Nairn Galvin was a member of the core group of women who founded Hamilton’s Rape Crisis Centre in 1977 – now SACHA. Erin, a Public Educator at SACHA, had a chance to chat with Nairn not only about the starting of Take Back the Night (TBTN) in Hamilton but also about the founding of the Rape Crisis Centre.
Erin: What was your role in making TBTN happen in Hamilton?
Nairn: I remember that I did a lot of work on planning. I remember it being exciting, a lot of fun and scary too because you really were putting yourself out there. It took a while to get support from other women’s groups.
Erin: What were the planning meetings like?
N: We certainly didn’t start in June. Someone had heard that Take Back the Night (TBTN) existed and it was a possibility for women to do. The idea caught fire. It was something that we could do to make a statement. To make a point. To be in people’s faces about violence. At that time you never even saw the word ‘rape’ in the paper. They wouldn’t print the word. People were still doing the ostrich and saying “This doesn’t happen”. This was something we really wanted to do but I was aware that it was a pretty risky thing because we were going to be taking to the streets. People don’t always like you standing up and telling them things they don’t want to hear. That’s what TBTN is about – saying “This happens here. What the heck are you gonna do about it?”
I don’t remember having police support in those days. I don’t remember them showing up to protect us. It was like ‘There you go. You’re on your own girls.’
There’s a wonderful thing about helping women and being there for them and helping them help themselves. There’s a reason we use the word empowerment so much. We were doing something that was different. That was very invigorating.
We were lucky to never have anything really terrible happen. We had some crappy stuff but nothing terrible.
E: Do you remember what the organizational structure of the Rape Crisis Centre was at that time?
N: It was a collective. In the beginning it was completely volunteer run. I think the first amount of money that we had was five thousand dollars and we basically used it to rent a phone. I don’t even remember how much of an office there was. Perhaps it was just a little room. All volunteer. Even when there was staff, the organization was so busy doing the work that nobody was keeping a record or a history. I’ve got a really good memory, but I certainly don’t remember everything. By 1980 there was staff. I was on the board of directors off and on. I was staff in 1983 as the volunteer coordinator and at that point there was a director and another person who handled the money.
E: So all the programs were delivered by volunteers?
N: Oh yeah!
E: That’s amazing and a lot of work!
N: They [all programs] were all delivered by volunteers. During that time my job was volunteer coordinator on two thirds time, which meant that you got paid for two thirds of the week but you really worked the whole week. My job was to coordinate all the volunteers, to run the crisis line and to do volunteer training. So the coordinating by that I mean to all the volunteer meetings, organizing both the public speaking schedule and the crisis line schedule, and if someone couldn’t take a shift on the line, I would take the shift. It got really interesting in the summer… Volunteers did all of it. It was pretty wild!
E: Do you remember who was organizing Take Back the Night at the time? Was it a committee made up of community members? Was it lots of different agencies in Hamilton?
N: That year in 1981 I wasn’t on the committee but the director of The Rape Crisis Centre was on the committee. I’m not sure who else was on it. My memory is that TBTN was organized by the Sexual Assault Centre on its own for quite a while – it wasn`t until the mid eighties that other organizations jumped on board.
E: What was the tone of the conversation about TBTN in those early years?
N: Excitement mixed with ‘What do we think is going to happen?’. It was a bit nuts. We had no idea what was going to happen. We had some things we could control but there were lots of things that were really out of our control. There was no way to know whether anyone would pay attention to it. What’s worse, someone hating you or someone ignoring you? Someone supporting you would be best! Those first three years were there were some pretty strong responses. People didn’t have a clue what we were doing. It was unknown. We were excited to put it out there – that this is important. Pay attention! When I was working on TBTN there was a part of me that really did grab on to the idea that for a practical viewpoint that I did not own the night. It wasn’t mine. It was a place to be careful in. To take it back was a real thing. Why is it only once a year? Why isn’t it all the time?
E: Were you in the core group that founded the center?
N: I was there in the first few months. It was a group that started off out of the brand new Women’s Centre. It started out of consciousness raising groups. People would get to a level of comfort with one another and people would start talking about experiences of being assaulted. Out of that some of the people decide we should do something about it.