I’m still enjoying my volunteer work with Scarleteen! It hasn’t quite been a year since I started volunteering but I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot; I’ve written a few advice columns and have been able to work with a lot of users. I still find myself getting frustrated by all of the pregnancy risk questions we get, but ultimately I blame poor education (especially abstinence-only programs that provide flat-out FALSE information) more than the young people who are receiving that education.
Often I find it most challenging to work with users who’ve been raped or sexually assaulted. I’m always glad when people get in touch with us because as horrible as it is that they have been assaulted, I’m glad people are reaching out for help when that happens, and I also feel like it’s a chance to use some of the training I got from the OCRCC in Chapel Hill before I moved away.
But I sometimes dread these interactions because I feel like it’s SO important for me to get things right when I’m talking to survivors. I want to give them space to make choices for themselves while offering help or resources they may not know to ask for. Often their circumstances are such that there aren’t a lot of great options open to them, or they don’t feel very supported in their daily lives. There’s only so much I as a stranger on the internet can do for them. Of course I know that, and I don’t actually expect myself to make everything magically better. It’s just that it hurts to know that I can’t.
One user’s been struggling to deal with a recent traumatic rape with the added complication that her family isn’t being particularly sensitive to her needs or desires; when she’s talking to ST volunteers I feel like I just see her apologizing over and over again for how she’s feeling, for “disrupting” her family by asking for support she needs, and for hating her attacker.
Possibly the worst part for me to see is how affected she seems to be by the standard victim-blaming narrative around rape survivors; she expresses a lot of doubt about how the incident might have been her fault, maybe she secretly wanted it, etc. And I just want to cry and cry when I see this sort of thing. I know all I can do is let her know it’s ok to be angry, that she isn’t to blame, and try to help her access better support if I can. But I never feel like I can do enough. And when I hear users internalizing and saying the sort of horrible, baseless, victim-blaming bullshit about rape and assault that I’d expect to hear from Republican candidates in an election year, it just breaks my heart.
I spoke with someone yesterday who accessed the chat service a few weeks back; she’s trying to find resources while stuck at a boarding school that blocks out “adult” sites (which of course ST is classified as, despite that making no sense). She’s worried that both school officials and her own family would blame her for her assault and that she’d be punished for it, and has almost no privacy or freedom of movement at school, so there isn’t a lot I can do for her.
I think I figured out the school based on her area and I won’t pretend I don’t have fantasies of lighting the entire place on fire with magical, rage-induced fire breath. Whether or not it’s true that this school would retract a student’s scholarship as punishment for being raped, the fact that she’s so afraid it would happen that she’s terrified to talk to anyone about it means the school has already failed by not letting the student body know they can feel safe talking about assault with faculty.
I had a little more time to talk with this user than I had the first time she came into chat, and while I still feel like I didn’t have many helpful ideas, I think we were able to come up with a few options this time. And she did thank me at the end, even though I honestly wanted to apologize for not being able to do more. I know it’s best to focus on what I can do to help users, which is often quite a bit! And certainly if someone leaves a discussion feeling hopeful enough to let me know I was able to help, that’s really all I can ask for.