INTERVIEW: Lisa Thompson, Chief Executive of RSVP – ‘What is sexual assault?

Lisa Thompson, Chief Executive of the Rape & Sexual Violence Project (RSVP) / Lisa BretherickWords by Emily Doyle / Pics by Lisa Bretherick, courtesy of RSVP

Since the launch of the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK campaign, many questions have been raised and discussed. Perhaps one of the most pertinent and important has been ‘what is sexual assault?’ It seems some people don’t understand the severity of their actions, whilst others can carry doubt over how to describe the aggression they have suffered.

Lisa Thompson, Chief Executive of the Rape & Sexual Violence Project (RSVP) – the city’s leading support agency for sexual violence and abuse, met with us to offer her insight and to help provide a clear answer to this question.

Sexual assault would be any unwanted sexual contact that’s happened without your consent,” Thompson explains. “It could be loads of different things, but for example if somebody touched your breast and you hadn’t said yes, that is a sexual assault. So, the key thing is consent.”

Consent can be withdrawn, it can be changed, and it can be renegotiated,” Thompson continues. “You might give consent to one thing on one day, and the same thing on the next day you might decide not to. Sexual assault covers a wide variety of offences, but the key thing is around that lack of consent.” No means no, a message that seems simple but one that can sadly still go unheard.

“You can go through sexual abuse or sexual trauma without being touched; you could be forced to watch sexual acts, or pornography… you could have had images that were consensually taken but then they’re shared, as ‘revenge porn’, that’s still got an element of sexual trauma.” Thompson makes it clear that there is a broad spectrum of crimes that are considered sexual assault, both in the judicial process and in more colloquial settings.

The other thing to acknowledge is that even if somebody gives consent but it’s been under pressure or coercion,” Thompson continues, “that wouldn’t really be consent. Also, some people might not have the capacity to understand what they’re consenting to, and somebody can’t consent if they are totally under the influence of drugs or drink. So, consent on the one hand can be fairly simple and straightforward, but there are some complexities.”

A client quote from the Rape & Sexual Violence Project (RSVP)RSVP provide support to all survivors of sexual assault. The organisation offers free counselling, social groups, and advocacy services, as well as self-help information, a telephone helpline and other holistic services. RSVP also offer training for professionals who support abuse survivors, and specialist support for asylum seekers and refugees.

RSVP are a specialist rape and sexual abuse service,” Thompson tells us. “We established nearly forty years ago now, so in November we’ll have our fortieth anniversary. We established as a rape crisis service for women, run by women, but in the eighties we started to see men and now we’re a service that’s available for people of any gender who identify in any way.

Some of Thompson’s work with RSVP also involves providing training for organisations who work with survivors of sexual assault and abuse, as well as those who have the power to challenge attitudes surrounding it.

Preventative work is always difficult,” Thompson says. “Sometimes more of the messages are given to victims or survivors, telling them to, ‘drink less, not wear this, not go there, never be separated from your friends…’ What we need to be doing is giving more messages to offenders or potential offenders that this kind of behaviour is not OK, it won’t be tolerated here, and these are the consequences.”

Thompson talks about ‘victim blaming’, a phenomenon which sees survivors of violence retraumatised by the responses of individuals and institutions if they choose to disclose their assault.

“These messages are sometimes really blatant, but are getting more subtle,” tells Thompson. “So, sometimes it might look like you’re doing the best for victims and survivors by saying, ’be careful, be conscious of your safety’, rather than really poking the finger and putting all the focus and the responsibility on the potential offenders.Sharie Shienhmar from the Rape & Sexual Violence Project (RSVP) / Lisa Bretherick I think that’s what people need to be more aware of. Victims and survivors live in a victim blaming world.”

One of the key objectives of the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK campaign is to encourage both the live music scene and wider communities to talk about, and challenge, sexual assault and aggression. Thompson is passionate about changing the conversation around sexual assault, but she’s the first to acknowledge that this leads into uncomfortable territory at times.

