In 1971, Joan Martin recognized a need in Erie County. She realized that no services were available to individuals who were victims of sexual assault. Many times all that was wanted or needed was an ear to listen. Martin began providing that ear, recruiting others to volunteer help as well. In 1973, the Erie County Rape Crisis Center was officially established, achieving nonprofit status in 1975. The agency has since grown to include services for victims of all types of crime, a fully professional staff, and a budget of over a million dollars.
Erie’s First Rape Crisis Center
Joan Martin, a mother of three and a school teacher who had just earned her degree in special education, was plucked from her suburban Erie existence into the world of anti-sexual violence advocacy when her 13-year-old daughter was raped.
The policeman that came to her aid suggested Martin call someone to help; however both Martin and the police officer didn’t know who that someone could be.
From that moment Martin decided that no one should go through the experience alone. She sought information from a rape crisis center in Washington, D.C. and got funding for a telephone line and a pager setting up Erie County’s first rape crisis center in the back of her station wagon.
“Out of everything that is difficult, something good must come,” said Martin. “It was just the right time and right place. We almost immediately had good relationships with the police and both hospitals. We did trainings at the police department, and the DA’s office was behind us.”
Establishing the Coalition
Martin was quick to get involved in the organization of a state coalition because she believed a strong political presence was necessary for the centers’ overall success.
“I wanted people to know who we were and that we weren’t an isolated center,” recalled Martin.
Martin was completely surprised to be elected as the president of the emerging state coalition, as she stated that it never occurred to her that she might be nominated. While the role of president was daunting, the tremendous support of her fellow board members as well as executive director Sandy Lambert aided Martin through the process.
“This was one of the wisest groups of women I have ever associated with,” she said.
“These were powerful, intelligent and humorous women; if we had stopped to think about what we were doing, we might have been overwhelmed, but when you’re in a group like that, and there’s a problem to be solved, you know it’s going to be solved.”
Martin said one of the strengths of the executive committee was that they each had strong mentors back home as well as supportive staff. She also says the collective committee had a good sense of humor, creativity, fantastic communication and major problem solving skills.
“I can’t tell you the delight of sitting in a brainstorming session with these women,” explained Martin.
As president, Martin wanted PCAR to establish a funding base. “We wanted to establish ties to fund the coalition, but we also wanted to see that smaller centers had a way to obtain funding, too.”
Other goals for the coalition included increasing the level of expertise within the movement and setting some standard for quality of service as well as fiscal responsibility across the board.
“We established training so that people were sharing expertise and didn’t have to reinvent the wheel,” she said.
Martin is also credited with establishing the initial relationship between the Erie County Assistant District Attorney at the time, Tom Ride, and the anti-sexual violence movement, but she explained that she was just doing her job when she educated the young attorney about the needs of sexual assault victims in the early 1980s.
“Mrs. Ridge says Joan is still their hero because of her work in Erie County,” said current PCAR Executive Director, Delilah Rumburg.
Adapted from Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape Taking Back the Night, The Story of Pennsylvania’s Anti-Sexual Violence Movement.