This is what #GaiaPower looks like

Thanks Alex Hendry for putting together this beautiful short film from Gaia’s festival fundraiser in May. We raised nearly £2,500 for charities that helped Gaia or that she believed in and as you can see, a festival felt like the perfect way to honour her.

Funds were split evenly between:

  • Rape Crisis England & Wales
  • Missing People
  • Sisters Uncut
  • Epilepsy Society
Featured post

Press Release: family respond to breaking news of Connor Hayes’ second conviction for sex offences

Response to breaking news from Dorset Police reporting that convicted sex offender Connor Hayes has been sentenced to a further 21 months in prison after admitting further offences against a teenage girl.

Gaia was a survivor of sexual violence and last year there was press coverage linking Connor Hayes to her disappearance. We are not in a position to comment on these claims while investigations are ongoing. However, now this man has been convicted of another sexual offence against a minor, we must at least speak to honour the strength and courage of all the survivors involved in this case, as well as their families and loved ones.

We know all too well how long and painful this walk to justice is. We do not know your names, but we owe you thanks. Every member of the public owes you thanks for what you have done to keep our community safe.

May we one day live in a world where every single person subjected to sexual violence feels safe and supported to speak out. In the meantime we live, as Gaia did, afraid that other women and girls may be at risk.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is still investigating Dorset Police’s response to Gaia’s allegations. It is to protect the integrity of this vital investigation that we cannot say any more publicly, except to ask that anyone with any relevant information come forward to us or to the IOPC.

We thank the IOPC from the bottom of our hearts their continued hard work towards truth and justice for Gaia. Whatever happens, this all comes too late to save Gaia and save us the unending pain of life without her; but we are determined to do all we can to see others protected and justice done.

All we can do is wait, thank our friends and our community for their continued support and assure anyone out there who perhaps, like Gaia, feels ignored and afraid, that they are not alone.

Thank you.

Press Contacts

The family will not be giving interviews regarding this matter.

However, for further information, interview requests and to register your interest in Gaia’s story and the family’s ongoing campaign, please contact Lucy McKay from INQUEST on 020 7263 1111 or email lucymckay@inquest.org.uk cc’ing justice4gaia@gmail.com

Please respect the privacy of Gaia’s family and friends at this time and ensure all press enquiries go through the stated channels.

Press Release: family appeal for information on anniversary of Gaia’s disappearance

Released 7th November via the INQUEST website

On the anniversary of her disappearance, Gaia’s family appeals to members of the public to come forward with any relevant information. The family is also convening an art project in her memory and to highlight the crisis in service provision for rape survivors and young people with mental ill health.

The inquest into Gaia’s death has been postponed until March 2018 while the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) probe Dorset Police’s response, both to her disappearance in November 2017 and her prior rape case. The family welcomed both investigations and look forward to the outcome.

Natasha Pope, Gaia’s mother, says: “This year has been more painful than words can say. Sometimes I can’t believe I have survived it, but with my every breath I love and demand justice for my daughter. Since the Me Too, we have seen a rising movement for the rights of women and girls. Change is coming.”

Marienna Pope-Weidemann, Gaia’s cousin, says: “When she was missing, it was the support and dedication from the public that kept us going. You gave us hope that we would find Gaia. A year after her death, we must call on you again to help us find justice for her. We can’t do this without you. If you know anything that might aid the investigation into Gaia’s rape case or the missing persons investigation and help us learn the truth, please come forward; not just for Gaia’s sake, but for the sake of anyone else who might be at risk.”

Harriet Wistrich, award-winning civil rights lawyer and co-founder of the Centre for Women’s Justice who is representing the family, says: “Nothing will dull the pain for those who loved her on the  first anniversary of Gaia’s death, but the Justice for Gaia campaign represents their hope that something good can come from this, shining a light on failures by the police and demanding better from the police in the investigation of crimes of sexual violence.”

Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST, says: “Already one year on from Gaia’s disappearance, it is important that her family see a prompt and robust investigation. There has never been greater disquiet about victims of sexual violence being failed by statutory agencies. There is a clear link between the trauma of rape and mental ill health. The longer the delay in identifying any systemic failings, the greater the risk of more young women like Gaia dying.”

Emily Fields of Sisters Uncut says: “Gaia’s story shows the devastating impact that being poorly treated by the criminal justice system can have after sexual violence. Survivors need support not suspicion. That’s why we’re fighting data gathering policies that further traumatise those reporting abuse.”

Gaia’s family have organised #ArtForGaia, a creative project in Gaia’s memory, which is being followed by BBC News. With the inquest postponed, they say the project is a chance to show that Gaia won’t be forgotten – however long it takes – and create a forum for others affected by sexual violence and mental health issues to share their experiences through creative work. In addition, the family are appealing for artwork from Gaia’s friends and anyone who was involved in the search for her as well as the wider public.

People are being invited to photograph their work, submit it via the website and share it on twitter with the hashtag #ArtForGaia. Find out more at www.justiceforgaia.com/artforgaia

Gaia deserved a chance to see the world, to fall in love. That was taken from her – and we want justice, writes Gaia’s cousin Marienna for the Guardian

Today is the 365th day I’ve woken up with a hole in my chest where my heart used to be. The 11 days my cousin Gaia Pope was missing before her body was found felt like an out-of-body experience. We somehow lost the need to eat and sleep; nothing in the world mattered except bringing her home safe.

The community-led effort to find her was a grassroots miracle, filled with enough love and power to obscure that cold feeling in my gut and the whisper that said what we all already knew: she would never have left us.

The press often call her “tragic Gaia Pope”, which I hate not just because it does her no justice but also because her death was not tragedy; it was travesty.

Gaia was my cousin, but I loved her like a sister from the moment I first held her as a baby in my arms when I was seven years old. As a woman, she was let down by the services we all trust will be there for us in our hour of need. She fell through the cracks in the system and she died there.

First, she was let down by Dorset police when they chose not to prosecute for an alleged rape that took place when she was just 16. She is not alone in this: the prosecution and conviction rates for rape are worse now than they were 40 years ago.

The stigma and indignities she was subjected to as a survivor, along with the failure of the police to make her feel safe, drove her deep into post-traumatic stress. She received only a few weeks of crisis counselling from local mental health services, even though we, her family, felt that she needed a lot more. Meanwhile, her mother was being forced to leave her to work every night, just to keep a roof over their heads.

She is not alone in this, either: contrary to government rhetoric, mental health services have been decimated by austerity, none more than youth services. They receive just 7% of mental health funding even though 75% of mental health issues start young, and provision in Dorset, where my family is from, is particularly poor.

Eventually, her declining mental and physical health drove her first out of college and then work. Now it was the turn of the welfare system to relentlessly interrogate her trauma and undermine her sense of self-respect. She was forced to fight a lengthy battle for the personal independence payments (PIP) to which she was entitled.

Again, this isn’t just Gaia’s story: the PIP system has since been ruled “blatantly discriminatory” towards people with mental health issues and a great many people have died waiting for, fighting for or having given up on the support they deserve.

On 7 November last year, triggered, we believe, by an incident of sexual harassment online, Gaia passed the point of her endurance. With no phone, no cash, no coat and daylight fading, she simply disappeared. This was the last opportunity for the state to intervene and save her life. We begged them from the first moment to search for her along the coastal paths we had walked since childhood. “If she was out there, we’d have found her,” one police officer told me. It took 11 days for them to find her body there. By then it was too late.

One year on we know very little more than that. The postmortem said she was killed by hypothermia. I say it was a death by indifference. Gaia was a child soldier in a war that has cost more than 120,000 lives in Britain alone since 2010. She was fighting to survive and growing up poor in the age of austerity and that is a bloody, hard fight. She battled bravely for her rights but also for those around her; she never once let go of her humanity, her creativity, her determination to see the best in others. I am so profoundly proud of her for that.

