At the monthly board meeting Monday, June 21 at the Jackson Street location, 30 former volunteers showed up to protest and seek answers. The board didn't show, holding a "secret" meeting elsewhere. Madorno was expected to make an announcement at the meeting, but as of press time no announcement had been made.
Seattle Rape Relief (SRR) was organized in 1972 by a group of survivors of sexual assault. It's one of five organizations in the area that deals with rape victims, and in distinction from others, its mission is overtly tied to a radical feminist critique of mainstream institutions and the dreaded patriarchy. The group is a real holdover from the 1970s: Its crisis line is run by volunteers (often survivors of sexual assault), they strive for non-hierarchical management, and they stress grass roots involvement in the community. Moreover, as opposed to an institution based entirely on grants, anyone can attend an SRR donor breakfast.
Critics of Madorno say she may be taking the agency away from its grassroots structure and philosophy, if she's not planning to close it altogether.*
SRR has gone through several executive directors in the last five years, and the board brought Madorno in to "clean house" and get the budget--estimated at $400,000--and the organization on track. Madorno is a professional interim executive director and consultant with the Seattle-based Collins group, which deals with non-profit fundraising.
On her first day at SRR, she fired three staffers publicly, giving them an hour to leave. That treatment angered other staffers, who resigned in protest. When the volunteers requested a meeting with Madorno to explain her behavior, she promptly fired all 70. The letter of explanation Madorno sent to the volunteers on June 11 gives little clue as to why this happened.
Volunteers acknowledge the organization operated at a deficit, but think budget problems don't justify Madorno's behavior--which amounts to the dissolution of the organization.
"There is money in the community. If the agency was in this dire need financially, we never heard about it. We never received a plea for fundraising or anything. Corporate sponsors weren't contacted. It seems strange that the thing done was to fire the staff and cancel a big fundraiser breakfast we have every year," says Anthippy Petras, who volunteered with the organization for seven years.
"The deficit was only around $50,000, which wouldn't account for four staff positions," added axed volunteer Angela Batiste.
Volunteers--seeking answers--wonder if Madorno is trying to make SRR less political.
In general, women's sexual assault agencies have been moving toward a more professional, health care industry approach. In the battered women's movement, for example, agencies have started thinking of abuse victims as "clients" instead of "survivors." Alisa Bierria, another former volunteer, notes that funding has changed, and now is based on outcome measures like how many women have completed a safety plan.
Bierria says, "They are making it seem more like a mainstream social service agency, [instead of] a radical agency looking at institutions and the way they perpetuate domestic violence against women."
*Editor's Note: As this article went to press SRR announced it was closing its doors due to "financial vulnerability."