We’re opposed to the staff report recommendation for the City of Vancouver not to fund our Support Education and Action Program.
Last year, 580 women told us her husband, boyfriend or lover raped and/or beat her, and another 85 women told us her ex raped her after she ended things with him, 60 women told us her male supervisor or co-worker sexually assaulted her, 230 women told us a man she knew socially sexually assaulted her, 170 women told us about her father or other adult male family members or family friends raping her when she was a girl, 120 women told us a male stranger assaulted her.
When a woman calls us, she’s already acted by refusing to stay silent and she wants us to be a part of her next action.
Our initial work together is accompaniment for a rape kit, offering her a safe place to go, support through a legal proceeding, advocacy with the police, and peer counseling – all of this is available to women without a waitlist.
Our support often goes far beyond that though, and we remain with her while she navigates her own understanding of the sexist violence she’s faced.
Many women join our Support Education and Action groups. Not simply a support group, but a political strategy of working collectively to end male violence against women.
Our Support Education and Action groups connect women to each other to offer support and mutual aid.
Grouping together in women only space after leaving an abusive man, after exiting prostitution, after being raped, is an act of resistance against men’s tactic of silencing and isolating women.
We teach each other about our own experiences and what our lives are really like first as girls and then as women, and how they’re shaped by race and class.
Indigenous women, women of colour, lesbians, mothers, and women dealing with poverty offer additional insights into the compounding realities of oppression. We’re grateful for these women’s teachings and our group’s actions are better because of their contributions.
By being in a space with others who share our experience of being treated as female from the time we’re born we hear truthful talk from those who might otherwise be silenced.
Saying, and then seeing the similarities between us as women – first relieves us, and then propels us to act in support of each other.
This leads women (including myself) to see the violence men do to us as connected to what men do to women globally, throughout centuries, and across race, culture, and class.
And so we go from asking ourselves “what could I have done differently” to asking “What should WE do about it”, now that this particular experience I had has been put in the larger context of women’s oppression. And we can decide together how we want to organize and fight back.
Last month, we gathered with women who participated in our Support Education and Action groups to get their input in building our recommendations for the National Action Plan to End Violence Against Women. You can find our 45 demands on our website, developed from this consultation process. One woman said to us:
“Seeing many women coming together for the same cause, gives me a little hope that maybe this society might change in the future within the timeline of my life”
And another woman said to us:
“I never made as many changes in my life as I did while I was in the group”
As many of you on council know first hand, from birth we’ve faced limits placed on us that have nothing to do with our feelings, our personality, our skills, or our efforts. Not every woman has been raped, but we all live with the fear and knowledge of male violence against women. When a man is walking behind us on an empty street at night, when a friend checks in with you during her date, or you feel a man’s eyes on your body while you’re on the bus.
At Rape Relief we hear from women every day about the ways men have raped, beaten, harassed, incested, and exploited them. But these aren’t just acts of male violence, they’re also acts of resistance by each woman. It’s through these stories of resistance, shared on the phone, in person, in Support Education and Action groups, that we learn from each other, offer each other solidarity, and the possibility of more for all of us.
Rape Relief offers every woman who calls our line the ability and support to speak up and take action in her own liberation. I urge you to think about what women in this city need to be free from men’s violence, and reconsider funding for our Support Education and Action group.