Although sexual assault and rape have been in existence for hundreds of years, it has only been in the last century — in particular, the past 40 years — that a concerted, organized effort to end violence against women in the United States gained momentum. American history is filled with examples of oppressive and sexually violent acts perpetrated against women. However, during the 1970s, the first major groundswell of information on rape and sexual abuse began to appear. As a result, small, grassroots feminist collectives were organized, leading to the creation of the first rape crisis centers (RCCs).

These RCCs were run by passionate, feminist women volunteers whose goal was not simply to stop rape, but to totally transform existing ideologies, power relationships and social structures that were at the root of such violence (racism, sexism).1

In fact, some RCCs focused on the particular forms of oppression that reflected the experiences and needs of women of color, especially African-American women. As noted by Gillian Greensite, Director of Rape Prevention Education at the University of California, Santa Cruz, “The history of the rape crisis movement in the United States is also a history of the struggle of African-American women against racism and sexism…. Perhaps the first women in the United States to break the silence around rape were those African-American women who testified before Congress following the Memphis Riot of May 1866, during which a number of Black women were gang-raped by a white mob.” 2

This example — and many other violent and oppressive acts occurring to this day — emphasizes the critical role RCCs play in challenging the social and political structures that oppress women and other underserved communities, as well as advocating for survivors of sexual violence.

1) Collins, B., and M. Whalen. “The Rape Crisis Movement.” Social Work 34 (1989): 6-63.

2) Greensite, Gillian. “History of the Rape Crisis Movement.” Support for Survivors (1999): 11-14. Print.

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