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Women-Only Space: A firsthand account

April 2, 2021
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It has often been the men I’ve encountered in my life that have been responsible for the trauma I’ve endured. However, it is with women that I have felt the safest and where I have found relief and healing.

It was from speaking with my female cousins that I first understood that the way my boyfriend was treating me was abusive. I was only 17 years old. They encouraged me to leave him.

Later on, I sought out a female therapist to help me work on feelings of shame and guilt that I was experiencing over what I thought was a “slutty night.” It was through meeting with her that I came to realize what I’d experienced (and blaming myself for) was actually a sexual assault. In almost every session, she encouraged me to call a rape crisis centre. I remember vividly that she wrote “VRRWS” on a small piece of paper and told me, “they are an amazing group of women and can be very helpful.” I feel indebted to her, because calling this crisis line shaped me to be the woman I am today.

It wasn’t until I called Vancouver Rape Relief, that I felt the power that can come from grouping together with other women and openly discussing male violence. Following my initial call to the line, I met with two women in person. Unlike times where I’d spoken with a “professional,” I felt immediately at ease, like I was meeting with two ordinary women, much like myself. I remember the weight being lifted off of my shoulders from receiving empathy that I didn’t know I needed. Empathy that came from a place of understanding, so much so that I could tell they understood how I felt with very little explaining. The women I met with used their own experiences of male violence and growing up in a sexist world to relate to what I’d gone through.

Only after participating in the support group facilitated by Vancouver Rape Relief did I understand that male violence impacts so many women. After my sexual assault, I was often thinking, “Why did this happen to me?” I had heard of these sorts of things happening to other women but never did I think I could be one of them. Support group showed me that rape is not an isolated event, that it goes much further than me and is in fact a systemic problem. I learned that violence against women is a tool that men use to gain, and display, their power over us. That no matter how much a woman attempts to protect herself, that she is not immune to men’s violence and she too could become a victim at any point in time. This is how I came to my own realization that the “personal is political.” What can a woman do when she is angry with this reality and doesn’t want to accept this fate? I did what so many women before me have done, I became a feminist.

I decided to volunteer at the same crisis centre that helped me to feel less isolated and overcome my sexual assault through feminist analysis and tools. I was ready to offer this and my own experience of resistance to male violence to support other women. Through this work, I have built relationships to other women, relationships that I see as vital to my survival as a woman. It is only in women-only spaces where I get empathy, support, and appreciation without asking. It is solely in women-only spaces where I have been encouraged to be loud, bold, and to speak my opinion. It is the women in my life that I cannot replace. It is the women-only spaces that I have been in, that have shaped me to be the woman I am today.

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While studying at Oxford University, I woke up to find myself being sexually assaulted. That’s why I want an honest and open debate about women’s services, without being accused of rhetorical “violence”.

February 24, 2015
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