THE FIVE LIFE LESSONS I LEARNED AS A SEXUAL ASSAULT COUNSELOR
The call could come in at any time really. Day, night, while I’m making dinner or brushing me teeth. Sometimes, I would get the call at 8am, other times at 4am. Still, others, in the afternoon. The calls came and were swift and I’d throw on my shoes and drive to the hospital. I’d walk through a private entrance, just for me and the women, men, or children I’d be meeting. I’d enter my code and go through the door, quickly say hi to the nurses, then gave everything I had, all my focus, attention, and energy, to the person I’d be sitting with through the most vulnerable experience of their life.
I had just gotten engaged to my (now) husband. He knew I had always wanted to get certified to be a victim advocate through the state. He championed me as I went to hundreds of hours of classes. Some difficult to sit through, not for lack of entertainment but rather the sheer horrific reality of the issue of sexual assault.
When I was finally certified, I would be on-call once or twice a month as a first responder when a victim of sexual assault was taken to the hospital. Every person I met there was different, unique, and beautiful. And each one taught me something. From the clients to the police officers, to the nurses dedicated to these cases, I learned so much about myself, how to be there for others, and blindspots of our society.
- We must deal with our stuff
I cannot be there for someone affectively if I have not ventured into the dark spaces of my own story. I can try. I can put on a fake front and smile and make everything appear good—but the person on the other side of the conversation will know when I’m faking it. When I’m screaming “truth” that I don’t believe for myself or my own life. We must go back into our own dark places in order to tell someone else, I know. Me too; I’ve been there too. And you will get through it.
- Not everything is black and white
My car was broken into this week, and the first thing the police asked was “well…was it unlocked.” The justice-seeker in me was beyond frustrated. Why the heck would it matter? Someone WALKED INTO MY DRIVEWAY, OPENED MY CAR DOOR AND TOOK MY DIAPER BAG AND WALLET. I’ve CLEARLY been violated…When I told someone else what had happened…he asked the same damn thing then said, jokingly, “well, that will teach ya.” I just walked away. The truth is, whether a woman is wearing tall boots and short-shorts or a nun-costume, sexual assault is never ok. Whether a woman is drunk or an addict or sober doesn’t matter. If she didn’t say yes, she didn’t say yes, end of story. This is what we teach our sons: you are in control of your body. You are not some mindless primate that can’t control your hips’ movements—get a grip. If she doesn’t say yes…if she cannot say yes (as in, is she awake and alert?) then walk away. She’s just not that into you. We saw this with the Stanford case, and the victim’s brave and clear letter that rocked people’s perspectives of what assault means. We don’t do this perfectly, but my husband and I seize the opportunities we see to tell our sons that no means no and so does silence or incoherence, and that women are sacred and deserve to be treated as such.
- People have no idea how valuable they are
Probably the most notable fact I learned in my program was this: In a traumatic circumstance, you have a window of the first ten minutes to shift someone’s perspective from despair, to hope. In the first ten minutes, what you say or do is so crucial that it could give someone the fight they need to carry on. This is powerful. What we say is powerful beyond reason—and, while you may be in a community that communicates hope and value to people, whether it be your family, your church, the Yellow Collective…there is a whole population of people that have never heard the truth that they are loved, valuable, precious, etc. etc. Don’t be afraid to tell people of their worth.
- Misogyny is alive and ugly
One in five college girls will encounter some kind of sexual assault in their college career, and that one in six women will face attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. We walk with pepper spray on our keychains and get in our cars before dark because we’re afraid of what could happen. I don’t think all men are evil, not one bit. Majority are good, many amazing, and would proudly say they support their wife, sister, aunt, or friend and believe they are valuable beyond reason. But, there are some other men out there who have been given the notion and permission to claim a woman’s body as his property to manage. There are friends of ours who have been told they will not be receiving a job because they are a woman, and others that opinions have been hushed because they are a woman. Even the seemingly innocent gestures and beliefs of where a woman’s voice and leadership does and does not belong plays into the culture of “if she’s unconscious she’s fair game.” Do not be fooled, locker room talk is much, much more dangerous than we like to believe. We need more men to step out and speak up against violence and assault. Real men believe women are sacred.
- Everyone deserves to be comforted
Sit with them. Listen to them. No matter how different your views on politics or policies, how differently you look, act, sound…Whether they are homeless, dirty, privileged, presumptuous, or prideful…No one deserves such a foul attack on their life and identity. We’ve seen it on Pinterest a thousand times: be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Be there. Set your biases aside and be there; because you never know if there will come a day where someone so different than you may be the one healing your heart the most.
Our world is going through some big changes. We see groups rising up to fight violence, and we see others promoting it. We’re seeing shifts in leadership and culture and opinions and I see opportunity. Go into the dark places, speak life into someone with a different background than yours, and choose to see the beauty in the Other. We are in this together, people. No one is exempt from fear, heartache, and hurt. No one is undeserving of love. We are responsible for our actions and treatment of people, whether they are the same or different—and I will turn towards the victim and say, I’ve been to those dark places to. And you will see light again.