My first ever volunteer post was back in 1980, at a Women’s Aid refuge for victims of domestic violence. I will never forget the sight of those women coming in through the doors, crying with desperate relief at having escaped abusive husbands; finding comfort in the company of other women who had experienced the same.
That safe environment, where women could flee and open up about their abuse without feeling frightened or belittled, saved many lives. The need for such services was recognised and acted upon by feminist movements back in the Sixties, at a time when the state did not recognise domestic violence or rape in marriage as a crime.
But, having provided necessary sanctuary for more than five decades, their continued existence is now in doubt, under attack from all sides. The Right slashes their funding. The Left, swept along by misogynistic transgender ideology, is moving to deny the safety and succour of sex-segregated services to women traumatised by male violence. It is welcoming transgender women – natal men – in their rape crisis centres and domestic violence shelters. It’s not a stretch to see why traumatised females, abused by men, wouldn’t want to share their safe space with male genitalia.
Under the UK Equality Act, it is perfectly lawful to provide discrete services for men and women if this is a better or more effective way of providing the said service. You’d think this would very much apply to rape refuge centres. But the bullying and harassment from trans-activists towards politicians, funders, sponsors and patrons has frightened them into opening their doors to transgender women. The law that is supposed to be protecting women is left hanging by a thread.
This is not actually new problem. It may be a new front in the transgender turf wars in the UK. But Vancouver Rape Relief (VRR) a women’s support and campaigning NGO in Canada, has been victimised by transgender activists since the mid 1990s. Now after their long struggle, this small, grassroots, volunteer-led organisation is under threat of losing its funding.
I first heard of VRR in December 2003 when I saw a news report about a long-running legal battle that the organisation had with a transgender person, Kimberly Nixon.
In 1995 Nixon, a former airline pilot who had lived as a man until the age of 33, applied to VRR to train as a counsellor for women who had experienced sexual violence. Nixon was rejected because, since she had not had the experience of growing up as a girl, she would not understand the impact of male violence and misogyny on the lives of the women who sought support from VRR.
The very next day, Nixon filed a formal Human Rights Complaint supported by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, claiming that she had been discriminated against for being transgender.
VRR tried everything humanly possible to prevent this complaint ending up in a lengthy legal battle. The organisation exists on a shoestring, and the last thing they needed was litigation. VRR offered a formal written apology, and suggested that Nixon could support the rape crisis line and shelter work by joining a fundraising committee. They also offered to apologise directly to Nixon as well as offering $500 in acknowledgement of ‘hurt feelings’, and requested mediation.
Nixon rejected the offers, and pursued the group through various stressful and expensive legal proceedings until it was finally resolved in 2007. In 2009, the Supreme Court awarded VRR costs, but Nixon has not, to this day, paid a cent.
After reading the 2003 Supreme Court ruling that VRR had not discriminated against Nixon, and did have the right to organise as women only, I wrote what has become an infamous column in the Guardian. I argued that Nixon, who was raised male, was arrogant to assume that she would be suitable to counsel women who had chosen to access a service that offers support from women who have suffered similar experiences.
The trans extremists came after me big style. Ever since, I have been classed as Top TERF and bullied, harangued, threatened, picketed, disinvited from university events, attacked on stage when speaking on violence against women and girls, called a bigot, a Nazi, and accused of being responsible for the deaths and attacks upon transgender people. This is their knee-jerk response whenever anyone points out the bald reality that because transwomen are not natal women, they require separate services when they suffer abuse and violence.
Every year, VRR helps 1,200 women escaping male violence, and provides shelter to 120 women and their children. It is the oldest and most celebrated organisation of its kind in the country; it does vital and invaluable work in educating the general public about sexual assault and other atrocities.
But the woke brigade pursues it because the workers and volunteers, mainly women who have survived all manner of male violence themselves, have stuck to their principles, and refused to shift from a women-only service to a generic ‘everyone welcome’ one.
As a result, last week, the City of Vancouver decided that it would withdraw its annual grant to VRR, unless it caves in and accepts transwomen as clients, staff members and volunteers. The centre is already being boycotted by the BC Federation of Labour for pretty much the same reason. In this concerted effort to harm the group and remove support for the women who rely on its vital service, the transgender ideologues are behaving just like the misogynistic ‘men’s rights movement’.
On hearing the news about VRR, many of those feminists who run women-only services in the UK are naturally worried about what to expect. There is already a battle raging here between transgender extremists and feminists about the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). A similar ‘self-identification’ policy is already in place in Vancouver where there are hardly any women only services for those in street prostitution because homeless men would walk into the drop-in centres, claiming to be women. There was little the staff could do about it. I fear this is what we could be looking at in the UK if we don’t challenge this madness.
I spoke to one CEO of a sexual violence service in the UK which is also being told its funding is at risk unless it opens its doors to trans women. She asked not to be named, for fear of being targeted. “Would Rachel Dolezal be welcomed into a Black Lives Matter group?,” she asks. “Of course not! Why, then, do we think it’s OK to insist that abused and traumatised women should share their precious refuge space with natal men?”
We must take care not to forget the reason feminists set up such services in the first place: to save women’s lives. For if the bullies keep winning, leaving the refuges with no choice but to close, those desperate women and girls will have no where to go. They will return home, straight back in to the arms of danger.