My Experience as a Rape Crisis Counselor (Part 1)
Last September I signed up to be a volunteer for the DC Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC). Over the last few months I’ve been getting my feet wet and becoming more comfortable with my role. During that time, lots of people have asked me what it’s like to be doing this work. I finally feel like I’m at a place where I can begin to articulate my experience.
What We Do
DCRCC, like many other rape crisis centers across the country, is dedicated to helping survivors and their families heal from the aftermath of sexual violence through crisis intervention, counseling and advocacy. As a volunteer for DCRCC I serve as a hotline counselor and advocate.
- Hotline counselors are trained to provide support for survivors on our 24-hour crisis hotline. This is often the first resource survivors will use for support because the anonymity often makes it easier to talk about their experience. It is also a way for them to obtain resources and information they need to progress in the healing process.
- Advocates are trained to provide support to survivors at hospitals, police stations or in court. Most of our work as advocates at DCRCC is supporting survivors through the reporting (if they so choose) and rape kit processes in the hospital, which can be very overwhelming and traumatic. Advocates can be requested by calling the 24-hour hotline.
Since graduating from training in November, I’ve had several hotline and advocacy shifts. While we are trained to handle any hotline or advocacy calls that we receive during those shifts there is a part of me that jumps for joy every time I’m not called. Even though I’m fully aware that this could be a result of many different factors, my hope is that the lack of calls is directly correlated to a permanently decreased need for our services. It's the idealist in me.
One of my favorite requirements of being a volunteer is having to attend supervision and inservice once a month. Supervision is our time to get together as volunteers and discuss our shifts since we aren’t allowed to discuss details of our shifts with anyone, not even our family or significant others. It provides us with the opportunity to release emotions, share anxieties and talk through tough situations. Inservice is like continuing education in my mind. In the past we have had presentations on topics like stalking and have met with representatives from other orgs like Women Empowered Against Violence (WEAVE) to discuss the work they do and the partnership they have with DCRCC.
Why I Do It
I’m moved to do this because of my passion for empowering women and girls. I’ve spent a significant amount of my time in the past working with youth and teenage girls; however I’ve never dealt first hand with issues affecting the women in my community. I knew that signing up to work with DCRCC to help women (and men!) heal and regain control of their lives after surviving sexual violence would be a powerful experience.
Moreover, I’m moved to do this work because I abhor the way in which women are often the target of sexual violence around the world. I hate that survivors of sexual violence are often blamed by the media, their friends, their family, and their communities. I also believe that everyone has the right to enjoy a healthy sex life without fear, intimidation or anxiety.
I’m moved to do this work, because as one of the volunteers said in supervision today, I’m a member of this community, and I recognize that any of these survivors could be me. Most importantly, I’m moved to do this work because I refuse to get angry about these things and not do anything about it.
What You Can Do
As volunteers for a rape crisis center we get a lot of “Oh, wow! That must be tough. That’s incredible.” kinds of comments. I’m not going to say we don’t appreciate them, because we do love being recognized for our work. However, we would be even more grateful if you decided to join us in our mission of creating a world free of sexual violence.
Here are a few ways you can get involved:
- Promote the 24-Hour Rape Crisis Hotline. In DC it’s 202-333-RAPE. We talk to survivors as well as friends and family of survivors from all over the country. To find a local rape crisis center that can provide you with resources in your own community, go to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) website. RAINN also has an online hotline that survivors can use.
- Educate Yourself and Inform Others. There are a lot of myths and misinformation out there about rape and sexual assault. Understanding and sharing these facts with other people allows for effective and impactful dialogue on the issue.
- Become a Volunteer. Organizations like DCRCC are dependent on a large, reliable corps of volunteers to keep everything running smoothly. The training you receive is phenomenal, and the relationships and experience you gain throughout the process is truly priceless.
I want to end with one important message: If a friend or family member discloses an assault to you, the most important thing you can do for that person is to affirm his/her feelings about the incident, be a listening ear and present as many options for next steps as possible (always allowing him/her to make all decisions without any pressure from you). If you need advice, call the hotline and we can help you.