A crowd gathered outside Edinburgh’s St Giles cathedral on Thursday 27 October to show solidarity towards those affected by issues of sexual abuse.
The event, organised by the University of Edinburgh society Sexpression, and attended by representatives from Edinburgh University Feminism Society, was held in the wake of famous football player Ched Evans being found not guilty on charges of rape and aimed to display unity and show support to victims and survivors of abuse.
The National Coordinator for Rape Crisis Scotland, Sandy Brindley, made a speech at the vigil saying that she was “horrified” by the outcome of the trial and emphasised the importance of standing with victims and attempting to change public attitudes surrounding issues of abuse.
Brenna Jessie, External Affairs Officer for Scottish Women’s Aid, also spoke at the event delivering a powerful anecdote in which she was taught as a child to shout “fire” not “rape” if she was being attacked, as that was the only way she would be listened to.
She continued, calling issues of abuse “cause and consequence of women’s inequality” and urged the crowd to “find strength in each other, support each other and believe each other.”
She concluded her moving speech by saying “I believe you, we believe you and there are so many people that are on your side.”
There was then an open mic portion of the evening in which the audience was encouraged to stand up and express their feelings or views.
One speaker, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke of her personal experience of being abused as a child saying: “it means so much when people come out and support us […] I didn’t want to speak at first as I was worried people would find me disgusting. It’s not fair that I should have to feel like that.”
Speaking afterwards to The Student, she said she felt “empowered” by the vigil and was “so thankful for the overwhelming support expressed at the event.”
Another survivor of abuse said in her speech, “it’s never the victims’ fault and that’s the most important thing.”
She said later to The Student, “events like these are so important because it makes people feel like they are less alone […] no one should have to feel ashamed because they were a victim of crime. The vigil was a beautiful thing to be a part of.”
In an especially moving portion of the evening, a speaker read a poem entitled ‘I’m Not Ready’ which discussed a victim feeling afraid to speak out after abuse.
Opening: “I’m not ready, I don’t want to talk about it. What night? That night”, the poem illustrated the feelings of those who might feel uncomfortable talking about their experiences due to fear of being judged by society.
A moment of silence was then held allowing for an opportunity for the audience to reflect.
The event’s organiser, Polly Smythe, a second year Law and Social Policy student from the University of Edinburgh, is on the Sexpression Committee as a member for advocacy. She stated on her Facebook page: “after the Ched Evans trial, and the victim blaming and abuse that has followed, a national spotlight has been put on attitudes towards rape and sexual violence.
“This is not a one off case,” she continued, “despite progress, our legal and police systems still work to shame survivors in many ways rather than support them, and the social attitudes to rape and sexual violence are still overwhelmingly focused on blame rather than understanding. All of this is unacceptable. At a time like this,
Sexpression feel it is important to reaffirm support for survivors of rape and sexual violence.”
Speaking to The Student, Smythe said: “Our aim was to publicly reaffirm support for survivors in a climate that constantly refuses to believe them. We had a fantastic turnout of people passionate about challenging pervasive ideas of victim blaming and notions of what a good victim should be. We want to thank everyone who spoke on the night for everything they shared.”
Image: Jezneed Belleza