For the last few years, I have been musing on what has changed since the 1970s when the first refuges and rape crisis centres were established. Pretty much everything we could say in terms of the recognition of violence against women and the engagement of statutory agencies. But there is a conversation we need to have about what has changed not just for, but within, women’s organisations.
When I joined groups that established a refuge and later a rape crisis centre we talked about ‘we’- we women who experienced violence, we women who sought to end it, we women who intended to create women’s liberation. The idea of talking about ‘service users’ or ‘clients’ would have not made sense, as we thought most women encountered some form of intimate intrusion in our lives, that our solidarity around violence was rooted in part in the fact that it was a reality, or a possibility, in all our lives. We encouraged women to become part of our organisations, to join in actions and demonstrations – violence was not just a personal experience but a political issue at the heart of feminist struggle. Some years later, Judith Herman in her classic book ‘Trauma and Recovery’ talks about activism as being an important part of dealing with the legacies of violence.
I fear that many of the ways in which we work, and much of language we use, has taken us away from these vital insights, and in the process how we think about and work with the women and girls who come to our organisations has changed. I do still see the ‘we’ in some places, in organisations led by black feminists and in some in the north of England and the south-west. What would reclaiming the ‘we’ look like? How might it change the language we use, the way we think about violence and the support that women need and want in relation to it?
Professor Liz Kelly
Director of the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit (CWASU)
London Metropolitan University