The Duchess of Cornwall gave a speech on Wednesday at the Shameless! Festival, where she paid tribute to the women whose lives have been ‘brutally ended’ and ‘endured unimaginable torment’ at the hands of abusers.
The festival is a collaboration between Women of The World (WOW) and Birkbeck’s SHaME project. The festival brings together organisations and charities, as well as local artists, leading voices and wellness practitioners, to confront and change societal attitudes towards sexual violence.
At the event, the Royal was joined by Carrie Johnson, wife of the Prime Minister, as well as former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, famed for her speech against misogyny within the House in 2012.
Camilla started her speech by recalling her last visit to the WOW Festival, highlighting how the audience was asked to put their hands up if they could imagine a world where violence against women did not exist. She went on to ask the audience if we ‘dared we even dream of a world without rape and sexual abuse? Or were we too indoctrinated into believing that violence against women is normal, just “one of those things”, part and parcel of being born female…?’
The Duchess highlighted how ‘this country has been appalled and saddened by the loss of women to violence this year.’ She shared the shocking statistic that ‘on average, one women is killed by a man every three days.
“Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, Wenjing Lin, Geetika Goyal and Bennylyn Burke are names which, with all the others, must never be forgotten.”
The Duchess of Cambridge privately laid flowers for Ms Everard back in March, and was spotted by other mourners.
Camilla spoke about how ‘each one of these women endured unimaginable torment – and their loved ones who are left behind continue to suffer in the wake of their deaths.’
The Duchess of Cornwall is attending a reception ahead of ‘Shameless! Festival’ next month.
The festival is a collaboration between @WOWisGlobal and @BirkbeckUoL’s SHaME project and aims to bring together activism and art to confront and change attitudes towards sexual violence. pic.twitter.com/lTg6ugEOrf
— The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall (@ClarenceHouse) October 27, 2021
HRH went on to describe the impact of Sarah Everard’s murder and the impact statements she heard. “On 30th September, Sarah Everard’s mother stood before her daughter’s killer to give her searing victim impact statement. She said, ‘If Sarah had died because of an illness, she would have been cared for. We could have looked after her and been with her. If she had died because of an accident, people would have tried to help – there would have been kindness. But there is no comfort to be had, there is no consoling thought in the way Sarah died.
“‘In her last hours, she was faced with brutality and terror, alone with someone intent on doing her harm. The thought of it is unbearable. I am haunted by the horror of it.’
“I know that all of you today join me in paying tribute to all these precious lives that have been brutally ended, and in renewing our commitment to do everything we can to end violence against women. The challenges are immense.”
The Royal shared some further shocking statistics in her speech, from the Crime Survey for England and Wales, which shows that 144,000 women were victims of rape or attempted rape in the last year for which these figures are available. This equates to around 16 of the most serious sexual offences every hour.
Another statistic she shared 86% of young women in the UK have been sexually harassed in a public place. The number included women who had been followed and coerced into sexual activity, all whilst being in a public place and 96% did not report the incidents.
Speaking about these statistic, Camilla said: “It is, as almost all women know, a deeply disturbing experience to be sexually harassed. Yet somehow, a culture of silence has grown up, in which these women conceal their experiences of such offences. Why? There are, of course, many explanations. But there is one significant reason on which we are focussing today. Shame.”
Speaking at the reception, HRH said: “Shame is one of the most powerful emotions felt after sexual violation. The victim feels invaded and dirty; weakened by having been put in a position of helplessness by someone stronger – possibly by someone whom she previously trusted.
“Often, this sense of shame causes the victim to blame herself, mistakenly take responsibility for the crime, and want to hide away from others. And yet she has done nothing wrong.
“I said that the challenges are immense. However, the forthcoming Festival gives us hope that they can be overcome. There are, I believe, two important steps we can take as we aim to create the world free from violence against women that Jude has pointed us towards.
“Firstly, we have Shameless. Together, today, let us resolve to support survivors to be ‘shameless’ and not to take on misplaced feelings of stigma. Through speaking up about our experiences, we break the wall of silence that allows perpetrators to go unpunished; and increases the feeling of isolation that so many survivors describe.
“Secondly, we need to get the men in our lives involved in this movement. We do not, in any way, hold all men responsible for sexual violence. But we do need them all on board to tackle it. After all, rapists are not born, they are constructed. And it takes an entire community – male and female – to dismantle the lies, words and actions that foster a culture in which sexual assault is seen as normal, and in which it shames the victim. So let us all leave here today and try and get the men in our lives to participate in building a ‘shameless’ society.”
Camilla concluded her speech with the powerful statement: “Because how many more women must be harassed, raped or murdered before we truly unite to forge a violence-free world?”
The Duchess of Cornwall has been an advocate for preventing and addressing the issue of sexual violence and harassment. In 2017, she partnered with Boots to create wash bags for victims of sexual violence who undergo medical examinations as part of process of pressing charges. She has also spoken out about the taboo of domestic abuse, saying it is everyone’s issue.