Sat, Dec 22, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Rape Crisis centers breaking the silence

Forty years ago, no one revealed or discussed sexual violence in Britain. However, the pioneering women of Rape Crisis changed all that. What more can be done?

By Kira Cochrane  /  The Guardian, LONDON

When they try to raise money, the donations are generally minimal. They suspect this might be partly because people assume the organization is fully funded already, but the issue seems to go deeper. The organizers of some of the country’s major telethons have told them donations plummet when they run segments on violence against women.

They need more people to volunteer, and not just for the helplines, but accountants, solicitors, journalists and other professionals who could support management teams. They are trying to train women so they understand the history of the movement, so the torch can be passed to staff who continue its ethos. I wonder if the work ever upsets them. Eggleston says every woman who comes in is a survivor.

“They’ve got to the door, and that fills us with hope,” she says.

Sometimes, McLeod says, “you can see the change in a woman who comes to speak to you, just instantaneously, where she thinks, it’s not just me, there are other people in the world who know what I’m talking about.”

Back in the early 1970s, when rape — and certainly child sexual abuse — was barely ever spoken about, the birth of the Rape Crisis movement felt as if “the world had cracked open,” Connell says.

“Now institutions such as the Catholic Church are being revealed, there’s the BBC scandal, and in the US there was Penn State, a college where they tolerated a pederast [football coach], and an assistant coach actually saw him raping a child,” she says.

Savile has been accused of 31 rapes, seven men have been questioned as part of the ongoing investigation, Operation Yewtree, and there is a stream of allegations regarding the late MP Cyril Smith. Could this be a watershed moment?

“I hope so,” Coates says.

She has tried, in the past, to raise the subject of adults who were sexually assaulted as children, “and no one’s ever wanted to listen. Now they are. But whether that is sustained or not, I don’t know. It will be interesting to look back in a year, 18 months, and ask: Has anything actually changed?”

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