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Support Rachel Hewitt: Defend Women-Only Space

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"It is not privilege to be born with a body that is, from the moment of birth, vulnerable to the constriction, damage and violence that men enact upon women, either through gender norms (the praise given to little girls for being quiet, still, delicate, dainty poppets) or through physical assault."

We the undersigned write in support of Dr Rachel Hewitt for her recent article in the New Statesman, in which she speaks about her experience of male rape, and how female only space was crucial for her healing from what is a brutal experience. We petition her employers at Oxford University to support Rachel and defend her right to her opinions, and not relent to the unjust accusations of her criticisers.

We believe that women have the right to freedom of expression in relation to these issues, and the right to speak openly about the harsh realities of being female in a male-dominated world. In England and Wales approximately 85,000 women are raped on average every year.* Although this figure may include some transgender women, the majority of women included in this figure will be females, who are biologically female and have been socialised as such since birth.

In her article Rachel highlights the calls to revoke the exclusion of males (i.e. trans women who are male-bodied, despite identifying as female) from female victims only counselling groups for sexual assault. She highlights the intimidation tactics of trans activists around this issue and sets out how important the female only space was for her in being able to come to terms with the rape. Like Rachel, we and many other women recognise a clear difference between trans women (who are biologically male and have been socialised as male, despite identifying as female) and women. We believe that this difference should be recognised through the defence of female-only counselling groups that exclude trans women. We do not see this as an anti-trans sentiment, but merely a mark of respect for women who have been victims of male violence.

It is deplorable to us that a woman who speaks out about her rape and expresses her right to freedom expression should be furthered abused in this way by so-called feminists, who should instead be supporting the right of women to vocalise their own lived experiences of oppression and male violence. We call upon her employers at Oxford University to recognise that there are differences of opinion over this complex issue within the feminist community. We sincerely hope that Rachel's employers will stand by her right to speak about her own experience of rape.

*(figure from Rape Crisis, based on government figures 2013)

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