When we do talk about sexual trauma and sexual offences there’s sometimes difficult conversations to have, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid having them,” Thompson affirms. “We need to acknowledge where sexual violence is happening… and acknowledge how prevalent it is. If we sweep it under the carpet and try not to have these conversations, we’re not naming the elephant in the room. We’re perpetuating silence, and it’s a silence that makes it more difficult for people to speak out.”

Thompson goes on to talk about how the silence surrounding sexual assault harms survivors on a number of levels. It goes without saying that a lack of discussion makes it harder to speak out, but the damage caused by this attitude goes much deeper.

I think it’s very common for people who’ve been through sexual trauma to think it’s their fault. We live in a world which tells people that what they’ve been through was their fault. Because they’d had too much to drink, because of who they were mixing with, because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time… all this stuff does is perpetuate victim blaming.”

Sharie Shienhmar and Beverley Higgins from the Rape & Sexual Violence Project (RSVP) / Lisa Bretherick“There is a normalising of sexualised behaviour which we need to change. Sexualised behaviour, treating people as sex objects, it’s not OK. It’s not ‘banter’, it’s not harmless, and it can lead to an escalation of different types of crime. I’m not going to say ‘more serious’, because all types of sexual assault are serious…” Thompson pauses to consider this. “But in terms of what we’d look at in the law, definitely crimes that would carry a longer maximum sentence.”

NOT NORMAL – NOT OK is a campaign ‘to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual assault and aggression – from dance floor to dressing room.’ And whilst it’s true that RSVP work in areas that some would term ‘more serious’ than sexual assault in music venues, when I mentioned this to Thompson she is quick to challenge the narrative.

The message we like to give is that all sexual trauma is serious, that it’s not OK, and it could have, and usually does have, some impact. For some people, a one-off incident could be absolutely devastating. It really depends on where the person’s at; what other life experiences they’ve had, what kind of support they have around them, the context of what happened, who they are as a person… but all sexual trauma is serious. We should be able to live in a world where we give clear messages that it’s not tolerated.”

As the conversation moves to focus on our endevours, Thompson identifies how the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK campaign can help foster inclusivity in our city’s live music scene. “A number of people who have been abused and raped in other places – in home settings, within relationships – will be going to those venues. If that venue gives a clear message that this behaviour isn’t tolerated that feels welcoming and supportive of them, so they’re more likely to feel safe as well. It could work on all sorts of different levels.”

Natalie Harris, Abba Gordon and Becky Willets from the Rape & Sexual Violence Project (RSVP) / Lisa BretherickWe talk a little more about the campaign, and Thompson hears how NOT NORMAL – NOT OK calls upon everyone within Birmingham’s live music scene to unanimously condemn sexual assault and aggression. With the wealth of experience from RSVP, I ask what actions people can take to challenge those cultural norms surrounding sexual assault?

Make a decision not to be a bystander,” is Thompson’s immediate response. “They can make a decision that if they see something that isn’t right, they challenge it, they do something about it, they intervene. If they can’t intervene themselves they could always get on the phone, if they’re in a venue they could bring somebody over, they could always ring the police, they can ring Crimestoppers anonymously, there are all sorts of things. Or if somebody looks uncomfortable after something has happened, you could go over and just show kindness.”

This is everybody’s business,” continues Thompson. “It isn’t just survivors and perpetrators; this is all of us. We’re creating a culture change – a change within the venues – that is more welcoming, diverse, and safe for all. Just a small act of not walking by something that you thought, ‘hang on, that doesn’t seem right’… an act which might seem small to you could be absolutely huge to somebody else.”

People can educate themselves. They can challenge people and show that they have a zero-tolerance stance. Offer support if a friend is a survivor and discloses. If somebody does disclose, the key thing that they could do is believe them. We live in a world that doubts people when they disclose sexual violence –  if they disclosed a burglary the response would be shock, not ‘are you just claiming this for the insurance?’.”

