Thursday 27 April 2017

Obituary: Jill Saward

Rape victim waived right to anonymity and campaigned for victims of sexual violence and for tougher sentencing

Campaigner: Vicar’s daughter Jill Saward
Campaigner: Vicar’s daughter Jill Saward

Jill Saward, who died last Thursday aged 51 following a stroke, was a vicar's daughter who became the first rape victim in Britain to waive her right to anonymity and went on to campaign for better understanding for victims of rape and sexual violence.

At lunchtime on March 6, 1986 her father, Canon Michael Saward, answered the door at Ealing Vicarage to be faced by three knife-wielding men in balaclavas high on drink and drugs. Jill and her boyfriend, David Kerr, were watching television.

The men demanded money and "jewels". Finding none, they went on an orgy of violence. Jill, aged 21 and with no sexual experience, was dragged to a bedroom at knifepoint and raped repeatedly by two of the men before being tied up with a skipping rope.

Her father and boyfriend were beaten unconscious, their skulls fractured.

Public outrage erupted at the men's trial at the Old Bailey 11 months later, when, in a statement he later deeply regretted, Mr Justice Leonard opined that Jill Saward's trauma "had not been so great" and gave the defendants tougher sentences for the burglary than for the rape.

The judge had been impressed by Jill Saward's air of resilience. Yet, as she revealed later, her calm demeanour was deceptive. She suffered more than three years of flashbacks and nightmares, came close to suicide on three occasions, separated from her boyfriend and, convinced that she was "on the shelf, soiled goods", made a disastrous marriage.

Her suffering was exacerbated by the fact that, in the aftermath of the attack, several newspapers published details which led her to be identifiable as the rape victim.

In 1990, with the help of her friend Wendy Green, Jill Saward wrote Rape: My Story. Her father admitted later that it was only when he read the book that he realised the extent of her trauma. Like the judge, he had been convinced by her outward composure.

Public outrage over the court case led to the law being changed to allow for the right to appeal against lenient sentences and to close a loophole which allowed media identification of a rape victim before a defendant was charged.

The case also led to calls by women's groups and politicians for changes to the law which resulted, among other things, in tougher sentencing for rapists.

Jill Saward became involved in supporting victims and training police officers in how to handle victims of sexual violence.

She wrote for national newspapers and appeared on television and radio urging improvements in the way rape victims are treated by the police and the legal system, campaigning successfully for the barring of accused rapists from being able to cross-examine victims while representing themselves in court.

In 1994, she set up HURT (Help Untwist Rape Trauma), a charity to provide support for victims of sexual violence and their families, and also became a counsellor in the Midlands.

An identical twin, Jill Saward was born in Liverpool on January 14, 1965 and educated at Lady Margaret School in Parsons Green, London.

In 1998, she came face to face with Robert Horscroft, the member of the gang who had not been involved in the rape, who obtained her forgiveness. "Of course, sometimes I thought it might be quite nice to be full of hatred and revenge," she said. "But you're the one who gets damaged in the end. So, although it makes you vulnerable, forgiving is actually a release."

In July 2008 she stood as a candidate in the Haltemprice and Howden (East Yorkshire) by-election against David Davis, whom she criticised for "saying nothing at all" about sexual violence issues while serving as the British Shadow Home Secretary.

Jill Saward is survived by her second husband, Gavin Drake, and by three sons.

© Telegraph

Sunday Independent

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