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This blog post was written by The Homomilitia.
VANCOUVER - A small group of activists gathered at Second Beach in Stanley park Sunday to provide participants in Rape Relief's Annual Walkathon with some alternative information highlighting the organization's ongoing and outspoken exclusionary stance on trans women, sex workers, and substance use.
We had decided on maintaining a relatively low key presence at the event, recognizing that the space created there may be important to some survivors of sexualized violence and that having a more aggressive demonstration would be inappropriate as it could be triggering or potentially invalidate their experiences.
We distributed pamphlets (click here to download our pamphlet) to walkathon participants and decorated the pavement with positive messages in support of trans women's rights, sex workers' rights, harm reduction, and access to support for all survivors of sexualized violence. Shortly into our intervention, we were approached by three disgruntled representatives from Rape Relief, who proceeded to use scare tactics in an attempt to intimidate and silence us. They told us that we had to leave, asked for our names, photographed us, said they were going to turn the photographs in to park security, and demanded we hand over our pamphlets. When we calmly refused, they said they were going to call the park rangers and the police.
When they returned after having allegedly called the police, they asked us to “put politics aside” and use the time before the police arrived as an “opportunity” to either dialogue or leave. When we again refused, they demanded to know if we were affiliated with a group and why we were “interfering” with their event. They also claimed that they “already provide this information to women accessing [their] services” and that they don't “disrupt” “our events”.
Although the police didn't show up, two park rangers approached us along with the Rape Relief representatives and told us that it is against a bylaw to distribute pamphlets in the park without a permit, that we couldn't “advertise” in the park, and that we couldn’t have signs (which we didn't). They said that we could stay in the park and talk to people if we stopped handing out pamphlets.
Although the park rangers asked for a copy of our pamphlet and wanted to know if we were “with a group”, they insisted that they were not targeting the content of the pamphlet or our presence there. After the park rangers and Rape Relief representatives left us alone, we regrouped and moved on to the area of the sea wall that participants would reach at the end of the walk. We covered about 50 feet worth of pavement with positive messages (including “end transphobia,” “end violence against all women”, “transphobia is violence against women”, “<3 harm reduction”, and “<3 sex workers' rights”), receiving positive feedback from a few passersby.
Our chalk-work was interrupted when two Rape Relief representatives aggressively confronted us, telling us again that we had to leave. This time, one representative actually grabbed all of our remaining pamphlets and refused to return them. We took hold of half the stack she had in her hands, at which point she reluctantly let go. She insisted that we “obviously don't understand her organization” because she is a volunteer who has worked with both sex workers and trans women – as if claiming to work with a community automatically makes Rape Relief an ally that provides support that is appropriate and non-judgemental.
Moments later, we noticed Rape Relief representatives carrying buckets of water, which they were using to wash away our messages, including messages which simply read, “end violence against all women” and “support services for all women.” We noticed that they seemed to take extra care to erase all remaining traces of messages that read, “ask Rape Relief about their trans policy,” “transmisogyny is violence” and “end transphobia.”
At this point, the park rangers returned to inform us that they “obviously weren't clear enough” regarding their bylaws. They handed us a copy of these bylaws, with the section stating that we couldn't affix, paint, advertise, or distribute information highlighted. They informed us that our messages were “defacing park property” and were in breach of the “no advertising” bylaw.
When we challenged them on this, stating that children often draw on sidewalks and that the rain will eventually wash the chalk away, the park rangers argued that “children's messages aren't political,” thereby contradicting their earlier insistence that we weren't being targeted for the content of our messages. They told us that we could either leave the park, or provide identification and be issued a warning ticket.
We were fairly shaken by Rape Relief's aggressive, and intimidating response and particularly upset over their choice to efface our messages in such a hostile manner. Although we weren't necessarily shocked, we were disappointed that the organization chose to remove messages of ending violence against all women – messages that we would hope, and perhaps even assume, that any rape crisis centre would support.
Unfortunately, we recognize that we aren't alone in our experience attempting to confront Rape Relief's violent policies. Their actions conform to their now predictable pattern of dismissing and silencing criticism of their organizational policies and culture. We are committed to challenging how Rape Relief contributes to rape culture through their practices and will continue to support the growth of community responses to violence that support all survivors.
Having attended this event for the first time, we can already think of many ways to improve next year's strategy. For anyone interested in sharing this information and strategizing, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org