get attacked because they’ve said or done something someone doesn’t like, whereas women get attacked because they’re visible."
Finally, Liz Kendal – Labour leadership contender
How much do you reckon Jeremy Corbyn weighs? How does he measure up if you compare his looks to Prince William’s? How stylish would you say Andy Burnham is? And, if you had to guess, what kind of product would you say he uses in his hair?
The Mail on Sunday’s profile of leadership candidate Liz Kendall describes her as a “slinky brunette” and a “power-dressing Blairite” with a “lithe figure” who “remains New Labour to the tips of her stilettos”. The paper’s political editor, Simon Walters, asked if she wants to “get married and have kids”, quizzed her about her fitness routine and twice compared Kendall to Kate Middleton. At one point, Walters speculates that “she looks the same weight as the Duchess – about 8st”; later, he disingenuously asks her to discuss “the cruel comments about being a ‘childless spinster’”, neither telling readers who made those “cruel comments” in the first place, or where.
As Gloria Steinem says:
So when I talk about structural changes for bringing about an end to sexual violence, what do I mean?
I mean overhauling all our institutions, which were designed at a time when women were chattels. They were designed by powerful, rich white men to serve the interests of, guess who? Not always maliciously, but sometimes through ignorance of how life is for others. Reforms, usually forced on the powerful, have improved things, but the basic powerbase is still the same. Structural changes also include the ways we bring up our boys, and our girls, to stop gender roles being installed, as they are now, before the baby is even born.
We are facing a deep misogyny in our society, which at its most brutal includes sexual violence of all kinds. This matters hugely on a personal level. How do women recover a sense of their own power and move forward after having the core of their femaleness violated? Especially when services like ours are under threat?
It also matters on a societal level. How do women as a whole advance into an equal position with men when they face such attacks, not for what they have done, but for being female, and why does that fight for equality matter?
As that wise young woman and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai said:
“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back”
If we women continue to be held back by threats of, and actual, sexual and other violence, then over half the minds in the world will not be available alongside men of goodwill to end poverty in a rich world, bring an end to war, and to stop climate change in time to save humanity.
Women need to be alongside thoughtful men in order to face the challenges and opportunities of the future. We women need to be there in the forefront, on the frontline of all progressive movements and we need to stop our beautiful, tender, loving, fully human boys from being conditioned into accepting the inhuman ways of doing things which have brought us to a place that threatens human existence and other life on Mother Earth.
We women cannot afford to be relegated to making the tea any longer. The future of our world depends on our liberation, so let’s do it – in our homes, in our institutions, on the internet and on the streets!