A speech delivered by The Queen at a Reception to recognise those who support survivors of sexual assault and to relaunch of the Washbags Project

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Thank you for sharing your stories, thank you for your kindness, thank you for not remaining strangers to those enduring the darkest of times, and, most of all, thank you for standing up and committing yourselves to bringing an end to these heinous crimes – forever.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Buckingham Palace, as we gather to recognise and thank those who support survivors of sexual violence.

Each one of you has a powerful story to tell: whether you work in this country or overseas; whether you are based in a refuge, a Sexual Assault Referral Centre, a charity, Parliament, or, most important of all, you are a survivor.

Your stories and your experiences are vital tools as we seek to bring about change: to forge a world in which people, whoever and wherever they are, do not live in fear of being abused. As I have often heard victims say: speaking about the experience is one of the key ways to survive it. By sharing with one another today, we can strengthen our alliance against sexual abuse in all its forms.

Now, we are also here to mark the relaunch of the washbags initiative, with huge thanks to Boots and In Kind Direct, without whom it wouldn’t have been possible. The washbags began as the seed of an idea in 2012, when I started learning more about the horrific impact sexual violence, and its aftermath, has on survivors. You do not, of course, need me to remind you that every year in England and Wales alone, nearly 800,000 women and 275,000 men suffer attempted or actual sexual assault – although the true figures are likely to be much higher.

The aim of the washbags was to create something that would be “a crumb of comfort” to those finding themselves in this horrendous position. In 2017, with the support of many of you in this room, I was delighted to launch the initiative at Boots’ headquarters in Nottingham.

I mentioned just now how important it is to listen to survivors. I have had the privilege, over the years, of meeting and receiving letters from numerous people who, sadly, have experienced sexual assault. Some have visited SARCs and been given a washbag when the ordeal of the forensic examination was over. I have a copy of one such letter here and have received generous permission to quote from it. This lady wrote to me about her very brave daughter, whom I shall call Jane.

Two years ago, Jane attended a SARC, with her mother and sister, for a full forensic examination just hours after being attacked. This was described by her mother as “a horrible, if necessary, event. We were preparing to leave and were all feeling very low and subdued. Jane’s personal contact then returned with a wonderful bag of toiletries and items to pamper and relax her. This simple act completely changed the atmosphere and lifted our moods. It was such a lovely and completely unexpected gesture, which reminded my daughters and I of the kindness of strangers at a very dark time”.

As you can imagine, this letter moved me deeply. The phrase “the kindness of strangers at a very dark time” is, to me, the guiding principle of everything that you all do: reaching out a hand of friendship to people who have been de-humanised in the most brutal way; giving comfort to those who are traumatised; and offering hope that physical and emotional healing are possible, as Jane can vouch for.

To each one of you, I would therefore like to say – thank you. Thank you for sharing your stories, thank you for your kindness, thank you for not remaining strangers to those enduring the darkest of times, and, most of all, thank you for standing up and committing yourselves to bringing an end to these heinous crimes – forever.

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