The Duchess of Cornwall has told survivors of domestic violence how hearing their stories helped her to support someone she knows who was experiencing abuse. Camilla said she had been able to help someone who had opened up to her about their daughter's abusive relationship because she had learned about the issue from women who had survived it themselves.
WATCH:The Duchess of Cornwall hosts reception for SafeLives at Clarence House
Speaking at a Clarence House reception for the SafeLives, the Duchess told Rachel Williams and Celia Peachey how the charity had "opened her eyes" to the problem. Celia, whose mother Maria Stubbings was murdered by her partner in 2008, said: "She said that someone opened up to her about their daughter being in that position and she was able to say to them, 'It's ok, you can talk about it. It's safe and it's important that you do. Before [encountering] SafeLives, she said that it wasn't in her awareness and now she has an understanding that she can use to help other people when they have something to share on that topic."
Camilla held the reception at Clarence House
Celia, who along with Rachel, is a Pioneer for the charity, added: "SafeLives and the Pioneer group have helped her relate to people because of having experienced more awareness around the topic now you can actually have a response and be reassuring, comforting, because you understand some of the complex dynamics."
Camilla, wearing a navy and cream pleated Fiona Clare dress, embraced Rachel, whose harrowing experience moved her to tears when they first met in 2016. She said of her conversation with the Duchess: "She said it opened her eyes and was saying to people with young girls in relationships, it's alright to talk about this. It's an issue that should be spoken about and we should be shining a spotlight on the perpetrators of abuse and saying it’s not alright and calling them out. It's certainly opened her eyes to this."
In a speech to guests, Camilla said how her first encounter with survivors at Safe Lives in 2016 had sparked her interest in the issue. She said: "That memorable day fired my interest in domestic abuse. I did know of people who had suffered from it, but I was both shocked, and horrified by just how many thousands of people across the world live with it. I had the privilege of hearing incredibly brave women (some of whom are here today) standing up to tell their stories. Harrowing stories that reduced many of us listeners to tears. But with each story that is told, the taboo around domestic abuse weakens and the silence that surrounds it is broken, so other sufferers can know that there is hope for them and they are not alone."
Camilla gave a speech
Rachel, from Newport, south Wales, was shot by her husband Darren after 18 years of abuse and he later killed himself. Tragically, their son Jack, 16, also died by suicide six weeks later. Last year Camilla wrote a letter of support for the first ever Stand Up to Domestic Abuse Conference, organised by Rachel as the first survivor-led conference on domestic violence in Wales. Rachel added: "This reinforces that people are listening and to have somebody like the Duchess on board is amazing. We all do our little bit to raise awareness, but to have somebody in the royal arena to shout about our cause as well is fantastic. People don't realise that the biggest killer of women aged 16-44 is not cancer, it's domestic abuse."
SafeLives' 15th anniversary coincides with the charity's Valentine’s Campaign, #ImASurvivor, which features Rachel and other survivors and celebrates their collective strength and resilience. The Duchess met SafeLives CEO Suzanne Jacob and the recently appointed Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, as well as frontline staff and professionals who work in partnership with the UK-wide charity.
She also met Penny and John Clough, whose daughter Jane was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2010. The couple set up the Justice for Jane campaign, which has worked with Safe Lives for around eight years. Penny said: "It's vital that the Duchess is involved. It's raising the profile of Safe Lives to the highest level. I love that we are meeting people still out there trying to create change and a better system for victims to be able to come out – we have got to make it ok for them to come out and for them not to feel shame."
Camilla with SafeLives CEO Suzanne Jacob
SafeLives CEO Suzanne Jacob said: "To have such incredible support from somebody with the profile and platform that the Duchess does when she has got so many demands on her time – the fact that she is really commited to this as a topic and to us as an organisation means a great deal to us and to the many survivors and frontline workers, because they see and hear and feel that viscerally, that she cares about them. It matters a great deal. Every time we talk about domestic abuse publicly we make the shame and the stigma a bit smaller and that’s absolutely crucial if we are going to end domestic abuse."
The Duchess of Cornwall has championed domestic abuse charities in the UK and overseas for more than a decade. She first heard about the work of SafeLives during a visit to the charity in 2016 and has continued to support them ever since. Founded by Baroness Diana Barran MBE at her kitchen table in 2005, SafeLives established the "best friend" rule: if your best friend was experiencing domestic abuse, what would you want for them?
SafeLives works with organisations across the UK to transform the response to domestic abuse by putting the experience of survivors' at the heart of their thinking. As well as giving individuals and their families the right help at the right time, they challenge perpetrators to change, asking "why doesn't he stop?" rather than "why doesn't she leave?"
Last year, more than 65,000 adults at risk of serious harm or murder and more than 85,000 children were helped through dedicated multi-agency support designed by SafeLives and delivered with partners, and nearly 11,000 professionals working on the frontline received training through SafeLives. In the last three years, nearly 1,500 perpetrators have been challenged and supported to change through interventions the charity has created with partners. The charity has trained 27,500 police officers and staff in 20 forces across the UK as well as more than 3,000 independent domestic violence advisers to support those most at risk.
SafeLives also launched Marac, the multi-agency risk assessment conference which brings together police, children's services, health and other agencies to share information and develop safety plans for people at the highest risk of serious harm or murder – approximately 290 now operate across the UK, supporting 100,000 cases last year alone.
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