Stoke & Staffordshire

Women helped by Jill Saward pay tribute: 'Repeating her pain helped us'

Jill Saward
Image caption Jill Saward was the first rape victim in the UK to waive her anonymity

Jill Saward became an ardent campaigner for victims of sexual assaults after she was raped during a burglary at her father's vicarage in 1986.

She was the first rape victim in the UK to waive her anonymity, and went on to help hundreds - if not thousands - of women cope with their experiences.

After her death on 5 January, two women who were comforted by the mother-of-three after their lives were shattered by devastating sexual attacks, talk about the impact she had.

Clare, not her real name, said her daughter was attacked in broad daylight in 2012. The offender has never been caught.

She said she saw her daughter go from being confident and happy to frightened and introverted.

But they found Ms Saward, from Hednesford in Staffordshire, to be "consistently supportive" - which has led to her daughter changing her career choice to follow in her footsteps as an advocate for women who have been raped.

"I knew Jill, because my daughter was sexually attacked several years ago, and around the time this happened, I heard Jill being interviewed on the radio and remembered what had happened to her well.

"I sent her a message saying how inspiring and helpful I had found listening to her and telling her about my daughter, and also saying how brilliantly I thought the radio interview had gone.

"To my surprise Jill responded to me immediately, and so openly and humbly that I was moved to tears."

Ms Saward told her she did not always feel confident being interviewed, feeling self-conscious and inadequate, and that she was grateful for Clare's positive feedback.

"Over the years I always contacted her after that, whenever I heard her on the radio, saw her on TV or read her quoted in the press or online.

"She responded each and every time, graciously and generously, and was discreetly, but consistently, supportive to us both - and this undoubtedly played no small part in our healing.

"I was absolutely devastated to hear the news of her death and mourn the loss of this wonderful woman who helped our family - amongst I'm sure, thousands of others - deal with our pain and trauma by repeatedly sharing her own pain, trauma and recovery in the public domain.

"Jill's legacy will live on in many ways.

"In our family she will always be a legendary figure, who demonstrated to us all how gentleness and humility can go hand-in-hand with bravery and boldness... and of this are the true heroes and warriors of our time made."

Image copyright Helen Austin
Image caption Helen Austin said Ms Saward offered her a "lifeline"

Helen Austin was raped by strangers 10 years ago. Her attacker has also never been apprehended. She subsequently wrote an anonymous blog about what happened to her, which led to Ms Saward tracking her down to "reach out" to her.

They went on to become good friends, speaking almost daily.

"I would not be where I am now without Jill's lifeline support and friendship," she said.

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Media captionJill Saward, who was gang raped in 1986, says her attackers got the same sentence as for aggravated burglary

"When I chose to come out from anonymous writing she supported me to think through the practicalities. The potential impact... on my family and friends and people who knew me, but didn't know my 'story' as such.

"She taught me that being raped is part of our story. We cannot lose that.

"It will never not be part of our lives now, but we can move forward - not let it be our only identity."

When she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder a few years ago, she said Ms Saward encouraged her to have progressional counselling and to talk to her mother about her rape - which was only last year, because she had wanted to "protect" her from it.

"Jill has taught me so much about who I am and what I can do with my voice."

She said she was struck by the warmth and humour of a woman who had done "groundbreaking" work to take the stigma away from rape victims.

"There would be times when we would be having really deep conversations, and then she would just say something that would lighten the tension," she said.

"As I moved forward with my story, Jill was always a constant encouragement."

Ms Saward's husband, Gavin Drake, said his wife's help for Ms Austin was typical of her helping hand away from the cameras and campaigning.

"She enjoyed giving joy and fun to people," he said.

"What's emerged in the week or so since Jill's death is just the amount of people that she was communicating with, victims and others she was supporting.

"We've received thousands of messages from people across the world who've said about how these messages and these conversations that she was having online, which I didn't know about because the nature of her work of course is confidential.

"I knew she was doing it, but even I had no idea the extent of the number of people she was supporting."

Image copyright Alison Boydell
Image caption Ms Saward and Alison Boydell co-founded the charity JURIES together

Alison Boydell co-founded the JURIES campaign group with Ms Saward, which tries to educate jurors on the stereotypes that can surround rape cases.

The pair initially engaged on social media in 2014 where they would have "heated debates" and vent their frustrations at the low conviction rates of those accused of rape, citing a need to educate jurors "about the realities of rape and sexual violence". This led them to form their charity.

"I've known about her and admired her from afar from the late 1980s and 90s," she said.

"I found her, and still find her, to be an incredibly courageous and inspiring woman and indefatigable, brave, honest."

After the attack at her father's vicarage, Ms Saward was subsequently labelled the Ealing vicarage rape victim. But she said she made no complaint about the tag as it enabled her to challenge politicians, something Ms Boydell praised her for.

"The way she spoke about her own rape and the way that she challenged politicians and really kept sexual violence and rape on the political agenda was absolutely amazing," she said.

"When I got to meet her, it was just a delight... because there was so much more to her.

"She had a fantastic sense of humour, an amazing sense of irony - really great friend, incredibly supportive. She supported a lot of people individually and is going to be sorely missed."

Her sudden death at 51 from a stroke was "tragic" but Ms Boydell said her decision to donate her organs was "an amazing gift", showing how selfless she was right up to the end.

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