Jill Saward: Campaigner and rape victim dies aged 51

Jill Saward, the Christian who became a tireless campaigner against sexual violence after being raped, has died aged 51.

During the notorious “Ealing vicarage rape” of 1986 three burglars broke into her father’s home demanding money and jewellery. Saward, then 21, was taken upstairs by two of the men and raped.

She later waived her right to anonymity in order to speak out – the first time a victim of rape had chosen to do so.

Public outcry

During the court case against the burglars, Old Bailey Judge Sir John Leonard claimed that the trauma suffered by Saward was “not so very great”.

In sentencing the attackers, he gave the two burglars who attacked her far more lenient sentences than the one who did not.

Media coverage of the case led to a public outcry about how rape victims were treated.

Christian faith

Saward, who married to become Jill Drake, has spoken of the importance of her Christian faith in helping her cope with the ordeal.

In an interview ten years ago, she spoke of forgiveness saying: “It’s not a question of whether you can or can’t forgive. It’s a question of whether you will or won’t”.

“Of course, sometimes I thought it might be quite nice to be full of hatred and revenge. But I think it creates a barrier and you’re the one who gets damaged in the end. So, although it makes you vulnerable, forgiving is actually a release.

“I don’t think I’d be here today without my Christian faith. That’s what got me through.”


She also wrote candidly about her experiences after the rape and how she refused to contemplate abortion.

“Just days ago I was a virgin. Now I am seeing my GP and she is offering me the chance to take a morning after pill”.

“My mind is in a whirl. Could I be pregnant? What if I were carrying a rapist’s child? I’ve never been in favour of abortion, including the IUD and the morning after pill. Should I compromise in this situation?

“It is the last chance I’ll have for the morning after pill to be effective. I decline the offer.”

A great loss

Saward spent three decades campaigning for fairer treatment of rape victims and tougher sentencing, which led to substantial legal reform.

And she launched a help group for sexual assault victims, before becoming a sexual assault case worker and providing training for police officers across the country.

Her death following a severe stroke has been dubbed a great loss by many including the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who tweeted:

“Sorrowed to hear of the death of Jill Saward (Drake), heroic and remarkable campaigner for the victims of rape: much sympathy to her family”.

Choose Life

A spokesman for Rape Crisis England and Wales described her as “courageous, pioneering and an inspiration”.

As part of The Christian Institute’s Choose Life series, Lesley McAskie shared her story of rape aged 13 and the abortion that followed.

She shared that she got over the rape but never got over her abortion experience.

To read her story, and hear more testimonies from people who chose life instead of abortion, visit our Choose Life page.