Artillery Row

“Reframe your trauma”

Rape survivors are not “bigots” for wanting female-only spaces

Amanda (not her real name) was sexually assaulted in 2005 by a former partner. She told me:

“For a time, I was fearful of all men. I even struggled to spend time with the supportive men in my life. I would attend what had once been a woman-only safe space in the attic of a sexual health service. I remember holding my breath and rushing through the lobby up the narrow staircase where I could finally exhale, safe in the knowledge there were no males there. I needed the compassion and empathy of my female therapist to work through that fear of men, acceptance that this was ok and part of the process. I needed the space to be women only, and by women I mean female.” 

Should she need help again today, Amanda wouldn’t be able to rely on Rape Crisis Scotland (RCS) to refer her to a women-only service. RCS is an umbrella organisation working with a network of 17 independent local Rape Crisis centres across Scotland, including Edinburgh Rape Crisis (ERCC).

I am mindful that referring to Wadhwa as a man could be deemed a hate crime in Scotland

On 2 August, the chief executive of ERCC, Mridul Wadhwa, appeared on the popular podcast The Guilty Feminist to discuss working in the women’s sector. While writing this, I am mindful that referring to Wadhwa as a man could be deemed a hate crime in Scotland — potentially carrying a hefty custodial sentence. But this legal gag cannot undo the fact that, despite identifying as a transwoman, Wadhwa is male. Furthermore, Wadhwa has boasted about not having a Gender Recognition Certificate and has taken multiple posts which are usually reserved for females, claiming that at least one of his previous employers didn’t know he was male.

When asked about “building bridges” between those who believe that women’s spaces should be segregated by sex, and others who believe they should be open to men if they identify as transwomen, Wadhwa opined:

“Sexual violence happens to bigoted people as well. And so, you know, it is not a discerning crime. But these spaces are also for you. But if you bring unacceptable beliefs that are discriminatory in nature, we will begin to work with you on your journey of recovery from trauma. But please also expect to be challenged on your prejudices.”

Wadhwa went on to argue that such bigoted survivors of rape and sexual violence should work to “reframe their trauma” adding: “You also have to rethink your relationship with prejudice.”

The upper echelons of the women’s sector in Scotland could soon be filled by men

A plea to the Equality and Human Rights Commission to investigate the appointment of Wadhwa to a female-only post was dismissed on grounds of lack of resources. Today, ERCC is advertising a post for a chief operating officer. In the blurb ERCC refer to the single-sex exemption in the Equality Act 2010 explaining “only women need apply”, before adding that as a “diverse organisation”, applications from “trans women” (i.e. males) are “especially welcome”. It is entirely possible that the upper echelons of the “women’s sector” in Scotland could soon be filled by men.

Amanda tells me:

“Even the best men in our lives can be triggering during these difficult periods. Women need to be able to choose female only services or therapists and they do not need to explain why to anyone… To hear this week that Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre does not truly give women this choice and their CEO goes further to suggest such requests are bigoted, discriminatory and require challenge has been an absolute sucker punch in the gut to so many survivors.”

Wadhwa’s words have highlighted a growing fracture between a “professional” class of feminist (those who are paid to run services to support victims of male violence) and grassroots feminists (many of whom have been service-users). It is telling that the professional class of feminist prioritises the feelings of their peers above the fears of those they are paid to support.

The activist group Women and Girls in Scotland (WGS) have been researching which organisations offer survivors single-sex services. In 2019 WGS, which is run solely by volunteers, researched and produced a report entitled Female Only Provision: A Women and Girls in Scotland Report which they shared with RCS “in the hope this might help them understand the kinds of reasons women are self-excluding from their services”. 

WGS claimed on Twitter that RCS “refused to provide any statement at national level to clarify whether its network of providers can offer their services on a female-only basis where women need it. It is because of this failure, and because it’s preventing women from accessing potentially life-saving support, that we decided to contact RCS’ network, and other providers, for the purposes of clarifying where women can access female-only services they need.”

On 9 August WGS tweeted a list of organisations that it had been in touch with, confirming which were genuinely single-sex and which included men.

This drew a furious response from Rape Crisis Scotland, which released a statement condemning what it described as “coordinated and harmful claims circulating about Rape Crisis services in Scotland, stemming from a Twitter thread that questioned the provision of women-only spaces in Rape Crisis Centres”.

In a stunning reversal, the professional feminist class at RCS claimed to be under attack from survivors of rape. Other government-funded groups including Engender leapt to their defence, effectively dismissing those asking questions as trolls.

But RCS had only been questioned about whether women needing support could be guaranteed a women-only service. They were being held accountable by their service users. And this discussion is timely; last week frontline services for women and girls were given £5 million to deal with additional pressures that have occurred during the pandemic. Last year Engender received a grant from the Scottish government of £362,304.

These survivors of male sexual violence told me they felt betrayed by Rape Crisis Scotland

While preparing to write this piece, I turned to social media to ask for survivors of sexual violence in Scotland to get in touch. Within minutes I had deleted my tweet because I was overwhelmed; women in direct messages and emails wanted to tell me their stories, to share with me why it mattered to have women-only spaces. Their experiences differed in the detail, but the fear they expressed was the same. These women, survivors of male sexual violence, told me they felt betrayed by RCS; they were angry at being made to feel powerless once again, this time by the very organisation charged with their protection. The most bitter blow for some was how the paid professional feminist class had tried to recast themselves as the victims.

I shall leave the final words to Amanda: “Therapy is not political, and it isn’t bigoted to need a female only space.”

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover