Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter: A Short Funding Herstory By Alice Lee

By Alice Lee, Collective Member December 16, 2010

Vancouver Rape Relief Society was founded by Johanna Den Hertog, Janet Torge and Teresa Moore in 1973. In the emerging Vancouver women’s movement, they started the first rape crisis center in Canada when they realized there were no services for women that had been raped.

These women volunteered their time and pooled their resources, starting our 24 hour rape crisis line out of one of their basements. That crisis line has been answered twenty four hours a day without interruption for each day since. From the beginning, our rape crisis line was flooded with calls. Eventually, with community support and after lobbying and struggles, our rape crisis center was able to get small government grants.

Much later, the provincial government funded a coalition of rape crisis centers across British Columbia including centers in Victoria, Nanaimo, Vancouver, Kamloops and Terrace, each being run by a collective of women and each participating in the collectively operated B.C. Coalition of Rape Crisis Centers.

Women who called the rape crisis line also needed a place to escape from the violent assaults committed by their abusive partners, husbands and fathers. Our collective created the House Funding Committee (now known as The Friends of Rape Relief) to raise funds for the down payment on a transition house. With the help of the Waterfront Consumers' Co-operative and donated labour from both male and female friends and allies and after much work we bought, renovated, staffed and opened our transition house in 1981.

In that same year, as part of the contract negotiations, between the British Columbia Social Credit government of the province demanded access to our confidential files of services to women delivered by the provincial coalition members. When we refused to allow access to government researchers, funding to the coalition of centers was withdrawn. Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter and her four other partners across the province lost provincial funding. Community support was enormous and for several months the struggle continued but only Vancouver Rape Relief survived the blow. Other centers in smaller communities were forced to close.

Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter went without any government funding for the next ten years. Collective members maintained the centre with volunteer labour and community donations. Members continued to organize women to join them in this work. They shared their personal wages to assist each other as activists and for the organization's benefit. When small amounts of funds could be found for salaries women took turns continuing to work at the shelter and rape crisis centre and when funds were scarce women shared jobs in the community to enable each other to contribute time to the collective project. Although under the NDP government, the Collective was given a contract for the new transition house operation, we never regained the original rape crisis center contract or funds. No BC government has corrected the fact that rape crisis centers do not receive core or operational funding from the provincial government.

Fortunately we are currently funded for our transition house work by BC Housing - a provincial crown agency under the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General. We are credited by the Community Gaming Grants to receive a portion of the gaming monies. This is collected by a collective of charities operating Planet Bingo called, Community Gaming Management Association.

But to ensure our services are available and accessible, we receive a large portion of our budget through fundraising in the community. Our Walkathon, Ongoing Monthly or Yearly Pledged Support and our Tin Can Drive have been key aspects of our work every year. Community support is vital as each year as we carry forward the work of women we know, in addition to the over 1400 new women who call our crisis line for help and over 120 woman and their children who seek and receive shelter in our transition house.

Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter now has an international reputation for commitment and excellent work to advance women’s equality and toward ending violence against women. Our centre challenges social attitudes, laws and institutional procedures which perpetuate male violence against women and children. As a vital part of Canada’s and BC’s civil society, our centre also practices anti-racist, nonviolent democratic and hopeful community building.