local her story
Photo by Chris Hammond
The Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Information
Centre has been providing support to the victims of sexual assault
since its establishment in 1977. Despite the fact that volunteers
have made major contributions to the womens movement, little
study has been dedicated to their impact.
A Memorial graduate student is out to remedy that.
Lynn Hartery is researching and writing a masters thesis
in Womens Studies entitled The St. Johns Rape Crisis
Centre and the Women Who Made it Happen.
I was a volunteer at the centre, she noted as the
origins of her research. I was surprised to learn that
how little was known about its history ... and that is when I
started asking questions about previous volunteers.
I decided when I started my masters that it would
be a good project: to interview women around St. Johns
who were involved at the beginning of the centre and put together
Her research concentrates on the origins of the centre, then
known as the St. Johns Rape Crisis Centre, in 1977, to
1990, when it changed its name. Established by women volunteers,
over its history it evolved such services as a 24-hour crisis
line to assist the victims of sexual assault. Besides the crisis
line, it continues to actively inform the public of the seriousness
of the problem of sexual assault through written materials and
presentations to schools and other organizations.
However, selecting this topic presented some methodological problems.
First, there was a difficulty with sources. There were
few documents and no history (about the centre), Ms. Hartery
mentioned. Women who were around in 1977 had a lot of this
information in their heads, but it had never been recorded.
This meant that she had to rely on techniques for gathering oral
history. Memorial has considerable strengths in this area because
of its Department of Folklore. My main research method
was interviewing, Ms. Hartery said. We tend to consider
documents as being more credible than peoples memories.
People think that relying on memories will not produce factual
She pointed out that, people will remember what is relevant
to them, and sometimes you will end up with conflicting information.
Im basically relying on people telling me a story.
Because of this, Ms. Hartery dedicated part of her research to
describing the memories of former volunteers. Instead of
me asking questions (during the interview) that would indicate
to the participant what I thought was important, my questions
were open-ended so that people would tell me what meant the most
to them, she commented.
I think that a strength of Lynns work has been the
time she has spent interviewing, said Dr. Diane Tye of
the Department of Folklore, one of Ms. Harterys supervisors.
She has spoken to women who were involved and recorded
their memories, and that is a very important record.
The second major challenge she faced was in traditional approaches
to the writing of history. For a lot of people, history
is the story of great wars and great men, Ms. Hartery said.
Sometimes women fit into that category, but that is not
the kind of history that my research is trying to produce.
Following the lead of thinkers like Joan Wallach Scott and Gerda
Lerner, Ms. Hartery terms her work a her story, as
opposed to the male-dominated hisstories mentioned
above. Traditionally, women have come together and provided
services that have not been provided by government, Ms.
Hartery argued, but they are not given credit for the work
they do, a lot of which is volunteering. These contributions
should be documented as part of our history.
Dr. Linda Kealey, Ms. Harterys supervisor from the Department
of History, concurred. This is a branch of local research
in which almost nothing has been done, she told the Gazette.
It fills an important gap in the history of the womens
movement; showing what women actually have done in the volunteer
I want to make a part of mainstream history the ordinary
women who do extraordinary things, like volunteer their time
to help victims of sexual assault, Ms. Hartery said. Groups
rely on history to tell them who they are; it underlines a common
bond. The women who are and were volunteers at the centre will
share this history, this common bond.
Sexual Assault Crisis Line is available at 726-1411 or 1-800-186-2743.