In 1979, there was a turning point meeting at the old Rape Relief office at 45 Kingsway. Some 30 women were present. “Let’s think of the big picture,” said a long time front line worker against violence against women. “If we could have everything we needed to do our work, what would it look like.”
A sizable house and an income independent of government were immediate parts of the answer. The house would have an area for the rape crisis work and room to shelter the many women and their children who were looking for a place to which they could escape. There was a funding proposal on the floor developed from the idea of a “tax on rapists.”
The women wrote down all the men they knew and entered their names into three books. One was for men with whom they had a score to settle or who would not help them at all (this one had the most names). The next included those who would make a donation to support their work but not do more. The third had five or six names in it: these were the ones they could ask to actively fundraise for them so that they could buy a shelter.
The decision to collaborate with men on fundraising was a very controversial one. Some women outside the organization worried that men in this mixed fundraising group would gain control over some of the anti-rape policies. This was not to be the case. An agreement was drawn up, saying that a Rape Relief woman would always hold the chair at the meetings and men would agree to take feminist direction from Rape Relief in order to participate. Men would have no say in how the money raised was used to fight violence against women. The group was called the Housefunding Committee.
Community support was essential from the beginning and there are a variety of supportive communities. By the fall of 1981, a down payment had been raised and placed on a house in East Vancouver, through a series of fundraising activities, including the Walk for Rape Relief, a pledge drive, bottle drives, dances, and women contributing a portion of their own salaries.
Many Vancouver neighbourhoods are familiar with the Housefunding Committee’s Saturday morning leafleting and fund-raising. The community of labour has always been supportive, and not just the unions with strong women’s committees – there are unions with predominately male membership who donate regularly to the organization. There is support within the many ethnic communities that make up the social fabric of the Lower Mainland. And, always, in all of these communities, there have been some activist men.
Longtime Housefunding Committee member Brian Cross sees it this way: “Many men come out to an event like the Walk for Rape Relief because we want to do something to help women stop the violence. We soon realize that it’s in our own self-interest to contribute to this work. We are free to choose to be part of the solution, to be human instead of merely male.” Together, we have become a community of our own, a community based on collaboration and a commitment to end to violence against women. We are a community that envisions freedom from the fear of violence for all.
Fellow travelers on the road to freedom from rape
As feminists travel down our road, we sometimes have to sneak by night. We sometimes have to use bluster and bluff, like a marching band short on members. We sometimes have to improvise like jazz artists. We often join with other travelers to see us through.
Join us – you are sure to meet some interesting people. You might be branded as a sympathizer with our cause, which is women’s equality. You might increase the chances that this one women’s group can keep up the tempo in that great improvisation we call the women’s movement.
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