JK Rowling opens new sexual violence support service for women in Edinburgh

Author and philanthropist J.K. Rowling has opened a new sexual violence support service for women in Edinburgh.

Beira’s Place, named after the Scottish goddess of winter, will offer support and advocacy to women in the Lothian region, aged 16 and over, who have experienced sexual violence or abuse at any time in their lives.

The service has been launched to follow the global 16 Days Campaign for the elimination of violence against women. It is free and has been set up in response to demand from female survivors for a women-only service.

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Rowling, who will fully fund Beira’s Place, said she had founded the project to provide what she believes is an unmet need for women in Edinburgh and the Lothians.

L to R: Susan Smith, J.K. Rowling, Johann Lamont, Margaret McCartney, Rhona Hotchkiss. Picture, Nicole Jones

She said: “As a survivor of sexual assault myself, I know how important it is that survivors have the option of women-centred and women-delivered care at such a vulnerable time. Beira’s Place will offer an increase in capacity for services in the area and will, I hope, enable more women to process and recover from their trauma.”

Beira’s Place’s chief executive Isabelle Kerr joined one of Scotland’s first rape crisis centres in 1982 as a volunteer, and was a founding member of Aberdeen Rape Crisis.

She managed Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis for 15 years until 2021. She will be supported at the new facility by deputy chief executive Sue Domminney, who has worked in the voluntary sector for more than 30 years, as well as a team of expert support workers.

Ms Kerr said Beira’s Place would provide women-centred services. She said: “Violence against women and girls is an issue that crosses all cultures, classes and religions. These are gendered crimes that are overwhelmingly perpetrated by men and disproportionately experienced by women.

“Beira’s Place recognises that effective sexual violence services must be independent, needs-led and provide responsive, women-centred services so that they are free from the pressure of current political agendas. We are committed to ensuring that our service is free, confidential and accessible to women survivors who may need it.”

Rowling will be joined on the board of Beira’s Place by several of Scotland’s most prominent women’s rights campaigners. They include Rhona Hotchkiss, a former governor of Cornton Vale women’s prison; Johann Lamont, who was Scottish Labour leader from 2011 to 2014; Dr Margaret McCartney, a GP, academic and broadcaster, and Susan Smith, a director of campaign group For Women Scotland.

Rowling explained why the board chose the name Beira (pronounced By-ra), saying: “Beira rules over the dark part of the year, handing over to her sister, Bride, when summer comes again.

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“Beira represents female wisdom, power, and regeneration. Hers is a strength that endures during the difficult times, but her myth contains the promise that they will not last forever.”

Beira’s Place, which is located in central Edinburgh, will open for confidential off-site assessments and appointments in the new year. Details of how survivors of sexual violence can access the service are on the website: www.beirasplace.org.uk.

The launch comes days before next week’s final vote on the Scottish Government’s plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act, of which Ms Rowling has been an outspoken critic.

The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, proposes to remove the requirement for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria as a condition of acquiring a gender recognition certificate.