Janet Torge - a founding members letter on the occasion of Vancouver Rape Relief's 35th Anniversary

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Dear Rape Relief’ers,

I am so sorry I cannot be there for the 35th Anniversary Party. The reasons for my absence speak directly to the occasion:

First, I throw an annual Women’s Day party at my own place in Montréal. The gathering has expanded over the years to include mothers, daughters, sisters and any female who loves how loud we talk, how much we eat and the constant hysterical laughter. I hope your party contains all of the above.

Secondly, I am not there because I can’t afford a trip to Vancouver. You’ll not be surprised that the founding mothers of your organization still work hard, help people and don’t drive Mercedes. That’s as it should be.

I know that the organization has changed a lot since we first decided to help – who were at the time called – “rape victims”. You should all be thankful and proud about that. You have been spared some ridiculous battles:

1) We actually had to discuss the myth that it’s impossible to rape a woman… the favorite example thrown at us was a defense lawyer who held a coke bottle in his hand and dared the prosecutor to stab it with a pencil as he ran around the room. This actually happened and was quoted frequently. Thank God, those days are over.

2) It was generally believed that the best prevention for sexual assault was changing the behavior of the women. Take off those “revealing” clothes (define “revealing” please); don’t drink and flirt at the same time; don’t walk anywhere alone after dark; never hitchhike and never say “No” to someone you’ve already slept with. I know there are some remnants of these ideas still around today, but they were written in society’s DNA back in 1973.

What probably has not changed is that working at Rape Relief exposes you to so many different women…. Underlining the fact that sexual assault does not show preference to class, physical appearance, religion, economics or lifestyle. While many of the women I met lived lives completely foreign to my own, it was not difficult to find shared experiences almost at once. I remember one woman who was raped by a motorcycle gang and hid in the basement of my house while awaiting the preliminary hearing. She was a real survivor. I marveled at her strength even though I couldn’t imagine two minutes with those guys under any circumstances. But as cups of coffee were drunk and worries shared that they would find us and do unspeakable things, we discovered we both had lots of sisters and our common ground was found.

As you all celebrate so many years of hard and heart-felt work, perhaps the warmth and closeness between women that emerges during these dire circumstances is also cause for celebration.

Thanks for keeping a small idea alive and well 35 years later.

Janet