Silence of the Lamb

To mark International Women’s Day and a week until the Sandford St Martin 2022 Awards shortlists are announced, we’re looking back to the 2019 Awards and the runner-up in the Radio/Audio category: a radio essay which is as pertinent now as it was then, and the power of which continues to help set the standard for audio entries.

8 March 2022

If it’s depressing to hear that more than four-fifths of young women aged 18-24 in the UK have experienced sexual harassment, even more sobering is the knowledge that the two main reasons women cite for not reporting incidents are “I didn’t think the incident was serious enough to report” (55%) and “I didn’t think reporting it would help” (45%). These are some of the findings published last year in the UN Women UK All Party Parliamentary Group report based on a survey of more than 1,000 women.

The fact that significant numbers of women don’t report being subjected to even the most extreme forms of sexual violence is reinforced by the Crime Survey for England and Wales which lists “embarrassment”, fear of humiliation and not being believed as among the top reasons women don’t report rape to the police.

In 2019 the Sandford St Martin Radio/Audio runners up prize went to a remarkable radio essay, written by Dr Katie Edwards and broadcast in the run up to Easter, exploring how the victims of violence are often, perhaps inadvertently, dissuaded from speaking out.

Listening to “Silence of the Lamb” again, three Lents later, I’m struck again by the power of the piece. In the interim there have been the shocking murders of Nicole Smallman, Danyal Hussein, Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, a reported rise in levels of domestic violence, and wave upon wave of reports of the sexual harassment suffered by young women at school, college and university. Katie’s words feel just as raw and as urgent now as they did the first time.

Trigger warning:

Before reading further, please be advised that the subject of Katie’s piece and the personal events she describes involve sexual abuse, physical violence and violence perpetrated on minors. The content is disturbing and if you believe it may be traumatising, then you may wish to stop reading.

Asked about it recently, Rosie Dawson who produced the “Silence of the Lamb” said:

“On BBC Radio 4’s Lent talks, contributors offer their personal takes on aspects of the Passion narrative.  I don’t think there’s ever been one as personal and raw as this. I knew about the work Dr Katie Edwards was doing on Rape culture and the Bible, and I was sure she would have something to say which would resonate with many people in the context of #MeToo. But I had no idea it would be as powerful as it was.  I have shared it in many settings since – always with a trigger warning.

“Katie wanted to challenge the view, often held in religious circles, that silence in the face of suffering is a virtue. She grew up in Rotherham, one of many towns where girls were groomed by abusive men.  Katie recalled the routine harassment she experienced before going on to recall a party where her friends were raped.

“Katie describes a society in which girls are either not believed or blamed if they speak out about abuse.  In school assemblies a visiting clergyman presented Jesus’ silence before Pilate in Matthew’s gospel as a sign of His strength? Why wasn’t Katie told about John’s Jesus – who challenged his interrogators, and spoke out?  

 “The audience took to Twitter in scores to thank Katie for her bravery in speaking out.   “Not an easy listen, this, but a brilliant one” wrote Catherine Nixey in the Times, “women everywhere will recognise her silence.”

You can listen to “Silence of the Lamb” by clicking here.

Advice from a teacher about supporting young people can be found here.

In the UK the charity Safeline can offer support and counselling. Or if you have recently been raped or sexually assaulted, there is information about Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) and how they can support you here.