Jill’s memorial service was held in Nefyn on August 12th 2017. I was honoured to be asked by Jill’s husband Gavin to pay tribute at the service. It was an extremely moving and emotional day which allowed all of us present to reflect on Jill’s remarkable life and the impact she made on so many people.
Gavin’s reflections can be read here and below is my tribute.
I had the pleasure and privilege of working with Jill, a relationship which developed into a friendship. Our friendship began via a Twitter exchange in the summer of 2014 when I tweeted how I exasperated I was about the barriers that victims of sexual violence face when accessing the criminal justice system. Jill and I shared the view that you can train the police, prosecutors and judges to the nth degree but ultimately, charging decisions are predicated on whether the Crown Prosecution Service believe a jury would be likely to return a guilty verdict and those 12 members of the public have a lot of power. They also have a lot of misconceptions about sexual violence and we want the opportunity for them to have those views challenged before a trial commences to improve outcomes.
As such, we came together to form JURIES, Jurors Understanding Rape is Essential Standard, a name that Jill came up. We began our campaign on social media and Jill, skilled lobbyist that she was, began writing to senior politicians and also spoke about the campaign on Woman’s Hour in early 2015.
We also set up a petition, which we shared as widely as possible. Much to our frustration, it only got 800 signatures within a year. Jill and I often vented about the lack of public interest and engagement with issues pertaining to sexual violence and would lament how people care more about animals, in particular donkeys, than they do about women and girls.
Not that Jill had anything against donkeys and the Drake family had a love of Winnie the Pooh when the kids were small and I am sure, love Eeyore as much as the other characters. Whilst we didn’t share Eeyore’s downer on life in general, we did have a downer on the apathy regarding our campaign. As Jill said, “this country cares more about donkeys than it does about women”; “often in the UK we show more support for donkeys than we do rape victims, don’t be an ass and show support” and even offered to throw in a donkey for good measure if people signed our petition! A few weeks ago, I saw a job advertised for a position at a Devon donkey sanctuary, offering a salary of £79,000 compared to the top job of the CEO of the national charity Women’s Aid, which is London-based and was advertised shortly before for around £80,000. This was another of one of the many moments since Jill died that my first thought was to rant to Jill about this and yet again it was like a kick in the stomach as I was hit with a wave of what has become a familiar acute sense of loss.
Obviously, sexual violence is a topic that many fear to engage with, Jill recognised this and campaigned her entire life to break down barriers, which she did with aplomb; she did so much to remove the stigma and blame that victims are subjected to. We both recognised that there is still so much more to do and perhaps the biggest challenge is to change deeply ingrained public attitudes, hence our campaign.
Whilst Jill the adept, adroit and indefatigable campaigner was the public face for many, there was so much more to Jill; wife, mother, lost passport organiser (Gavin and many of you will be aware of the mystery of the missing passport when Gavin was working abroad), sister, aunt and friend. Jill had so many facets to her that it’s impossible to capture them all. She was kind, generous with her time and gave me and other friends lovely and thoughtful gifts; she had the ability to pick up on and remember casual comments that people would make and home in on them and present a perfect gift. Jill was a great friend for whom many of us turned to for her sage advice. She was incredibly droll and amused those of us on Facebook with her posts and photos of her in elf outfits and the pixie slippers that she wore when doing radio interviews from home. Although Jill was often self-deprecating, she always had the ability to make that perfect comeback to comments and questions which would floor most of us.
I need not say that Jill touched the lives of 100s and 100s, possibly 1000s of people in a way that no one has before and I doubt will ever again. The diverse range of groups and individuals who paid tribute to her, ranging from Nicky Campbell, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Julie Bindel, DIVA magazine, JK Rowling, Rape Crisis England and Wales, the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Rights of Women, Women’s Aid, Christian Today, Pride, to Jeremy Corbyn and so on. Jill’s life, her force of character, resilience, fortitude and commitment to improving the lives of victims of sexual and domestic violence, inspired countless people and she continues to do so. Jill, thank you for all that you did, you are so missed.