Crime Victim Center began with one woman and a mission. In 1971 Joan Martin saw a need in Erie County. She realized that there were no services available to individuals who were victims of sexual assault. Many times all that was wanted or needed was an ear to listen. Joan 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.
Taken from Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape Taking Back the Night, The Story of Pennsylvania’s Anti-Sexual Violence Movement.
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.
A policeman came to her house to take a statement and said, “Why don’t you call someone who can help you?”
Martin picked up the phone and said, “Who do I call?”
The policeman said, “I don’t know.”
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,” says 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.”
Martin was quick to get involved in the organization of a state coalition because she believed a strong political presence was necessary for the success of the individual’s centers.
“I wanted people to know who we were and that we weren’t isolated center,” recalled Martin.
She says it never occurred to her that she might be nominated as president of the emerging state coalition, and she was completely surprised to be elected. While the role of president was daunting, she also recalls the tremendous support of her fellow board members as well as executive director Sandy Lambert.
“This was one of the wisest group 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 then Erie County Assistant District Attorney Tom Ride and the anti-sexual violence movement, but she says 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.