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“The Importance of Sexual Violence Awareness Week”- Louise Wattis

I have to be honest, being a board member for Arch has been a challenge for me. Board members use relevant skills and experience to oversee the governance, effective running and resilience of organisations. I am a criminologist and feminist academic interested in violence against women and predominantly the way in which victims are portrayed across a range of formats, I guess this is what qualifies me to sit on a board which supports victims/survivors of sexual violence.

However, board membership has taken me right out of my comfort zone. There are times when I’ve been struck that feminist politics and a concern and commitment to victims of sexual violence are altogether less useful than a background in management and the ability to assess financial reports and read spreadsheets at a glance. I had none of these skills and joining the board of Arch has been a learning curve for me.

However, attending the Rape Crisis England and Wales Conference in December 2019 reassured me that I am in the right place and can make a contribution to the organisation. Meeting some of the fantastic Arch team, listening to the powerful testimonies of survivors and the challenges faced by those supporting victims of sexual violence – helped me reconnect with my feminist politics and strengthened my commitment to victims of sexual violence.

It feels like raising awareness has never been so important. On the one hand, it seems we are more aware than ever of sexual violence, less so however, about its reality and the experiences of victims. Rape culture remains endemic, powerful men are unrepentant in the face of their systematic exploitation and abuse of women, victim blaming reached new heights with the Cyprus case. All the while, as fewer and fewer cases reach court and conviction rates fall even further, any commitment by the UK justice system to prosecute perpetrators and secure justice for victims appears virtually non-existent.

There are times when all need a jolt, we all need to be reminded of the pervasive, often hidden nature of sexual violence, of the damage and trauma, and the plethora of myths which circulate about sexual violence. Raising awareness is crucial and Sexual Violence Awareness Week plays a key role in maintaining sexual violence is high on agendas and within the public consciousness. It also showcases the amazing work of organisations which ARCH and the Rape Crisis centres across the country do in supporting survivors. Most importantly, awareness raising is crucial to send the message that despite the challenges those in the sector face, we will never stop calling out sexual violence, holding the justice system to account and ensuring victims know they will be listened to.