I am writing this because I want to make clear what I said on the Guilty Feminist Podcast, whilst I wish my language had been clearer, a few sentences in particular have been taken out of context. My input on the podcast is based on almost two decades of experience I have in working to tackle violence against women and support survivors of sexual violence. To start, it is critical to make clear that I am the CEO of Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, which is a member of, but autonomous from, Rape Crisis Scotland. Both organisations have a track-record of supporting women through a survivor centred and non-judgemental approach. We must ensure those who need our services feel able to come to us and are not negatively impacted by online discourse.
All support is survivor centred, as it should be.
Let me make this very clear, if a woman engages with our services, through any route, and she feels she is not comfortable with the support worker allocated to her, we will of course, prioritise that need and will do whatever we can to provide the right support - this is the very basis of a person-centred approach and is a foundation of service delivery in advocacy work and support services across a number of sectors.
Alongside this, it is also critical that we act as proactive bystanders and lead by example as an organisation dedicated to equality and human rights. If what we see/hear from someone is clearly prejudiced and we are not responding to their urgent support need it is also part of our role to provide a space to explore and challenge this, in as kind a way as possible. In order for us to create a safe space for survivors it also needs to be a safe space for staff and volunteers, where everyone feels valued, safe and respected. That must be a priority if we are to be an ethical service provider for all survivors using our service, as well as an employer, taking seriously our role in creating a fairer society; this would be the case for any prejudice experienced be it racism, classism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or transphobia.
Sexual violence is part of systemic sexism and inequality – knowing this can help us through trauma.
I, the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre or the Rape Crisis movement in Scotland is not looking to re-educate survivors when they come in for the urgent, potentially life-saving support they may need – that would be inappropriate. What we can do, when they are ready and if they are interested, is to help them take part in wider discussions about how violence against women is a cause and a consequence of a deeply unequal and sexist society. Seeing it through this lens can, potentially, empower survivors to not feel alone (which is so important when they may be feeling blame or shame) and to understand and progress their recovery. These conversations can happen as part of support, if survivors are looking to have that conversation with their support worker; or they can join groupwork or workshops. This is what is meant by “reframing trauma”.
We owe it to each other to stand up to all forms of inequality and discrimination.
When I speak about sexual violence and domestic abuse, I speak from my experiences; as a migrant, as a woman of colour and as a trans woman – I am open about all of that, because being open about our experiences and being able to tell our own stories is one way that we can create a fairer society and fight back against the inequality that silences us.
There are multiple staff and volunteers in our centre who are migrants and women of colour and across their careers they, and I, have experienced racism and bigotry, and too often we have overlooked this across the violence against women sector. If we want to be a truly feminist organisation, we too need to be an anti-racist organisation, we need to be an organisation that stands up to homophobia, ableism, classism and yes, transphobia. This is the bigotry I referred to in the podcast.
I am drawing a line under the podcast and in desperate hope that my words here are understood in full and with the compassion and integrity I am writing with.
Rape Crisis Scotland's helpline 08088 01 03 02 (6pm - midnight every night) offers free and confidential support and information. They offer support to anyone aged 13 and over, of any gender, affected by any form of sexual violence, no matter when or how it happened. They support survivors, as well as family, friends, and supporters. They can arrange for free language interpreters, including British Sign Language, to access support if your first language is not English.