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Women-Only Space: A firsthand account

April 2, 2021

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”.

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