In 1976 a group of women in Glasgow came together to form a Rape Crisis Centre. This Centre would be the first in Scotland, and remains the longest operational Rape Crisis Centre in the United Kingdom. Support services for women survivors of male violence were being opened across the UK as part of a grassroots movement of women who were determined to speak out against this violence, to challenge the myths that surrounded women’s experiences of male abuse and the stigma that they experienced.
In those early years of the movement, feminists were defining the continuum of violence against women that included rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, prostitution and pornography and all coercive and non-consensual sexual activity … and were being vilified for it. Until this movement of women, there was a culture of acceptance around sexual violence and blame for the women who experienced it, and it benefited the perpetrators and all men in that it kept women silenced and silent.
In her groundbreaking book of the 1970s, Susan Brownmiller showed very clearly the attitudes against women that permeated our society, no more evident than in the criminal justice system where rape was the only violent crime where the victim was expected to resist, even to the risk of her own life.
And it was Brownmilller who gave a voice to those of us who wanted to show that sexual violence was not matter of an over exuberant male sexual appetite. She stated that:
“Rape is not a crime of irrational, impulsive, uncontrollable lust, but is a deliberate, hostile, violent act of degradation and possession on the part of the would-be conqueror, designed to intimidate and inspire fear.”
(Susan Brownmiller: ‘Against Our Will’, 1975)
As more and more Rape Crisis Centres opened across the UK, women were beginning to speak out about their experiences and the prevalence of sexual violence was becoming apparent. Women spoke of rape, sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse experiences, rape in marriage, and the myth of the stranger rapist was dispelled. That shadowy figure that waited in dark corners to leap upon unsuspecting women proved a lot less common that was previously believed. Women were telling us that most acts of sexual violence were being perpetrated by men that they knew – husbands, fathers, friends, boyfriends, neighbours, relatives, and the guilt and the blame that was being heaped upon women was further silencing them.
In the 1980s, ‘Date Rape’ was named in the USA and Mary P Koss showed the true prevalence of this in her 1985 study of 32 colleges across the US. The findings showed that 1 in 4 women reported being forced to have sex against their will; that 84% of the women knew their attacker, and that 57% of the rapes had happened on a date. It also showed that 42% of the women told no-one about the rape.
It was becoming incontrovertible – women were more at risk from men that
they knew than from the ‘Stranger Rapist.’
Rape Crisis Centres became more organised and received better funding – though most were still running on a shoestring with volunteers providing almost all the support services – and we were able to challenge the attitudes that accused women of complicity in the violence perpetrated against them. We maintained our feminist analysis of sexual violence and continued to speak out on the continuum of violence against women.
Women were still suffering at the hands of the criminal justice system and being accused of complicity in their own rape when, in 1982, Judge Bertrand Richards fined a man who had raped a young women hitch-hiker. The reason he gave for this was that the young woman was guilty of ‘contributory negligence’ on two counts, for hitch-hiking and for being out alone at night. Other cases like this were beginning to be reported in the media and Rape Crisis Centres continued to challenge the Victorian attitudes held by many within the judiciary.
In 1983 the Rape Crisis Centre in Glasgow secured money from the then Urban Aid Fund to establish the Women’s Support Project in the East End of the City. This project has developed into a model of good practice, respected across the country and has been instrumental in the development of the Women’s Safety Centre (now WISE Women), involved in the setting up of SAY Women, has worked on the September Month of Action on Child Sexual Abuse for a number of years and provides specialist training to professionals across Scotland.
The debate on sexual violence spilled over into women’s magazines throughout the nineteen eighties. Many featured articles on the issue, and on the way survivors were coping with their experiences. In 1983 an article in Cosmopolitan stated:
“Sex is not what a rapist perpetrates. Sex does indeed take two and by mutual consent. Without that consent, with threats of wounding or death in its stead – whatever he does with his penis – rape is a man committing violence upon a woman. Only that, but all of that.”
Articles were appearing in other mainstream magazines such as Women’s Own and in 1989 the Evening Times and the Women’s Support Project in Glasgow carried out a survey on rape in marriage which found that almost half of the women in Glasgow who had been raped, had been raped by their husbands. Fiona Montgomery wrote in the Evening Times:
“As a journalist I have spoken to many women who have been raped repeatedly in their marital bed by the father of their children. Many tell no-one of their ordeal, convinced that there is no point in reporting to the police. Sadly, but understandably, because of the mental turmoil and feelings of humiliation they find it almost impossible to admit to someone who might help, exactly what is being done to them.”
On 1st July 1999 the Scottish Parliament assumed full powers and the first Parliamentary Bill proposed to a subject committee was aimed at making women and their children safer from violence and abuse. The Protection from Abuse (Scotland) Act 2001 offered increased support to women and children living with violence from men they know.
In 1999, the Scottish Executive established the Domestic Abuse Service Development Fund to provide funding for work on domestic abuse, but this fund also allowed work to be carried out by Rape Crisis Centres across the country. Then, in January 2004, then Minister for Communities Margaret Curran announced that the Scottish Executive would provide £1.86 m funding for rape crisis centres in recognition of the historical underfunding experienced by centres across the country. She said:
"Rape and sexual abuse are abhorrent crimes and this new funding will transform the support services currently on offer in Scotland. Support is vital in helping people recover and rebuild their lives when they have suffered like this.”
Also in 2004, the Scottish Executive asked the Scottish Law Commission to carry out a Review of Rape and Sexual Offences in particular the definition of rape and issues of proof, with particular regard to gender and equality issues.
In June 2006 the Solicitor General, Elish Angiolini reported 50 recommendations that came out of the Review of Investigation and Prosecution of Rape in Scotland. These recommendations included specialised training for prosecutors, strengthening communication with victims, early and co-ordinated access to medical support for victims and ensuring that the process is more thorough and fair. In her statement to the Scottish Parliament, Elish Angiolini stated that:
"Rape is one of the most vile crimes which can be committed in society and is accordingly treated with the same degree of seriousness in the Scottish criminal justice system as murder. The damage caused to individual victims, their families and to wider society is enormous, and there is a responsibility on us all to respond to offences of sexual violence with determination, and sensitivity to its victims.”
When the new Scottish Government came into power in May 2007, we were pleased to find that they recognised the need to continue this work and made a commitment to continue funding the very valuable contribution women’s organisations have made in this field. With the Violence Against Women and Rape Crisis Specific Funds many centres became more secure and able to plan for longer term work.
Rape Crisis in Glasgow now offers a wide range of services to survivors, their partners, family members and carers. We are continually working to improve access to our services for survivors, improving the ways we can be contacted and making use of emerging technologies. We also work with a very diverse population and are aware that our ‘tried and true’ talking therapies do not fit everyone. With this in mind we are now more creative in developing our services so that as many women and girls can find support that is accessible, relevant and appropriate to their needs.
We’ve come a long way since 1976, yet often it feels that we are still there, still fighting the same fight. In spite of increases to funding from central and local government, Rape Crisis Centres are still massively under-resourced. Rape Crisis in Glasgow covers an area with a population of approximately 1.2 million, 52% of whom are women and even the most conservative figures estimate that one in five of those women will experience sexual violence at some time in their lives.
For as long as the Rape Crisis Centre in Glasgow exists, we will be committed to providing services for women and girls and challenging the attitudes that support and condone male violence against women.
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