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A Day in the Life of a Feminist Rape Crisis Worker

By Erin Sandberg

My name is Erin S. and I’m a collective member at Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter. This means that I work both on our 24-hour crisis line and in our transition house for women and their kids who are escaping male violence. I’ve been a collective member for nearly a year now and it is a big part of my life.

A day in my life is always a busy one. Today I had class at the community college I attend, and the lecture was about the historical subordination of women. The class is a second year criminology course about how society criminalizes women. It’s especially interesting, as all too often we’re educated about the role of men in society, or their theories, and their history. This is important, but at the same time where are the women? So all in all, the class is a good look at how and why women have been left out of criminological studies, and the socio-economic factors surrounding “crimes” like prostitution and theft.

So after the day of post-secondary education, I hop in my car and head from the college to Rape Relief, as I have heaps of work to do. I’m stuck in traffic, as per usual, so I have a good chance to think about the film I saw the night before. I borrowed the National Film Board film Not a Love Story from the college library, as it critically examines the pornography industry. My mum and I watched it together and to say the least, we were both disturbed.

It was made the year before I was born, and I’m thoughtful that I’ve grown up the last 21 years with women who are depicted in such demeaning and horrific ways all for men to be able to purchase them, through magazines, videos, lap dances, and off the street. As I’m driving, I look up at a huge billboard with a woman lying down, near naked, wearing construction boots, supposedly advertising the laces on the boots. I’m angry and disheartened as I think about the irony that the model in the picture is unlikely to even get work in the construction trade because she’s a woman, yet a company still uses her body to sell products to that same trade.

I arrive at the transition house and pass through the kitchen saying hello to the women who are currently living there, two of whom are making dinner and laughing together. I introduce myself to a woman who I haven’t met before, named “Laura” who tells me that she’s just moved in the day before. She reminds me of a friend that I’ve known for years; her face looks like a friendly one, inviting a conversation, although right now she looks a little scared and uncomfortable. I tell her that I’m really glad that she’s here and that I hope that she feels settled soon. I offer to make us a pot of tea and she accepts so we sit down at the table to talk as the kettle boils.

She starts her story, one of control where he has attacked her self confidence by questioning all of her decisions, calling her names and not letting her have good friends. Sometimes he punched or pushed her. She says she doesn’t understand why she loves him even though he treats her this way. Two of the other residents come and sit at the table, listening patiently as the new woman speaks.

One resident named “Brit” tells the woman that she’s not alone, and that her story sounds a lot like the one she has told in this same room. Laura says that she’s not sure whether or not she wants to leave him yet. I tell her that I’m glad that she’s here, even if it is only for a few days to think of what she wants to do next. One of the women leaves the table for a moment to bring a box of tissues to the table, as Laura has started to cry, and we all hug her, telling her that she probably needs a good night’s sleep as she hasn’t been sleeping well lately.

So finally it’s time for me to head back to my home I’m tired and know that I and my team are still on duty for any crisis calls that may come that night. I hop back in the car and start my half hour drive home, thinking of the woman who I met tonight at the house, and how she has a most difficult road ahead of her as she decides what she’d like to do next.

I guess I could feel discouraged, but I don’t because the five women who are on my evening team and the five women in the house with their little children are all fighting back in their own ways. Overall I feel determined, and the women who I meet are all so inspiring that I feel hopeful that things are going to get better for all of us.

To volunteer call us at (604) 872-8212

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