Thompson shoots me a look that is mostly exasperated. “People don’t respond like that. We can show belief; we can show compassion and kindness. They’re all free things that you can do, but they’re really important to people. And they can start to challenge the kind of messages that survivors might have had from other people and other places, and restore their faith in humanity again.”

“You don’t have to have been a victim or a survivor to actually do something. We can all do something to show that together, we’re working to create a society that’s safer for all.”

RSVP is a Birmingham based organisation which offers ‘empathic services to support and inspire children and adults of all genders who have been affected by sexual violence and abuse.’ RSVP have been supporting the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK campaign.

If you have been affected by sexual abuse, assault or violence, you can access RSVP’s free services – for more information and contact details on, visit


NOT NORMAL – NOT OK is a campaign to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual assault and aggression – from dance floor to dressing room. To learn more about the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK campaign, click here. To sign up and join the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK campaign, click here.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this feature – or if you want to report an act of sexual aggression, abuse, or assault – click here for information via the ‘Help & Support’ page on the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK website.


Words by Ed King

Ed’s note…

I first wrote this back in March, a few days after Shrove Tuesday, in response to stories of sexual assault and misconduct that I had heard about that week. It was born out of frustration – I write to clear my head.

Then more stories came my way, and more, until there were so many that these words weren’t enough. Something needed to happen. So we talked to each other at Birmingham Review, we talked to local musicians and promoters. Then we talked to West Midlands Police, the Rape & Sexual Violence project (RSVP), and some local venues that could help us formulate a plan of action.

NOT NORMAL – NOT OK is our joint response, ‘a campaign to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual assault and aggression – from dance floor to dressing room.’

To join the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK campaign, click here.

To learn more about the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK sticker campaign, click here.

N.B. If you have been affected by sexual assault, misconduct, or any of the issues raised in this article, you can find details for West Midlands Police and RSVP – a regional support agency trained to deal with sexual violence – by clicking here.

The ‘message from West Midlands Police’ mentioned towards the end of this article can now be found on the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK website, click here.


“Yeah, they’re alright… just be careful if you’re alone with them.”

I was told this in passing, at the tail end of a conversation with a local band about local band stuff. It wasn’t prompted, they weren’t in distress; we weren’t talking about #MeToo, Operation Yewtree or institutionalised abuse in Westminster. We were just talking. And this chilling seed fell into the conversation with an almost as frightening acceptance that it was just ‘one of those things’. That it was normal. Or even worse, that it was OK.

Incredulous, then angry, then curious, I begin to pick at the scab. The story unfolds. It had been at a gig, and after the show the person in question had groped one of the band members – which falls under sexual assault in a court of law. And the feelings left by this situation, to group of friends who just wanted to perform their music on stage, are clear. They felt mistreated, angry and threatened.

This all came at the end of a troubling week too, where a promoter of a popular music venue had posted an absurdly misogynistic comment about the girls that attend their events and pancakes. You can imagine the metaphor. Or hopefully you can’t, because you really don’t want to. But it’s childish, aggressive, potentially incendiary, and beyond sexist at all points on the social spectrum. And now it’s in the public domain as a badge of what this promoter (and this club) feels is either funny or acceptable. Again, of what is normal or OK.

The silver lining from this poorly chosen ‘joke’ was the immediate outcry from many other people via the drum banging platforms of social media. I saw it because someone had reposted it in disgust, asking for some solidarity and shaming of the original author – a backlash that was far more erudite than the disturbed playground rhetoric that spurned it. The promoter in question claimed it was “a joke” that had been “taken out of context”. The public domain told them this wasn’t good enough and everything fell silent.

Then by the end of the week I am hearing about a case of sexual assault. And the more I asked around the more stories came back from our live music scene, in a frightening deluge of stories about sexual harassment, coercion, abuse, and assault happening in venues across Birmingham – from dressing room to dance floor, immediate and widespread.

