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Image courtesy of United Way Ottawa.

Community Builders: Survivors reclaim their voices at the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre

By Stephanie Dong on August 8, 2018

Content Warning: The following may contain triggering and/or sensitive material. Sexual violence and sexual assault are some topics mentioned.

Stephanie Dong is one of Apt613’s correspondents at United Way Ottawa. With its Community Builder Award program, United Way Ottawa honours Ottawa’s outstanding volunteers: the organizations, partnerships, agencies, neighbourhood groups and individuals who work tirelessly to make our city a better place for everyone.

Survivors can be anyone, and they are everywhere.

Folks who have experienced sexual violence are, in so many ways, ordinary people living their everyday life, just like anyone else. The difference is that they move through their lives as survivors of sexual assault, harassment, or abuse. And survivors of sexual violence often face a multitude of challenges: victim blaming, flashbacks, mental health challenges, and more. The harm they have experienced can live in their bodies for years, sometimes unrecognized, and each survivor responds in their own time, and in their own way. But they all share one thing in common: not one of them should feel alone.

A beacon of hope.

The Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre provides support and a confidential and secure space for sexual assault survivors. A safe haven for women, gender-fluid, non-binary and trans survivors, the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre offers a 24 hour crisis line, as well as accompaniment to and from hospitals, police stations, and any other location where survivors may not feel safe or comfortable.

When a survivor reaches out, the ORCC makes sure someone is there to answer.

The ORCC serves survivors who have experienced childhood sexual abuse, recent assault, rape or sexual harassment. Many people who contact the Centre struggle with not being believed, or have been blamed for the sexual violence they have experienced. This is a perspective the ORCC works to change.

By survivors, for survivors.

Created by survivors, for survivors, the centre offers a wide array of programs and services to meet each client’s diverse needs. In addition to their 24-hour crisis line, the ORCC has various counselling services and public education programs.

“There’s been a pretty exponential and immediate change over the last few years of survivors supporting one another to feel empowered to talk about their experiences and to self-identify,” says Sunny Marriner, Executive Director at the ORCC, “And that’s what we want to see, we want to see a space where survivors can reach out.”

“For me it’s been about giving hope–that life can be better, that people’s lives matter, that they can be whole again.”

“I came to the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre as a survivor of sexual violence,” says Josephine Basudde. Now a Crisis Line and Volunteer Coordinator at the ORCC, Josephine has seen how the transition of other women has reflected her own.

“My experience is that our work is about hope,” says Josephine. “For me it’s been about giving hope–that life can be better, that people’s lives matter, that they can be whole again.”

On May 31, 2018 at its annual gala, United Way Ottawa was honoured to present the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre with the “Healthy People, Strong Communities” Community Builder of the Year award. Recognizing a person or organization whose work focuses on the improvement of the lives of those most vulnerable in our community, the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre fully embodies the values of this award.

Inspired by their phenomenal work, attendees at the awards gala also raised approximately $13,000 for the Centre. Kicked off by donations from spark and matched by Design First and Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, money raised will support services that change the status quo around sexual violence in our community.

“Individuals who survive violence and trauma, and continue on in the day-to-day, to raise children, go to school, go to work, to be part of their community–their strength and resilience is astounding,” says Sunny, “And we get a lot of honour from that.”

Through research, evaluation and partnerships with community experts, United Way Ottawa identifies the root causes of the biggest social challenges facing our community, and helps find solutions that change tens of thousands of lives for the better. One hundred percent of donations stay in Ottawa to help those most in need.