Beira’s Place: The Problem With JK Rowling’s ‘Women Only’ Rape Support Centre

Person leaning on another's shoulder
Hannah Bentley

Content warning: mention of sexual assault and transphobia

JK Rowling, author of the hugely successful fictional book series Harry Potter, has made headlines again after it was announced in December 2022 that she has founded a ‘women-only’ support centre for victims of sexual assault, violence, and abuse from the age of 16 and above. The centre, called Beira’s Place, is due to open this month and has been named after the Scottish Goddess of winter who “represents female wisdom, power, and regeneration”. The author currently lives in Edinburgh which is where the centre is based.

“I founded Beira’s Place to provide what I believe is currently an unmet need for women in the Lothians area” explained Rowling. “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.” When asked directly if their services are available to transgender and non-binary individuals, she simply stated again that Beira’s Place is for women only.

Rowling has publicly aligned herself with extremely hateful individuals who often have proven links to alt-right groups

Rowling has made it clear that Beira’s Place is not a charity and will not rely on donations. She has bought the building the centre is in and financially supports the work that goes on. Isabelle Kerr, the chief executive, said it was important that the centre be financially “independent… so that they are free from the pressure of current political agendas”.

Now, let me contextualise this all for you.

Since 2019 Rowling has become very vocal about gender issues, using her fame and status to preach transphobic views under the guise of protecting women’s rights and female-only safe spaces. Her 2020 manifesto published on the author’s website explained her views on sex and gender and established her thinking in line with trans exclusionary radical feminists, also known as TERFs.

Rowling has publicly aligned herself with extremely hateful individuals who often have proven links to alt-right groups. She consistently posts transphobic tweets and called Nicola Sturgeon a ‘destroyer of women’s rights’ after the First Minister of Scottish Parliament announced last year that she aims to reform the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to make it easier for transgender people to legally change their gender identity.

Beira’s Place pushes the notion that transgender women are not women

Currently, Rape Crisis Scotland is the largest organisation in the region that provides invaluable support to those who have survived sexual violence, including transgender and non-binary people. In April last year Mridul Wadhwa became director of the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre. The last fourteen years of her stellar career have been dedicated to helping women in need of support after experiencing sexual violence. Recently, she has received an onslaught of abuse from violent threats to claims that she is a sexual predator, simply because she is transgender.

With this in mind, the founding of Beira’s Place seems like an incredibly petty action from a transphobic woman using her wealth and power to purposefully exclude a group of incredibly vulnerable and marginalised people from vital care. The underlying rhetoric in Rowling’s views and the statements she’s made regarding Beira’s Place pushes the notion that transgender women are not women and upholds false and harmful stereotypes that trans women use these spaces to prey on vulnerable women.

In reality, there has been no evidence of this happening in the rape centres in Scotland. The chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, Sandy Brindley, stated that “it is crucial that the life-saving support offered by rape crisis centres is available to trans and non-binary people. All rape crisis services in Scotland offer support to trans women and have done so for 15 years. There has not been a single incident of anyone abusing this.”

Why is she and other TERFs fixated on denying people the female identity?

Statistically speaking, it’s usually cis-gender men who sexually assault people. Male violence is very clearly the problem, so I’m bewildered by Rowling’s actions. Why is she and other TERFs fixated on denying people the female identity? Why is she spending her time and energy attacking a group of disempowered people when all the evidence, research and statistics points to men being the perpetrators of these heinous crimes? Why has Rowling not spent her money on supporting preventative rape campaigns, focusing on educating people about consent?

What’s more, according to research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2009, in the UK “around 62 per cent to 73 per cent of trans people have experienced harassment or violence because they were identified as trans”- this includes sexual assault as well as verbal and physical abuse. Further studies conducted by UCLA School of Law found that ‘transgender people are over four times more likely than cisgender people to experience violent victimization, including rape and aggravated or simple assault’.

Beira’s Place is a clear example of the deeply concerning situation Britain is in right now. The conversation around gender has become political, but there is nothing political about people living authentically as themselves and having access to the same rights and support as anyone else.

Hannah Bentley

Featured image courtesy of Kulli Kittus via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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