Counting violence against women

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 Sophia is a frontline worker at Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter.

An important achievement of the second wave women’s movement is the exposition of men’s violence against women. Through consciousness-raising, women began to understand how widespread men’s violence is. They understood how men’s violence was not only a product of men’s domination over women, but also reinforces the hierarchy of the sexes. As this understanding of men’s violence spread across North American groups of women started to scrape together funds to open rape crisis centres and transition houses. Vancouver Rape Relief was the first such group in Canada.

 

In 1973, shortly after the original Rape Relief women opened a rape crisis line and the phones began ringing, these collective members started to record men’s attacks on the women who called them. To this day, we keep the records of what the women who call us tell us about their experience of male violence. In 2018, we have recorded 1237 cases of battering, sexual harassment, sexual assaults and rape including incest – the rape of a child by their father or another family member.  

 

Since the early days, rape crisis centres have debated whether or not they should keep records of men’s violence against women. Many rape crisis centres have decided not to. For us, the crisis line is a way to ally with women in their efforts to survive, escape and fight back. Most women who call us choose not to call the police, may not go to the hospital or be otherwise in contact with a state agency. So, in many cases, our records of what women told are the only records that exist about men’s violence.  

 

We record who is he to her (father, husband, neighbour, co-worker, friend or a stranger), where and how he gained access and control over her and the details of the violence he did to her.  We record how she got away from his violence, what she told him to break way, how she fought back or how she endured it until he stopped or left, and who she exposed him to. And finally, we record what we do to assist her, to get behind her and to reinforce her efforts. We record which strategies worked, what we tried and what we failed to achieve for her. We record what the police, welfare, social workers did and didn’t do, how we tried to convince the police to do more and what worked and what was a waste of our time. 

 

The accumulation of the records helps us to understand the quantitative and qualitative magnitude of men’s violence against us and to strategize our resistance.

 

Even though women have enjoyed many advancements in government, academia and the workforce, women still face an astonishing amount of violence, minute by minute, day by day in Vancouver, in Canada and worldwide. And even though there is overwhelming evidence of the high rate of men’s violence against women and how frequently women are raped, beaten and are murdered by men, we must work to continually expose gender violence for what it is. As feminists we know that women as a class will only be free once all women are able to live lives free of fear and free of violence, and until this happens, we will keep on counting. 

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