Lee Lakeman, Alice Lee and Suzanne Jay
of prostitution in Canada:
A view from the Vancouver Rape
Relief and Women's Shelter*
Since 1973 the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter has been an organizing centre and a 24-hour phone line for women raped and battered. Since 1980 it has also been a feminist transition house. We house women running from abusive men—usually husbands and fathers, but sometimes pimps, johns, landlords, and sons. At any given time some thirty women collectively deliver these services and advocate for the women calling. Only ten are paid. We consider that the women who call us for help in their individual lives are also purposefully connecting with a feminist collective in order to document violence against women and in order to join forces with other women to make a better world. Besides doing what we can for each woman in turn, we collect those stories of sexist horror and women's resistance and pass them on to other women who call. We mean to spread examples, but also to inform and reinforce those women—including but not limited to ourselves— who are writing theory, designing tactics and executing strategies to end violence against women.
We organize collectively and usually commit a year at a time in groups of about thirty women. Some members have stayed for over a decade, and a couple for more than fifteen years. We are usually about one third lesbian, usually about a third are from working class backgrounds, and usually we have a higher proportion of women of colour in our group than does Vancouver's population generally. A small aboriginal membership has been steady for many years now. Although we do not have quotas, we work to keep those percentages of marginalized women as high as we can.
As a group we participated in and have often led campaigns in the Canadawide coalition of such centres called the Canadian Association of Sexual
* Developed from the report Canada's Promises to Keep: The Charter and Violence Against
Women by Lee Lakeman for The Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres (CASAC)
2004. The author is Lee Lakeman except where otherwise noted.