I know many venue operators and promoters that are committed to the care of everyone in their building – whether they are performing, attending, or working there. And I’d be happier to see support networks in place than a campaign of naming and shaming. But the rules of engagement are quite simple and perhaps some people need a reminder:

No one, of any gender, should ever be objectified, coerced or abused. And no one in a position of power should ever use that power as a bargaining chip for sexual conduct. No one. Ever. At all. Told you it was simple.

So, what do we do? Firstly, I believe we all need to recognise our roles in this – overt and aggressive, or silent and tacit. The fact this problem exists means that none of us are without blame. And that includes me. I don’t want to believe this is a side of people I know, work alongside, or share common interests with. From the fact that it turns my stomach to think it’s happening in Birmingham venues to the cold reality that I need some of these people to support my own endeavours – put quite simply, it would be both personally and professionally easier for me to say nothing at all. I’m not proud of that last sentence but it’s a brutal truth I must own.

I’m not a huge fan of campaigning either, with self-aggrandising so often masquerading as a good cause these days. But maybe here, though, there’s a place for something we can all get behind – a vehicle to promulgate a message and provide support to those who need it, emotional, legal and otherwise. And to educate; to remind people of what is acceptable and what isn’t. A campaign of compassion and care, but also one to redefine what is ‘normal’ or ‘OK’ for those who seem to have forgotten their meanings.

So, this is what we’re doing. Birmingham Review has joined up with West Midlands Police and some key figures in our local entertainment industry to see how we can help shake a little sense into some, and support some others. We will keep you fully updated with this campaign through the Birmingham Review website and social media, and there is a message from West Midlands Police at the bottom of this editorial (this message can now be found on the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK website).

Because after all the bile that’s been seeping into my system after a week of words I never thought I’d be hearing – about a scene and city I love, and the people I love within both – I can land on at least one thing with absolute certainly. I never want to hear them again. Perhaps three things.

This is NOT NORMAL. This is NOT OK.

Ed King is Editor-in-Chief of Review Publishing, which publishes Birmingham Review and other titles.


NOT NORMAL – NOT OK is a campaign to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual assault and aggression – from dance floor to dressing room.

To sign up to NOT NORMAL – NOT OK, click here. To know more about the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK sticker campaign, click here.

To find out more about the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK campaign, visit

INTERVIEW: Lydia Brookes – Singing for Supper @ The Castle & Falcon 24.11.17

Singing for Supper @ The Castle & Falcon 24.11.17Words by Ed King / Pics courtesy of Lush Birmingham

On Friday 24th November, The Castle and Falcon in Balsall Heath will be hosting Singing for Supper, a live gig with a somewhat stellar line up – You Dirty Blue, Sofa King, Alfresco Love Sounds, The Chalet Lines will all be performing for only a £5.50 door charge. For online ticket sales, click here.

With each act worth the ticket price to just see them on stage, you’ve got three. Not a bad way to spend your money on Black Friday.

But it gets better. Singing for Supper has been organised by the Lush Birmingham soap store to raise money for The Night Shelter – a Coventry based “safe place” that “provides aid to refugees, asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers – people with no recourse to public funds, which means they’re not entitled to any benefits or any help.”

Birmingham Review caught up with Lydia Brookes, one of the Singing for Supper promoters and a ‘Lush Ambassador’, to ask what made them foray into the world of music promotions on arguably the busiest retail day of the year.

“Homelessness is a huge problem,” explains Brookes, “we see ‘rooflessness’ every single day. It’s an issue close to our hearts at Lush and we wanted to work with this charity (The Night Shelter) because they’re part of such an important community resource”. The Night Shelter is one of the services of support available at the Coventry Peace House, a collection of renovated terrace houses that work on a portfolio of charitable endevours – including projects “to make the area more environmentally friendly, to give people safe spaces and places to learn,” tells Brookes. “We care a lot about this organisation because it’s so small but it’s doing so much. It’s quite unique and we really got behind their ethos”.

