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Tributes pour in after rape campaigner dies at 51

Tributes have poured in for pioneering sexual violence campaigner Jill Saward, who died on Thursday at 51 after suffering a stroke ...

Church leaders and campaigning groups have paid tribute to the pioneering work against sexual violence of Jill Saward, who died on Thursday (5 January 2017) at 51 after suffering a stroke.

Jill devoted much of her life to campaigning for the rights of rape survivors after suffering a traumatic attack in 1986, when a gang armed with knives broke into the family’s vicarage home in Ealing, where her father Rev Michael Saward was vicar of St Mary’s Church.

Then 21, Jill was raped repeatedly by two of the gang, and her boyfriend and father were badly beaten.

At the Old Bailey trial in 1987, judge Sir John Leonard caused an outcry when sentencing the men. He told Saward’s assailants: “Because I have been told the trauma suffered by the victim was not so great … I shall take a lenient course with you.”

Leonard, who later regretted his comment, handed down longer sentences for burglary than for rape. The case contributed to a change in the law allowing prosecutors to appeal for longer sentences.

Jill Saward waived her right to anonymity in 1990 with the publication of her book Rape: My Story. She said she had suffered nightmares and flashbacks after the attack and had considered suicide. She chose to forgive her attackers.

She told the Daily Telegraph in 2006: “Sometimes I thought it might be quite nice to be full of hatred and revenge. But I think it creates a barrier and you’re the one who gets damaged in the end. So, although it makes you vulnerable, forgiving is actually a release. I don’t think I’d be here today without my Christian faith. That’s what got me through.”

She worked to train judges and police officers on sexual violence issues, sat on government bodies considering changes to policy, and spoke in schools, universities, extensively through TV and radio, and wrote for a wide range of publications including Inspire’s predecessor Christian Herald, and our sister title Woman Alive.

The family's statement on Jill's website saward.org read: "It is with deep shock and great sadness that we must announce that Jill Saward (Jill Drake) died this morning in New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton, following a subarachnoid haemorrhage on Tuesday. She was 51 years old.

"In consultation with medical staff, the family readily agreed to Jill’s desire to be an organ donor.

"Jill dedicated the past 30 years of her life to helping other people. It gives us great comfort to know that our wonderful wife, mother and sister was able to help other people to the very end. We would like to thank all those who contributed to her medical care in recent days.

"We are also so very grateful for the many expressions of prayer, love and support we have received.

"At this stage we would appreciate space and time to come to terms with what has happened."

Rev Arun Arora, Director of Communications for the Church of England, said: “Jill was a truly brave woman who campaigned tirelessly on behalf of victims of sexual violence. Her courage, fortitude and commitment made her an outstanding campaigner as well as a loyal friend to many. She was much loved and respected and will be greatly missed by those whose lives she touched.”

Alison Boydell, of the campaign group Jurors Understanding Rape Is Essential Standard, which Saward co-founded, said: “Jill was an indefatigable advocate for victim-survivors of sexual violence and dedicated her life to campaigning and raising awareness of rape and sexual violence.

“She also championed many other campaigns and causes and supported so many through her work, kindness and compassion.”

A spokeswoman for Rape Crisis England and Wales said Saward had been “a good friend and valued supporter over three decades.

“Jill was able to step outside of her own harrowing experience to highlight the needs and rights of all those impacted by sexual violence … Jill was courageous, pioneering and an inspiration. She will be sorely missed.”

She leaves her husband journalist Gavin Drake, three sons and three siblings.

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