Launch of Vancouver Rape Relief's 35th Anniversary Year and the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day

Tuesday, January 1, 2008 - Saturday, March 8, 2008

35 Years of Collective Action and Collective Resistance:

Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter 1973 – 2008

Johanna Den Hertog's Keynote Speech

Janet Torge's Letter to Vancouver Rape Relief

In the earliest days, Vancouver Rape Relief (VRRWS) operated with only a phone line, posters to promote Canada’s first rape crisis line, and a small group of women determined to gather many others to learn about male violence from one another and work together to end men’s violence against women. Over the 35 years, women have revealed a staggering and distressing picture of male violence against women. While we see that the fight to end violence against women is far from over, we still have much to celebrate.

Imagine the entire female population of a small BC city joining together to expose all the violent men: over 31,000 women have called VRRWS to talk about men’s attacks. By operating a 24-hour crisis line and a women’s organizing centre every day since 1973, VRRWS has provided a connection point for women across the Lower Mainland, and beyond. Encouraged by one another, women demand adequate criminal justice response, secure elusive housing, nurture children, warn and comfort other women, and create as much freedom as we can together envision.

VRRWS has a reputation for progressive responses to violence against women, both on the crisis line and in public campaigns. Many callers report hearing about VRRWS from a friend, while others call after hearing a VRRWS member publicly speaking about male violence, her voice among the thousands of callers per year. Women organizing anti-rape centres around the world invite VRRWS to contribute as mentors and colleagues. The VRRWS collective has worked to exceed our own feminist standards of excellence in our response to male violence, and appreciations from our callers and allies motivate us to persevere.

Community support for a transition house

Early on, VRRWS collective determined that providing excellent peer counseling and opportunities for women to connect would be useful, yet still inadequate to succeed in the goal of uniting women to end male violence. They wisely judged that a house could provide many women a practical escape from the threat of violence.

With community support, this small women’s group was able to raise the down payment for one of the first transition houses. Amazingly, the house opened in 1981, in an era of governments’ refusal to fund several feminist centres in BC. VRRWS operated for 10 years exclusively relying on the goodwill of community-based fundraising and women’s voluntary labour. In 2006, the mortgage was retired – an incredible achievement to those who had the original dream in the 1970s and for all who sustained the centre throughout. This house has already been home to at least 3,000 women and their children escaping men’s violence, and a home base to thousands of others in creating support/education/action groups, legal clinics, public speakers bureau, advocacy and information sessions, art projects, and campaigns.

Service and Social Change

Our service to women escaping rape, battering, incest, harassment, and prostitution has been tightly integrated into collaboration and alliance between VRRWS and many community supporters and close allies. In 35 years, shared campaigns for women’s equality has seen legal gains, wide community support, and shifts in public opinion.

The launch of the Housefunding Committee in 1978 mobilized men and women in the community to support VRRWS as voluntary fundraisers. The 30 years’ alliance with the Housefunding committee is a both a hopeful and practical demonstration of men working in support of women’s equality.

International Women’s Day Celebration

March 8, 2008 marked the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day (IWD) and the launch of VRRWS 35th anniversary year.

We were honored to invite over 700 Friends of Rape Relief to celebrate at the beautiful Hycroft Manor. Owned by University Women’s Club of Vancouver, the sumptuous women-run space was a treat. A capacity crowd of 200 donors, workers, volunteers and community shared memories, laughter, and lively discussion. Friends challenged our knowledge of the Un-Trivial Pursuit of Women’s Equality with a new board game, and strengthened our connections. A community sang together, shared a little wine, tapped toes to women-fronted music, and exclaimed at photos reminding us of moments in 35 years of the Canadian feminist movement.

IWD was a once-in-our-lifetime thank you to the many supporters who have sustained VRRWS through the 35 years. The event also launched a new Fundraising Campaign, looking for commitment from 35 new ongoing donors to launch the next era of our work. We’re approaching the goal and would love to exceed it! Please contact us for information.

We continue to say thank you to all who sustain VRRWS, including:

Feminist Founders of the VRR collective

Early collective members had to be daring, inventing the feminist anti-violence movement as they worked with raped and battered women. Founder Joanna den Hertog’s recollection of the difficulties and triumphs of the work saw many former workers and volunteers recognizing themselves, smiling and winking at one another with understanding and pride in their achievements.
Volunteers are crucial to sustaining VRRWS. Volunteers actively share the responsibility for so much, from running the rape crisis centre as members of the decision-making collective, through fundraising, organizing events, providing childcare, translation, a ride…you name it!

Members of the House Funding Committee

For 30 years, Women and men of the House Funding Committee raise a significant portion of VRRWS annual funds. Housefunding helps VRRWS remain an autonomous, critical voice for women’s equality. Guests at IWD shared optimism and hope in seeing men dedicating five, ten, and even more than 25 years’ support.

Monthly donors contribute a predictable monthly financial base to VRRWS. Like your own monthly pay cheque, this allows VRRWS to plan a whole year’s action knowing what resources we have available month to month.

Annual donors who plan your yearly finances and choose to give to this centre each year, sometimes several times. Just as you would appreciate an annual bonus, your annual gifts inject new resources and energy to our organizing the next year.

Walkers in the Annual Walk for Rape Relief. Women, men, and youth fundraisers demonstrate their support for VRRWS by asking friends and family to contribute pledges. All are welcome in a community-oriented event that helped raise the down payment for the transition house, and still provides the financial and community support that allows VRRWS to remain flexible and responsive to changing conditions.

Local organizations have cooperated with VRRWS and together build progressive community. Mount Pleasant Neighborhood House, Riley Park Neighborhood House, Gallery Gachet, local housing co-ops, and community centres have shared their space to host VRRWS activities for years. Community broadcasters at CJSF, CITR, and Co-op Radio, as well as CBC, The Republic and student newspapers have enabled VRRWS to promote our programs and provided space for feminist voice in the media. Local businesses have graciously offered discounts, donations, and above-and-beyond service. Schools and community centres of Mount Pleasant/Riley Park have protected the confidentiality of the transition house, while welcoming women and their children to the neighborhood. Unions, community agencies, and neighbors have helped build a wide base of understanding and support for VRRWS with donations and invitations to speak. . Waterfront Consumers Co-Op assisted VRRWS to secure a mortgage and has maintained a source of affordable, democratically-run housing in the city. CCEC Credit Union has provided financing to VRRWS and other community-based enterprises.

All of these relationships strengthen the wider community, and all of these contributions enable VRRWS to make a greater change in the world. The goodwill of a community provides encouragement and public support, while donations provide the practical necessities to sustain the work to end violence against women.

Thanks to a community for standing together as we launch the next era of work to end violence against women!

Visit Vancouver Rape Relief's 2008 International Women's Day Image Gallery.