Remembering rape campaigner Jill Saward

On Friday 17th March, the Sylvia Pankhurst Gender Research Centre was proud to host a powerful event to remember the anti-rape campaigner and survivor, Jill Saward.  Jill’s sudden death at the young age of 51 provoked this event which brought together members of Jill’s family, friends, campaigners, students, staff and visitors to remember Jill’s work and to think about the future of campaigning.

Jill’s husband, Gavin Drake and her sister Sue Saward spoke about her life, her family and her work.  Gavin reminded everyone of the legal impacts that came out of the so-called “Ealing Vicarage rape case” in 1986.  These included provisions about witness anonymity, after the press effectively identified Jill, long before trial.  Jill was a stalwart voice for all victims of sexual offences and the Sylvia Pankhurst Gender Research Centre wants to extend our ongoing sympathy and support to Gavin, Sue and everyone in the family.  It is also clear from the event that there are many others, who Jill offered support to, who are also grieving and we hope that all of these people are able to find fresh sources of support, whilst they come to terms with their loss.

Gavin also spoke of the ongoing need for further campaigning and change, around rape and Sue spoke of her perspective on the terrible events of 1986, as Jill’s twin, powerless to protect her lovely sister.  It was quite clear that both are tremendously proud of Jill, and of all that she achieved.

The next speaker, Alison Boydell, set up the campaign JURIES with Jill and spoke of their friendship and of Jill’s tireless media and social media work which always aimed to create real change for everyone who has suffered sexual offences.  JURIES stands for Jurors Understanding Rape Is Essential Standard and campaigns for mandatory briefings of juries in rape/sexual abuse trials.  You can get involved with the work of JURIES by following @UnderstandingSV, on Twitter.  Alison also highlighted the range of people who tweeted messages of sympathy after Jill’s death and showed the audience some of Jill’s own tweets, using the hashtag Rapeis.  #Rapeis vile; #Rapeis utter degradation; #Rapeis happening to young and old, daily; and so on.  The gap left by Jill’s death is being felt by many people, campaigners, survivors, the media who turned to her for comment, so often and, of course by friends and family.

Next up, long-time feminist campaigner Sandra McNeill spoke of the work of the Rape in Marriage campaign and of the Campaign to End Rape, covering a 30-year period.  She ended by reminding everyone that there are pervasive problems which still need work, such as the use of sexual history questions in court and funding for rape crisis and related services.  A lively discussion followed, where those present raised a range of issues including the persistent idea that good-looking men could not be rapists, which might just give rise to a new campaign.  Thanks to all who attended and to everyone who continues to work for survivors of rape.