Exhibit: Women Who Dared
BiographiesMultimediaBy CityAbout WWD Jewish Gender Activism
What She Said
  Janet Yassen
  Anti-violence Advocate
  Boston WWD Event 2003
  Born in 1950
  Helped create the field of advocacy and treatment for victims and survivors of violence
Biography  up to top

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.

What She Said  up to top
It's really hard to separate [my work and my Jewish values]... because I'm a whole person who takes me wherever I go. ...More 
There was definitely a pretty strong influence around community work [from my parents], although it was not really political work. ...More 
I was very close to my father's parents... We lived with [them] for a couple of years when I was a teeny baby, before we moved out. ...More 
I've had a lot of role models. I guess I'd expand it to teachers, really. My grandparents, all the people, my friends through my life who have challenged me in different ways ...More 
I think the idea of community is that especially nowadays there's really not one community. So I think that I find and seek communities that I can find and get support in. ...More  Audio available
Well it's always hard to juggle, but fortunately I do have a partner who is also committed to arranging a flexible work schedule ...More 
Right from the beginning we were always growing and changing, responding to what was needed. I think the real spirit of the movement has to do with being connected to what's really going on and listening to people. ...More  Audio available
When I moved up here the first thing I did to try to get oriented and to try to feel some sort of connection was to go to the Cambridge Women's Center ...More 
I think that sometimes people think I'm a complete pain in the butt because I'm constantly raising issues or challenging power hierarchy or people's assumptions about themselves or the world ...More 
I think all of the work that I do transforms me every minute. It affects me sometimes in a negative way because there aren't any movies that I can go to -- very few really. ...More 
[The greatest challenge] in some ways is maybe finding community to really grow and feel supported in the work. Because you can't do it alone ...More 
All the challenges and the rewards are almost the same, actually. In this [multicultural] paradigm, we learn about 'both/and' and it really is 'both/and' thinking. So I think it is finding communities ...More 
How to Become and Stay an Activist...
  • Look around you and into your heart and find something that you are really passionate about, or something that really, really bothers you.
  • ...More 
Multimedia  up to top
Photographs Photographs
Audio Clips Audio 
Answer - Being a Woman Activist (Janet Yassen)
 up to top

How to Cite This Page
For a bibliography: Jewish Women's Archive. "JWA - Women Who Dared - Biography Janet Yassen." <http://jwa.org/exhibits/wwd/jsp/bio.jsp?personID=pjyassen>.

For a footnote: Jewish Women's Archive, "JWA - Women Who Dared - Biography Janet Yassen," <http://jwa.org/exhibits/wwd/jsp/bio.jsp?personID=pjyassen>.