An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
Video and Audio Archive

Marcia Blackstock
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Marcia Blackstock
Interviewee:Marcia Blackstock;
Oakland, CA
Date of Interview:February 26, 2003
Location:Sacramento, CA

Marcia Blackstock

Executive Director, Bay Area Women Against Rape


Blackstock is the Executive Director of Bay Area Women Against Rape, which was founded in 1971 and is recognized as one of the first three victim assistance programs in the nation.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Marcia Blackstock became involved in Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR) as a volunteer in 1978. BAWAR had been formed in 1971 by an outraged foster mother whose high school-age daughter had been treated badly both by the police and the emergency room staff after she was raped. The early goals at BAWAR were to create a safe place for rape survivors to visit for support and counseling, and to conduct outreach and education for the community and the criminal justice system.

Interview Summary

Context of the Era

BAWAR had a "huge adversarial relationship" with law enforcement, hospital personnel, mental health professionals, and the judiciary in the early days. Blackstock remembers that BAWAR's views were not trusted, nor did BAWAR trust anyone in the system to appropriately assist sexual assault victims. "It was a lot of upheaval, a lot of anxiety, and frustration," Blackstock recalls. On the other hand, there was substantial community support from the local universities and other collective groups such as the Berkeley Free Clinic and the Women's Health Collective that were also working and organizing to see that people were treated with dignity and respect and that their needs were met.

Greatest Challenge

Looking back, Blackstock believes that the greatest challenge was establishing credibility among professionals in the various fields that dealt with rape victims. The therapists, law enforcement officers, judiciary, and hospital personnel considered themselves the "experts" and maintained an adversarial relationship with BAWAR mainly because of its grassroots origins. The BAWAR advocates were not considered to be "professionals."

"We were coming from a peer-support, community-based, grassroots organization that brought in a huge variety of people from a variety of backgrounds and education and ideas, but all coming together and focusing on a common goal. But we were considered 'peer' and not 'professional', at best paraprofessional and rarely that."

One of the problems that BAWAR faced was that licensed counselors who felt that they were more knowledgeable had no experience at all working with sexual assault victims. Today BAWAR provides 24-hour hotline counseling and short-term in-person peer counseling on a one-to-one basis. In addition, many training programs have been developed about sexual assault and its impact that therapists attend before victims are referred to them.

Successful Strategies

Blackstock believes the best tactic BAWAR developed was an ability to listen. They were able to listen to sexual assault survivors, they were able to listen to each other in the nascent movement, and they were able to listen to the system-based professionals whom they were trying to convince to change their ways.

"We listened until we could find our commonalities. Then we had a place we could start working from that was not threatening to them. I really do think that is what has put us where we are today. We have an amazing relationship with everyone in our county: with the courts, the police (every police department), and we have 16 police departments and we're working with all of the hospitals. But that was a long, hard struggle to get there."


As a movement, Blackstock believes "we fail to respect ourselves sometimes and we fail to acknowledge how much we really know." Many rape crisis centers have been forced to become more system-based, often in response to funding concerns, and they have moved away from their grassroots, community-based origins. She believes that there is a risk when centers move away from their grassroots base of support, which results in rape survivors losing some of the support they need.

Greatest Accomplishments

While Blackstock thinks that there have been a "gazillion" accomplishments, she feels that the protocols and procedures that have been developed and put into place regarding first response to sexual assault victims, interview procedures, medical examination treatment, and counseling are extremely important. Moreover, the protocols are in place whether or not rape victims report the crime to the police, and they still receive appropriate services.

Vision for the Future

From Blackstock's point of view, the most important goal is to keep doing the work and don't lose sight of the original vision. New people coming into the field should remember that there were some truly amazing women before them. They have not experienced the feminist battles that advocates had to endure in the fight to create change. It is important to go forward but not without remembering the original mission and the battles fought to get where we are today.

Greatest Fear

In the economic climate in which we live Blackstock's biggest fear is that funding will be cut, and she fears that rape crisis centers will be among the first programs that will be cut.

"I think they know we're not going away. And I think they know we'll just go back to our kitchen table and we'll just go back to being 100 percent volunteer-based and we're not gonna' stop.....I also think that it's a disadvantage because that's in the minds of a lot of people. 'Oh,... we can cut them 'cause they're gonna still do the work'."