The charity helping women and children in the community affected by domestic violence used a novel and poignant method of appealing to supporters at its annual fundraising lunch, held at Lord’s in St John’s Wood.
As the salad plates were cleared at the cricketing venue, Jewish Women’s Aid’s 320 guests heard a continous telephone ringtone, causing a number of those present to search frantically in their handbags.
It quickly became apparent that ringtone formed part of the fundraising appeal, replicating a real-life call for help from an abuse victim to JWA, acted out by two of the charity’s volunteers. At one point the victim rationalises: “He called me a prostitute — but he’s a good father.” The banqueting room was noticeably quiet afterwards, with a number of diners visibly affected by what they had heard.
“Constructing an appeal is very difficult,” explained lunch host Hilda Worth. “Each year this is the aspect that we struggle hardest with. We can’t bring our service users here to share their story face to face. We also can’t film in the refuge or at a counselling session because we are working with the most privately vulnerable women.”
She added that as the telephone helpline was often the first point of contact with victims, it was an appropriate way to engage donors. It was “not a dramatic tearjerker but the reality of living privately with abuse”. The lunch raised £130,000.
Former barrister and JWA trustee Dawn Freedman said: “People didn’t bother to investigate abuse years ago. It was especially hard for Jewish women to talk about abuse for two reasons — the pressure from her family and the community.
“But JWA believes what the woman is going through and supports her without being judgmental. It’s also about increasing awareness in the community, schools and synagogues.”
The guest speaker was former MI5 boss Dame Stella Rimington, a trustee of the domestic abuse charity, Refuge. Discussing her career as a woman in the predominantly male British secret service, she recalled her work at the height of the Cold War — which she characterised as a “very interesting time” — and MI5’s counter-espionage and counter-terrorism work.
JWA representatives talk to more than 2,000 students annually to promote awareness of abuse and highlight the warning signs. Education co-ordinator Laura Lehmann said it ran sessions at schools including JCoSS, Hasmonean, Immanuel and King Solomon. “We have had mothers call us after a student has heard a session and told her what we do.”
The charity is looking to work with the Union of Jewish Students to run sessions at Jewish societies such as Oxford, Cambridge, Birmingham and Leeds, as well as at the London universities. She has already held a session at Bristol University.
She said that students in relationships should be aware of warning signs — “if he’s checking your phone or not letting you see your friends”.