Rapist should not be given platform at Southbank Centre's 2017 Women of the World Festival

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[This petition is now closed and it has been delivered to the organisers. Please refer to the updates below for a statement in response to media attention this petition has received.]

FAO the organisers of the 2017 Women of the World Festival:

We the undersigned are a group of feminist activists and academics, as well as concerned citizens based in the UK and beyond. We are writing in relation to the 2017 Women of the World (WoW) Festival and one of the events on 11th March in particular, South of Forgiveness, which will see a rapist given a platform. We urge you to reconsider hosting this event in its current format, which will be triggering for many survivors and which we believe goes against the values espoused by the WoW Festival.

Firstly, we would like to stress that we are impressed with the line up this year. We believe that by covering topics such as race, disability and mental health, a more intersectional conversation can be had, something we deem to be crucial in the times we currently live in. Similarly, by including voices that represent migrant women, LGBT communities and different age groups, we believe this paves the way for a more inclusive form of solidarity.

We are, however, deeply concerned about the appearance of South of Forgiveness on the events list. In its current format, the event will see a rapist given a platform to talk about the rape he committed, where his narrative will unavoidably be given equal weight to that of the survivor’s. By giving the rapist in question a platform to relay their narrative, the event will inevitably encourage the normalisation of sexual violence instead of focussing on accountability and root causes of this violence. This is also problematic as it sets problematic precedent for rapists, suggesting they can be platformed and applauded simply for admitting to rape they have committed, and may even encourage rapists to contact survivors, an action that could severely disrupt their process of healing.

In a context where sexual violence is still rampant, rape convictions low, and narratives of survivors often side-lined, this event appears amongst a scarce number of visible narratives, inevitably suggesting that standing on a platform alongside one’s rapist is a model approach to addressing sexual violence. This is highly problematic for survivors who have very different approaches to this and who struggle to find the support needed in following them through. In saying this, however, we do not wish to take away from Thordis Elva’s narrative and support her choice to share her experience, and view it as important.  We believe she should have a platform to centre her narrative, and continue to support that. We assert, however, that her approach of sharing a platform with the person who raped her does not work for all survivors, some of whom would find it triggering. The process of healing varies dramatically from one person to the next, and Elva stresses this in her work, and this is precisely why we take the stance we are taking in this letter to ensure that, when survivors' narratives do enter the public sphere, they are representative of the complexities that surround them.

Given the above, we urge you to reconsider hosting this event in its current format and adopt a no-platforming policy for perpetrators of violence against women. The WoW Festival has grown since its inception to reflect the lived experiences of women from diverse backgrounds, whilst addressing their situation in relation to patriarchy and misogyny. We believe that platforming a rapist would create a major setback to this success story. We appreciate that you are not receiving this with an ideal timeframe to take action, however, we trust that you would treat this with urgency, given the seriousness of the implications highlighted, that go against what the Festival has stood for over the years.

(Update to letter - 5 March 2017: Material consulted prior to the creation of this letter can be found below. Please note that some of the content may be triggering for some viewers/readers: )

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