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Bristol Zero Tolerance Panel: Taking Action on Gender-Based Violence in Bristol

Bristol Zero Tolerance Panel: Taking Action on Gender-Based Violence in Bristol

By Laura Hillier, BWV Reporter

As part of Bristol Women’s Voice’s International Women’s Day event, a panel of local and national experts came together to discuss taking action on gender-based violence in Bristol. The panel was chaired by Charlotte Gage, the Bristol Zero Tolerance Partnership Projects Officer. The panel members included:

  1. Claire Bloor – CEO of SARSAS (Somerset & Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support)
  2. Rachel Collins-White – Service Delivery Manager at Unseen
  3. Tracey Wise – Founder of Safe Gigs for Women
  4. Alex Raikes – Director of SARI (Stand Against Racism and Inequality), and also representing Bristol Hate Crime and Discrimination Services
  5. China Blue Fish and Deborah Antoinette – Local artists talking about their work ‘Queen C**T: Sacred or Profane?’
  6. Dr Helen Bovill – Associate Head of Department Research, Department of Education and Childhood at the University of the West of England (UWE), also involved in UWE’s ‘#SpeakUp’ campaign.

What’s the current picture?

Claire suggested that sexual abuse is being spoken about more often than in previous years, supported by campaigning and efforts to bust some of the myths around gender-based violence. Whilst this is helping to reduce the shame surrounding these experiences, Claire also explained that unfortunately the conviction rate remains low, and many survivors still feel they won’t be believed. Alex also pointed out that gender-based hate crimes often involve very serious attacks, and Tracey told us that one in five people have experienced sexual assault or harassment whilst at a live music event.

Dr Bovill described the efforts that UK universities and the National Union of Students (NUS) are working on to tackle these issues on campus, as students continue to report issues around consent, inappropriate touching and ‘initiation ceremonies’. Recently, UWE has worked together with students, Bristol Zero Tolerance, the Students’ Union and other organisations (including the police) to develop the #SpeakUp campaign. This campaign aims to raise awareness of and challenge inappropriate behaviour, discrimination and assault, and is helping to empower students to effectively respond and intervene if they witness such behaviours. As part of this campaign, there are also ideas to deliver future masterclasses on microaggressions and everyday sexism.

Other points of progress made recently include the official recognition of forced marriage as a form of slavery, as Rachel highlights. Unseen as an organisation focuses on modern slavery and trafficking, and operates safe houses as well as resettlement and outreach programmes. Unseen are also involved in training other stakeholders to be aware of these issues, which can aid the earlier spotting of signs of modern slavery and trafficking.

Intersectionality is also a major current concern – “we are still predominantly offering the most support to White, cis women“, said Claire. This is especially concerning considering the recent increases in racist hate crime seen by SARI. As Alex explains, people from Roma and Eastern European communities are currently facing high levels of hate crime, and people that are asylum-seekers or refugees are struggling in particular to come forward about their experiences due to their insecure status. There is a need to consider how various aspects of someone’s identity and circumstances may put them at additional risk for hate crimes and abuse, in addition to the risk of gender-based violence against women in general.


What’s next for progress? What can you do?

China and Deborah have created a theatre show called ‘Queen C**t: Sacred or Profane?’ which examines the different associations that these terms have (despite their shared etymological source!), through the use of comedy and clowning. Their show is about “empowerment, laughter and celebration. We need to be in our bodies and feel empowered in our bodies, and we want to share that with women. By engaging with media and the arts that celebrate femininity, I hope that women do indeed feel proud and confident in themselves and their womanhood” said Deborah.

A core theme through the suggestions made about how we can tackle the issue of gender-based violence, was the importance of not being a bystander – there’s always something you can do to help. For example, if something doesn’t look right and you are concerned you’ve spotted signs of Modern Slavery, Rachel recommended calling the Modern Slavery Helpline for advice. Similarly, Claire explained the importance of calling out sexual harassment if you see it. Tracey’s organisation works on the ground at festivals to promote bystander intervention, teaching festival goers how to look out for one another. It’s encouraging to see how much work is being done to raise awareness of these issues and how to intervene effectively.

Having direct and honest conversations about the issues around gender-based violence is also part of the solution. Dr Bovill described the significance of talking to young people you know before they head to university, to raise awareness of these topics with them in advance. The importance of communicating these messages about consent and sexuality in a culturally-appropriate way was also discussed by the panel.

Lastly, volunteering and getting involved with local organisations dedicated to tackling gender-based violence is another great way to make a difference. There are always a range of opportunities available for people that want to help. As Claire says – “be at marches, go to events and sign petitions!


Thank you so much to the amazing panel members that took part in this discussion. A video of the panel discussion is available here: www.facebook.com/BristolZeroTolerance/videos/1180081062161499/


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