For the past two years I have been a volunteer advocate for the Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine. I have spent countless hours on the phone and at the hospital with victims, their friends, families and professional service providers talking about rape, sexual violence and childhood sexual assault. These are not simple issues and discussing them is rarely easy. The hotline is often the only place people feel they can turn when their lives have been disrupted by sexual violence. So often victims of sexual violence are afraid or ashamed to talk about what happened to them. Many believe that by accepting that drink or by wearing that skirt, they were somehow complicit in their own rape. Calling the hotline can be the first step toward realizing that no matter how much she had to drink, a woman never asks to be raped, no matter how dark the alley a man chooses to walk down, that never gives anyone the right to rape him.
One in four women will be the victim of sexual violence in her life. If you know four women, chances are, you know someone who has survived this traumatizing crime. It is also believed that one in thirty-two men will be the victim of sexual violence, although that number is likely under-realized due to the overwhelming social stigma male rape victims are up against when reporting or discussing their attacks.
For so many victims, whether their attacks were forty years ago or last week, the hotline provides an outlet for grief, frustration, anger, fear, sadness, loss and the myriad emotions that come when processing trauma. I am proud of the fact that I am the voice on the other end of the phone, caring and believing, listening and understanding. But the hotline has given me something back that I did not expect: hope. When a victim in the midst of a panic attack finds herself able to relax enough to get some sleep, when the mother of a child victim is able to put aside her anger and confusion to be there for her child, when a friend holds a victim’s hand through the entire rape kit and hospital exam, these moments of peace amidst such violence give me hope for the future. I truly believe that the more we talk about rape and sexual violence, the closer we come to eradicating it from our society. I look forward to the day we no longer need the hotline, but until then, I will continue to listen and continue to hope.
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