National Post

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March 1, 2001

No straight help for rape victims

Donna Laframboise
National Post

Imagine calling the cops after your house has been broken into. The officers arrive and, while examining the shattered basement window and cataloguing what's missing, they tell you the justice system is a joke, that even if they catch the robber he'll receive only a slap on the wrist, that you'll never be truly safe until society wakes up and starts taking the war against crime seriously. Imagine that before the officers leave, they give you flyers filled with frightening statistics that urge you to sign petitions and donate money to organizations agitating for tougher prison sentences.

Would you feel these public servants had behaved professionally at a time in your life when you felt shaken and violated? Or would you feel that using your B&E as an excuse to push their political agenda was an intrusion almost as unforgivable as the break-in itself?

Rape victims in this country face exactly this dilemma. As the recent human rights hearing involving Vancouver Rape Relief demonstrates, rape crisis centres are steeped in politics. Even though they are funded by politically neutral tax dollars, anyone one who has been within a mile of one of these centres knows the women who are supposed to be receiving assistance there are, in fact, being proselytized.

For Vancouver's Rape Relief, a woman's sexual assault is merely the starting point, an excuse to begin a larger conversation about the evils of patriarchy, capitalism and racism. A document this organization submitted to the Human Rights tribunal states this baldly: "Rape Relief volunteers discuss with [sexually assaulted] callers Rape Relief's political belief that male violence is a symptom of a sexist society in which women are oppressed by men."

In addition to "counseling" assault victims in this manner, the document tells us these volunteers also "work collectively for political change." What kind of change? An article posted on the centre's Web site ( and written by Lee Lakeman, a long-standing Rape Relief spokeswoman and staffer, provides a hint: "[Women's] chains are daily forged, not just by the armed forces of the state or its institutions; not just by the ideas created by state or corporate machinery, but also by the individual men in our lives who collude in our oppression actively ... We plan not only to take power from every state and corporation but also to take it from every man who puts us here and every man who gains by our being held here, and that is all men." Ms. Lakeman's advice to males who'd like to help? "Get your individual boot off the neck of the women in your life."

Nice, huh?

In its "statistics" section, Rape Relief's Web site defends Ms. Lakeman's public comments that "Every man is a potential rapist" and says female activists are stopping violence by, among other things, "refusing sex with men as long as they read pornography." Even more absurdly, it suggests rape among whites was unknown before exposure to non-white cultures since, apparently, "once white men were persuaded they could commit sexual assaults against black women with impunity, their conduct toward women of their own race could not remain unmarred."

The important point is that, if your baby sister became a rape victim, she would be forced to endure -- and fend off -- this kind of nonsense at her local crisis centre instead of receiving the straightforward services she deserves. And just in case you think such extremity is confined to loopy Vancouver, let me tell you about the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre.

Last year, when the centre celebrated its 25th anniversary, the gay newspaper Xtra ran an article that seems to suggest the centre's raison d'être isn't assisting assaulted women, but providing a "dyke-friendly atmosphere" for its staff. In the article, "a counselor and one of the seven lesbians out of a staff of nine," informs the journalist she "was straight when she started at the center 21 years ago. And lesbians have always had high visibility there." That's all very well. But the article fails utterly to address the question of why the average rape victim should care that "the centre's been a stable place for lesbians to organize" and is "unique among Toronto's lesbian organizations" due to its longevity.

Vancouver's Rape Relief told the Human Rights tribunal that Kimberly Nixon, who underwent a male-to-female sex change 10 years ago, should not be allowed to counsel rape victims because she can't fully appreciate all the nuances of the female experience. But if that is the case, why is it OK for primarily lesbian staffers to be providing services to the Toronto centre's overwhelmingly straight clientele?

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  • Vancouver Rape Relief
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