Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter
Male violence against women is both an expression and reinforcement of women’s oppression. Men’s violence takes many forms including rape; wife battering; sexual assault and harassment; pornography, prostitution, and other forms of sexual exploitation; incest and other sexual abuse of children.
According to Statistics Canada’s Police-reported violence against girls and young women in Canada (2017), “violence against girls and young women was most commonly perpetrated by a male accused.” This misogynist pattern is also reflected in our work with the many, many women who choose not to report the violence committed against them to the police.
Women who are beaten and raped still have little or no legal and social recourse. Male violence against women continues to be a common and devastating experience for women. Some statistics claim 1 out of 3 women will be a victim in her lifetime but we know the rate is even higher for women who belong to another oppressed group based on their race and class. Indigenous women, women of colour, women living in poverty, and women with disabilities are even more vulnerable to being targeted by men.
Statistics simply don’t capture the extent to which all women’s lives are disrupted and continually impacted and shaped by men’s violence and the threat of it. However, through our 24-hour crisis line, we hear many of the ways that men access, control, and harm women and how women survive, escape, and resist.
Our program provides women living in Greater Vancouver a safe place for grouping: to break the silence and isolation around the violence committed against them, to offer and receive emotional support, to plan and strategize their responses to men’s violence. Grouping together after leaving an abusive man, after exiting prostitution, or after being raped is an act of resistance against the abusers’ tactic of silencing and isolating women.
When we speak openly and honestly about our experiences and hear from other women sharing in the same way, we see similarities in the way the world treats, restrains, and limits us based on being born female. The women’s movement describes this process as consciousness-raising. Being born female still means being trained, socialized, and forced to submit to male domination from an early age. The fact that we are born female and raised as girls to adulthood as women shapes our lives in profound ways. This isn’t to say that all women are identical or live identical lives but as women in a patriarchal society, regardless of geography, culture, or the particular circumstances of our individual lives, we have more in common than not.
Male violence against us is a harsh and common experience but in no way the only one. Our sexuality is controlled and manipulated — whether by punishing women for not being virgins or by the promotion of pornography and BDSM as liberating expressions of women’s sexuality. Our reproductive ability is controlled and manipulated — whether through forced abortion and sterilization, pressuring women to get pregnant, or forcing women’s pregnancy through rape.
Being girls and women in this world often impacts both how we look and how we act in private and in public; what we are allowed to do, encouraged to do, and rewarded for; and also, what we are discouraged from doing, prohibited to do or punished for.
This consciousness-raising process informs, instructs, and guides us in how we organize and strategize our resistance in the fight for women’s liberation.
A part of the process is women taking on researching, collecting data and information, then presenting to the whole group as to teach one another and further our understanding of male violence against women. We believe that we must push back against our reality until reality changes. So, women confront their attackers by letters or in person, create public education materials through writing, podcasts, and public speaking. Women write letters articulating demands from provincial and federal authorities. Women organize protests, rallies, and demonstrations. Some women join us or form other groups to assist women, not only to strategize how to take on their own attackers but also to put themselves to the greater fight of ending male violence against women.
The isolation women experience because of men’s violence has been exacerbated by the social isolation imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the immediate aftermath, we grouped women virtually, taking care to ensure all women can participate by providing laptops and access to the internet. Since then, we’ve introduced small groupings with physical distancing and plexiglass barriers; rigorous cleaning protocols; and provided masks/face shields for all women participants and facilitators. For many women, COVID-19 worsened pre-existing economic struggles so we helped with bill payments, transportation, and grocery costs as part of our commitment to the overall well-being of women.
Rape Relief continues to monitor active case numbers in the community and follow the advisories of public health officials. Our commitment to grouping women and breaking the isolation from male violence is resolute, however, our methods of doing so depend on public health conditions. Part of running our group virtually means that we will provide the necessary tools (laptop/private access to the internet) for all women to be able to participate online.
Describe how you apply an equity lens internally to your organization
As an organization that is structured as a feminist collective made up of both unpaid and paid members, we have several equity policies and practices that guide how we operate and the programs that we offer.
Our collective is diverse and includes women of colour, Indigenous women, women who grew up in poverty, working-class women, and lesbians. All of our members are survivors of male violence, this includes women who’ve exited prostitution.
Some of our paid positions are protected for Indigenous women and women of colour. We offer our volunteers and the women we respond to concrete aid including funds for groceries, utilities, transportation, childcare, and more.
We understand that Indigenous women, women of colour, lesbians, mothers, and women dealing with poverty have additional insights into the compounding realities of oppression and discrimination. We are committed to encouraging and supporting these women’s teachings so that our group’s actions are better informed and benefit all women.
If you have feedback on any aspect of the grants process, please provide it here:
We were disappointed by the blunt refusal of city council members and city staff to properly consider our application for 2020 and to understand the importance of our work to women in Greater Vancouver. We hope that this current application will be treated with the respect and consideration it deserves.