Gaia deserved better. All of us do. She deserved the chance to fulfil her potential and give back to her community all the courage and compassion she had to offer. It’s not just her loved ones who have been robbed of someone precious, and our local community knows that.

Gaia deserved a chance to see the world, to fall in love, to have a family of her own. All that was taken from her – from us – and I want justice for that. But I also want justice for those left behind: the one in five women and girls who have endured sexual violence in this country; the 70% of young people with mental health challenges not receiving proper support; the countless families up and down the country who have been sacrificed on the altar of austerity; the lives not yet lost, precious, worth fighting for.

The world is a darker place without Gaia, but she still lights our way. We honour her memory when we fight for justice for her and for the better world that she believed in. In that sense, with support from and as part of a much wider movement for social justice, she will triumph yet.

One Year On…

We can’t believe it, but tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of Gaia’s disappearance. Her twin sister Maya has spoken on camera for the first time in an incredibly courageous interview for the BBC, which you can watch here.

In this extended radio interview, Clara and Maya speak about their grief, their hopes for the campaign and why Gaia would want justice for us all. We are so proud of them and we know Gaia is too.

@ Ministry of Justice with Sisters Uncut

Gaia’s cousin Marienna speaking outside the Ministry of Justice at a powerful action by Sisters Uncut to demand #SupportNotSuspicion for survivors of sexual violence.

Rape is the only crime you have to sacrifice your privacy to report. The Crown Prosecution Service demand that police download all phone data of anyone reporting sexual assault. The average download contains 30,000 pages of personal data, which could be handed over to the abuser’s defence team.

Read more about why this is so important to oppose.

#JusticeForGaia on BBC Radio 5 Live

Gaia’s sister Clara and her cousin Marienna speak alongside leading human rights lawyer Harriett Wistrich about Justice for Gaia almost one year on, the Art for Gaia project and how the system is failing survivors.

 

 

#ArtForGaia is live

With the inquest on hold and almost a year having past, we’re launching an art project in Gaia’s memory, which is being followed by BBC News.
Gaia’s cousin Marienna says: “Some things are so big, run so deep, they can only be expressed through art. Our love and our grief for Gaia feels that way. The love we’ve felt from the community felt that way too. We want to honour that, make it visible, maybe do something to show other survivors, families who’s lost someone too soon, that they are not alone. Absolutely all submissions are welcome.”
Gaia’s mum Natasha says: “Gaia’s art and poetry, inspired by the beauty of nature and the strength of femininity, is her way of connecting with her true self. In spite of all she’s been through she is not defined by that.
Our Gaia would want to provide a forum for others to find their voice and create. To imagine that unfolding in her name in any small way makes me so grateful and I see a greater purpose in it.”
Find out more at #ArtForGaia

Inquest Postponed

The Pre-Inquest Review hearing scheduled for 5th September as part of the inquest into the death of Gaia Pope-Sutherland has been postponed by the Dorset Coroner, following an announcement by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) that their investigation will not now be concluded prior to February 2019. The Pre-Inquest Review is now expected to proceed in March 2019.

The family of Gaia Pope-Sutherland said:

“We are disappointed to have lost this opportunity to appear in the coroner’s court, for the first time with legal representation. Almost an entire year has passed since Gaia’s death and we have still not been given this opportunity. Nor has any significant information been disclosed to us about what happened to Gaia and why.

Without answers, we live in limbo. It is simply impossible to move forwards while we remain in the dark like this.

However, we appreciate the work the IOPC are doing to investigate the actions of Dorset police, not only when Gaia went missing in November 2017 but also when she disclosed to them the rape which had such a horrific impact on her mental health. We dearly hope that the extension of these investigations means that the investigation is being given the attention and resources it needs to bring justice for Gaia.”

 

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