I was saddened to read on the BBC News app last week of the death due to a stroke of Jill Saward, a 51 year old lady who became a sexual assault campaigner after she was gang raped aged 21 during a burglary at her father’s vicarage in Ealing, West London, in 1986. Her father Michael and her boyfriend at the time were severely beaten, both suffering fractured skulls.
Ms Saward was the first rape victim in the UK to waive her anonymity. She eventually married Gavin Drake, and they lived with their three sons in Staffordshire. Her family said that she had dedicated the past 30 years of her life to helping other people. She even requested that her organs be donated to others after her death.
The case was the focus of huge media attention at the time, because the two rapists received shorter sentences than the two other men involved, who were convicted only of burglary. One rapist received 5 years for rape and 5 years for burglary. The other rapist was given 3 years for his part in the sexual assault and 5 for the burglary. Another was sentenced to 14 years for his part in the burglary. At the end of the trial, the judge said that Ms Saward’s trauma ‘Had not been so great’, sparking outrage. The judge was censured for the remark, and apologised for it later in life.
Due to the rape, Ms Saward had been suicidal three times, and also suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder. By speaking out about her ordeal, she vowed to help tighten rape laws and called for better victim support. In 1990 she published her memoir ‘Rape: My Story’, and four years later set up a help group for victims and their families. She also became a counsellor. Among the causes she successfully campaigned for was the barring of accused rapists from cross-examining their victims when representing themselves in court.
Ms Saward believed that forgiveness was very important. She had said in the past that ‘They had destroyed enough. I did not want them to destroy anything else. Forgiveness gave me the freedom to move on.’
In July 2008 she stood for election to Parliament, and in 2012 welcomed proposals for tougher sentences on sex offenders. In 2015 she called ‘insulting’ a suggestion by MP’s for sex crime suspects to be granted anonymity.
Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said ‘She made the journey from victim, to survivor, to campaigner.’