April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Here Class Action’s Annie Hamilton writes about the benefit of not actually “seeing” rape survivors, so she and other people personing the telephone lines can be free of class and other bias as they support survivors.
On the rape crisis hotline, I cannot see who I am talking to on the other end.
I hold implicit biases just like everyone else. As a society, we are conditioned to judge and group people by social markers that range from race, class and gender to sometimes more subtle markers such as a person’s facial expressions or body language.
These judgments are frequently wrong or harmful. And I am actively working to unlearn the ways that I perpetuate them.
Unfortunately, all these characteristics impact how sexual assault survivors are treated. Our society is filled with images of what the perfect rape victim looks like. She must be white, pretty, young, a virgin, sober and wealthy. She must articulate her story clearly – and in English – over and over again avoiding any contradictions. She is preferably straight and in a loving relationship with a grieving but supportive boyfriend. And lastly, she must be attacked by a stranger in a dark ally where no one could hear her loud cries for help.
Anonymous and Judgment-free
I am inclined to believe that I have never talked to a survivor on the hotline that fits all of these characteristics. But more importantly, I am not sure if I have.
I know for a fact that I have heard stories of fear and hope. I have heard pain, anger and sadness deeply resonate through the phone lines. I have heard guilt, shame and confusion that the caller feels unable to share in other spaces. And the relief in hearing, maybe for the first time, that they are not alone.
[gdlr_quote align=”left” ]Race, class, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and citizenship status all impact how rape survivors are treated.”[/gdlr_quote]
I still bring my own baggage into these conversations. But the ability to be a faceless voice on the other side of a phone allows people to speak truths too hard to share face to face. And my own anonymity allows me to behold the caller’s strength and beauty without needing to situate them within broader categories.
Unfortunately, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and citizenship status will all impact how rape survivors are treated and what sorts of resources are needed. But these characteristics should not prevent a rape survivor from being first and foremost a human being.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but the hotline continues to ring. It appears that one month of awareness is not enough to unlearn the biases that people hold that allow them to harm others. But as long as there is pain being inflicted on people, there will also be a warm voice on the other end of a hotline creating a space where humanity is honored.
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