Janet Yassen was born in Philadelphia in 1950. Her grandparents, immigrants from Russia, lived nearby, and her close relationship with them fostered a strong emotional attachment to Judaism. Yassen's Jewish identity was further enriched by her experiences at her family's Conservative synagogue and at Camp Ramah, which she attended from ages 11 to 25.
Yassen moved to Boston in 1972 after graduating from Temple University. With a history of activism in the antiwar movement, the civil rights movement, and the women's movement, she went to the Cambridge Women's Center upon her arrival in Boston, seeking a way to get involved in the community. The Rape Crisis Center group was just beginning to meet, and as Yassen wanted to help create something from the bottom up, she joined them. The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center opened in 1973, and Yassen has remained involved in this group since its founding. She and her co-activists in the anti-rape movement created the models for clinical practice, support groups, and social policy on the issue of rape and violence against women.
Influenced by the work she was already doing with the Rape Crisis Center, Yassen decided to pursue a degree in social work at Boston University. While she was a student there, she helped create a Women's Studies course that became a regular part of the social work curriculum.
In her career, Yassen moved from an early focus on rape crisis to a broader mission including child sexual abuse and other forms of violence. She has worked with both victims and perpetrators, which has helped her develop a broader perspective on the problems of violence, its impact on communities, and its socio-political context. In 1986, she began working at the Victims of Violence program at Cambridge Hospital, where she is now the Crisis Services Coordinator. Yassen has also served as an international consultant in places such as Israel, the former Yugoslavia, Belfast, Japan, Canada, and the Hague. She continues to challenge herself and others to work on issues of multiculturalism and internalized racism, bringing this exploration to her personal and professional lives.
Yassen lives in Newton, Massachusetts, with her husband, whom she met at Camp Ramah, and their two sons. They belong to the Newton Centre Minyan and strive to create a meaningful Jewish and egalitarian home for their family.