Remembering Jill Saward

Jill and l first met in person on 20th February 2015.  We met with a senior member of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), I was running late due to my usual ineptitude at map reading (I am even hopeless with Google maps) and got lost trying to get to their London office.  When I entered the meeting room, Jill was in full flow and I sat back in awe.

Prior to this first face to face meeting, we had exchanged tweets the year before on matters pertaining to sexual violence.  We shared a huge sense of frustration about injustice.  I cannot precisely pinpoint that pivotal moment that we became more than Twitter followers but I recall being utterly exasperated by a question asked by one of the jurors in the Rolf Harris trial.  A Twitter exchange ensued and we both agreed that something had to be done.   As a result JURIES (Jurors Understanding Rape is Essential Standard) was born – Jill came up with the name.

Back to 20th February, it was less than a month since Jill’s father had died and she had been in London sorting through his flat.  After our meeting at the CPS we went for a meal and Jill gave me a 2015 Tiffany art calendar that was her father’s.  I was so profoundly touched by this gesture not least because she paid such attention to detail.  She clearly sussed out people really quickly, up until this point we had only known one another via social media and through the campaign discussions, yet she had picked up on the fact that I am a lover of art nouveau.

Jill also gave me a signed copy of her book.  She wrote: “Alison, it is great to work with you”; however we became more than work colleagues and developed a friendship with almost daily contact – an awful lot of which was non-JURIES related.  I think that the longest we went without any contact was a week.

Jill had so many qualities which shone through her campaign and advocacy work; these are widely recognised and have been reported extensively in the media.  In getting to know her, I truly experienced first-hand her kindness, compassion, generosity and sensitivity.  Jill was not only generous with her time for others but she gave me so many lovely gifts in the three years that I really knew her, most recently a Christmas-themed colouring in book for Christmas.

She was not only a giver of presents but had that rare gift of being able to connect with a diverse range of people from all backgrounds, faiths, non-faiths, sexualities, ages, ethnicities, political beliefs and so on.  Her ability to support those who reached out to her is exceptional.  She did it because she said she wanted to help and did so on a scale that is immeasurable.  So many women have contacted me since Jill’s death and shared their stories about how they heard her speak and contacted her without any expectation that she would reply but she did.  She was such a powerful grounding force for those 100s of survivors whom she supported individually and enriched their lives.

Jill was funny, humble and self-deprecating.  She was also incredibly pragmatic, wise and had a no-nonsense approach.  She endearingly wore her pixie slippers when giving radio interviews from her home, which was an in-joke amongst her friends.

Jill loved foxes and every time I saw anything fox-themed, I thought of her.  Sometimes I took a picture of said fox item and sent it to her and sometimes I got her a small present.  I also always think of Jill when I see pineapples because she explained the misconceptions about rape and sexual violence thus:

An example we use is to talk about where pineapples grow. Many people assume they grow on trees; they have never seen one but hold that opinion as fact. It is only when they are shown to be grown on bushes or on the ground that it becomes clear. The same is true for many about rape. They assume they know about it, but many clearly do not. We feel that as judges are not trainers that this role should not be left to them, and not left till the end.

As a result, every time I do a talk or training on rape myths and realities, I use this analogy.

So, how do I remember Jill? Foxes, pineapples and pixies will for me be forever associated with her along with the tremendous legacy of her work.  Jill continues to inspire me and 1000s of others.  I miss her terribly.

If you would like to donate to the Remembering Jill Saward and making sure her work for survivors of sexual violence continues fund, please click here.