One of the things we often hear when we say we work with Rape Crisis is that must be so hard. It must be so hard to be surrounded by all of that trauma.
In truth it can be hard. Knowing the scale of harm caused by sexual violence in Scotland and beyond can weigh heavily. Improving responses to rape and sexual assault is no small task, it means creating a society that responds to survivors with compassion, holds perpetrators to account, and it also means trying to redesign systems – including justice systems – to make them compassionate and truly just. For us it also incredibly difficult to sit with the knowledge that many people who need specialist support face an unacceptable wait to access life-saving services. We never, ever want to turn someone who needs us away.
But it’s important to say that in our work we are reminded every single day of the strength, resilience and downright determination of women and of survivors. Rape Crisis is built on the shoulders of women who stepped up for one another when nobody else wanted to listen. And listen these women did, sometimes on landline in a cupboard used as a helpline of sorts, shared amongst a community of women resolute that if a survivor needed someone to speak to then they would answer. Rape Crisis Centres were built because women worked every single hour under the sun and more to make it happen; fundraising, lobbying, and at times pleading because they knew the value of a safe space for survivors.
These days our helpline infrastructure is considerably better, but the significance of there being a number to call where survivors will be believed, listened to and supported is unaltered. Rape Crisis in Scotland is a safe space for survivors in a world that can feel hostile and uncaring. We know because so many survivors tell us: Rape Crisis saves lives.
Against all odds (and the expectations of those men who have spent a lifetime underestimating women) over time Rape Crisis became a movement, and a powerful one. We are a movement that has changed lives and laws. We have witnessed and protested extreme injustice and we have challenged power. The progress we have made in Scotland is testament to the work of women – survivors and workers together for there cannot always be a distinction – resolute that a better, safe and fair world is possible.
Across 17 local centres in Scotland women are working to support survivors of all genders, they are working in schools and universities to prevent violence and helping survivors to navigate complex institutions and systems from courtrooms to healthcare. Demand for our services is unprecedented, and funding has not kept up, but still our message to survivors would be to reach out and ask for support. We won’t always be able to give that support immediately and that is not right or fair – we are working hard to change this – but you are worthy of support. You deserve a space to process what you’ve experienced, no matter what happened or when. We believe you.
In the last year the Survivor Reference Group have met with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Lord Advocate to share their experience to drive change, members have helped to shape the Forensic Medical Services Bill and will soon give evidence to the Health and Sport Committee at the Scottish Parliament. Those survivors involved privately and those who have spoken publicly do so because they don’t want anyone to go through what they’ve been through, and also because they want those who have already to know that they are not alone. We are so grateful for the work and advocacy of the Survivor Reference Group – they are making a real difference.
So, this International Women’s Day we want to say that we are grateful to all those women working and volunteering as part of the Rape Crisis movement who do so yes, because we are angry about the injustice of sexual violence, but also because we believe that it doesn’t have to be this way. This is not inevitable.
Our vision is for a safe, equal and just Scotland; today and every day we celebrate all those who are grafting to make this a reality.