A date to remember: 6 March

Jill Saward and Gavin Drake
© Gavin Drake

The 6 March was, in many ways, no big deal. It was just another date in the calendar. But it was a date that we couldn’t ignore, either. This was a date that I had to remember. It was a date that I had to be ultra-sensitive. It was a date that I knew my wife would receive a phone call or text from her twin sister.

The 6 March was the anniversary of a brutal attack that would leave two people in hospital with cracked skulls, and my wife indelibly marked by a brutal rape and sexual assault. I hadn’t met my wife, Jill Saward, then. I was a 15-year-old schoolboy in Walsall. Jilly was a 21-year-old vicar’s daughter in west London. But despite not knowing her, I was to know all about the attack. It was front-page news for days and led bulletins on television and radio.

Jill died in January 2017, so this is the second 6 March without her. And, even though she isn’t here, I still feel the repercussions of the date; and, even though I’m trying to be my usual silly-self, my mind keeps going back to an incident that I wasn’t even at, involving people I wouldn’t meet until more than six years later.

Can good come from such an attack? Well, Jill’s campaign work and her support for victims wouldn’t have happened without that attack. I wouldn’t have met Jill in the hospitality area of the Greenbelt arts festival. And my three wonderful sons wouldn’t have been born.

I mentioned earlier the indelible mark that the attack had left on Jill. She was often portrayed as somebody who had got over the attack. And, in many ways, she had; but not completely. The rape and its aftermath stayed with Jill for the rest of her life. She lived a life of joy, and she sought to bring joy to others. But there was always something that would trigger painful memories and emotions. She coped, because she learned how to; because she had the love and support of family and friends; and because she felt a strength which she knew was God-given.

That’s why 6 March was a date to be ultra-sensitive; and to be aware of things that might bring back the pain.

But 6 March wasn’t just Jill’s date to remember. Many victims will have “their date” on this day. For others it will be the 5 March, or the 7 March, or any date of the year. Every day is somebody’s anniversary. Every day is lots of people’s anniversary.

The indelible mark is an internal blight. It doesn’t affect a person’s outward beauty. But it does affect how they feel. I can’t be sensitive to Jill anymore. She is no longer here. But I can try to be sensitive to other victims. And so can you.

Rape is not a women’s issue. Women do not cause rape (with very, very few exceptions). The fight to end rape, to stop other women having an anniversary to remember, is one that will only be won when men join the fight.

We need to challenge misogyny. We need to challenge attitudes and behaviour by other men that treat women as commodities. We need to say “enough is enough” and call out everyday sexism and harassment.

That is how I am going to be sensitive to other victims. That is my pledge on this 6 March.