Rape Crisis celebrates International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women despite challenges & uncertainty
Every year for the last decade, women from the Rape Crisis movement across England and Wales have come together for a two-day annual conference, and I have been proud and grateful to be at every one.
It's a small and private event; at nearly 200 delegates, this year's was our largest so far, and attendees are restricted to women who work and volunteer in Rape Crisis member organisations in Wales and England, plus just a handful of selected guests. In this way, we re-create the safe, feminist space we offer in our individual Rape Crisis centres, where we can share and learn, listen and support, heal and replenish, and plan for the future.
Yesterday, I came away from the 11th Rape Crisis England & Wales Conference with the same particular feeling of exhiliraustion that I experienced for the first time at the 1st, moved and inspired by the work of my sisters, motivated and daunted by how much there still is for us to do.
Last year, our Rape Crisis England & Wales membership answered 165,000 helpline calls and provided ongoing specialist support services to over 50,000 individual sexual violence survivors. And yet we know there is still so much more to do:
Need and demand for our specialist work is at an unprecedented level and there are 3,500 survivors on our combined waiting lists.
The Istanbul Convention recommends there should be a Rape Crisis centre for every 200,000 women in the population and yet we know that the majority do not have access to one.
It's estimated that 100,000 survivors of child sexual abuse (CSA) will come forward in response to the current Independent Inquiry into CSA.
Most worryingly, 42% of our member Rape Crisis organisations, and indeed the specialist umbrella body Rape Crisis England & Wales itself, currently have no Government funding confirmed beyond the end of March 2016.
At the same time, our sister organisation Imkaan, one of the handful of special guests at our Conference, has just released a report highlighting the critical state into which life-saving specialist black women's groups have been pushed.
In the face of all this, it would be so easy, it could be so tempting, to give up.
But we will never give up. We will not stop promoting survivors' needs and rights, we will not stop raising awareness and understanding of sexual violence, we will not stop challenging myths and stereotypes that harm survivors.
For over 40 years, we have provided specialist, independent, confidential space, support and advocacy to women and girls who've survived childhood sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, sexual assault, rape and all other forms of sexual violence; we are those survivors and they are us.
As our co-chair said as she closed Conference yesterday, 'We stand in sisterhood and solidarity'; we will not and cannot abandon survivors, our sister organisations or ourselves.
And as one delegate said to me as we were leaving, 'I always come away from Rape Crisis conference feeling anything is possible.' And I agree with her; a world without sexual violence is possible, a world without violence against women and girls is possible, and there's no better day for you to join us in the movement to make that happen.
Today is the International Day for the Elimination of all forms of Violence Against Women and the first of 16 Days of Activism to end Violence Against Women and Girls. What actions will you take?
Rape Crisis England & Wales