But this event is looking at a broader problem than just homelessness, which in itself is a growing killer on the bitter cold streets of the UK. Lush Rocks, a name born from the retailers move into charitable music promotions, hopes their Singing for Supper gig on Friday 24th November will help raise both “money and public awareness” for the plight of those lost in the UK’s immigration cracks, whilst encouraging “people to think about the choices they’re make in and help in any way they can”.

The Night Shelter at the Coventry Peace House“People sometimes don’t realise that asylum seekers aren’t allowed to work, or claim benefits, until their case has been heard,” explains Brookes, “so refused asylum seekers essentially have no options. Only if they’re in an absolute destitution can they apply for funds and even then it’s not guaranteed. The Night Shelter gives the people a warm place to sleep, it gives them beds, its gives people access to showers and hot meals.”

And what about the school of thought that is more anti-immigration to begin with? This is a prevalent issue in the UK, but one that can receive more divided and divisive attention than just straightforward compassion. “We respect everyone’s views,” tells Brookes, “but it’s worth remembering that a good deal of asylum seeker cases that are initially refused then get granted on appeal – and these are cases that should have been granted in the first place, with the administrations going back to them saying ‘you do have a viable claim and this should have been previously granted.’ Whatever your views are on asylum seekers and destitute refugees, we need to treat them as human beings. We have to view people as people, first and foremost.”

But charitable endevours aside, Singing for Supper is a gig simply well worth the door charge – especially with You Dirty Blue on the bill, a Tamworth alt-rock two piece who recently supported Wolf Alice on the first day of their UK tour and are pegged for big and bright things in 2018.

Lydia Brookes and Joseph Parker – Singing for Supper @ The Castle & Falcon 24.11.17“We’re really excited,” explains Brookes, “especially about The Chalet Lines as it’s the solo act from one of the Lush Birmingham staff (Joseph Parker). Sofa King have a really funky vibe to them and we also got Alfresco Love Sounds. Then there’s You Dirty Blue who won’t be playing in small venues for long… this will be a good chance to see them in an ‘intimate’ setting.”

With all the acts “doing it voluntarily”Singing for Supper  at The Castle and Falcon on Friday 24th November should be able to raise a decent chunk of change for The Night Shelter – a support service that is especially pertinent at this time of year.

And if you are fighting your way to bargain blissteria this Friday, Lush Birmingham are also asking for donations of “non-perishable food items with a high energy content, things like jam and sugar. Also simple toiletries, so toothpaste, tooth brushes, toilet roll. And blankets. Just think ‘if I had to get buy on very few things, what would I need’”.

It’s almost as if this time of year isn’t just about shopping for yourself…

Singing for Supper comes to The Castle & Falcon on Friday 24th November, with You Dirty Blue, Sofa Kings, Alfresco Love Sounds and The Chalet Lines performing – as presented by Lush Rocks (from the Ambassadors Team at Lush Birmingham). 

All money raised from the gig will go to support The Night Shelter at the Coventry Peace House – a shelter for refugees, asylum seekers and people who have ‘no recourse to public funds’. For online gig ticket sales, click here.

For more on The Night Shelter, visit 

For more on Coventry Peace House, visit 

For more from The Castle & Falcon, including venue details and online ticket sales, visit


Lush Birmingham are also looking for donations of non-perishable food items, toiletries and FMCGs such as sugar, breakfast cereal, rice, jam, toothbrushes, toothpaste, cooking oil, instant coffee, toilet roll, or washing powder.

If you can’t attend the Lush Rock Singing for Supper event at The Castle & Falcon on Friday 24th Nov, donations can be sent to the Lush Ambassadors Team at: Lush Birmingham, 23 New St, Birmingham B2 4RQ  

To find out more about Lush Birmingham, visit


To learn more about the problems faced by asylum seekers coming to the UK and people who are ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’, please visit the following website for the Birmingham based Asylum Support and Immigration Resource Team (ASIRT)