Ending violence against women was a grassroots effort that grew out of the peace and civil rights movements in the 1960's, when women working to free others realized they themselves did not have many of the same rights. Conscious-raising groups began springing up around the country and for the first time women began speaking childhood molestation and incest, sexual assaults and rapes, battering.
The academic, medical, psychiatric and legal systems believed sexual assault and woman battering was rare, but we learned the truth from the survivors. Many of us were survivors ourselves. We thought about what would have been helpful to our own healing and set about creating services for others.
We formed coalitions to protest violence against women and created hotlines for victims to call. The first rape crisis hotline in the United States opened in 1972, followed two years later by the first battered women's shelter.
Corvallis Women Against Rape, one of Oregon's first sexual assault hotlines, opened in January, 1977. Operational on weekends only, volunteers staffed the hotline. In 1981, recognizing the overlap of issues, the hotline merged with Linn-Benton Association for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, which had begun in 1978.
CARDV was born.
We spoke to whatever civic group would listen to us. We marched in Take Back the Night Marches and held candlelight vigils to remember the women and children who were casualties of domestic violence. We sat in courtrooms and listened to judges who did not grant restraining orders and held meetings with those judges. We wrote letters to Congressmen and distributed leaflets on street corners. We held all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinners and researched grants.
And we spent endless nights in hospital emergency rooms with raped and battered women we had just met, yet knew to our bones because their stories were our own.
We increased hotline coverage to evenings and weekends and finally to 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. We sighed with relief when a woman called back after her abuser walked in and she had to hang up on us. And we worried when she didn't. We met frightened women and children in all-night restaurants, grocery store parking lots, or police stations and brought them into the safety of our shelter. If she wasn't safe in Corvallis, we helped her get to another town.
We were often ridiculed, mistrusted, threatened, and accused of wanting to destroy the American family. In 1978 Oregon was the first state to make marital rape illegal, even though prevailing attitudes seemed to mirror that of the California judge who said, "If you can't rape your own wife, who can you rape?"
Yet many agreed with our message - "Violence against women and children is wrong. Stop it." They, too, began to speak out. Volunteers we had trained went back to the universities and became doctors and attorneys. The battered women themselves became attorneys, ran for public offices, passed legislation.
Today, violence against women and children is no longer tolerated or justified so easily. The American Medical Association has identified domestic violence as a priority public health issue. Former Attorney General Janet Reno called domestic violence "one of the root causes of virtually every major social problem that we face in the nation today."
CARDV and our supporters have a lot to be proud of. We helped create this social change.
Today, Blake House, CARDV's first shelter, is open to the public as CARDV's Administrative Offices. CARDV operates two safe shelters at other locations.