March 19, 2014

Saying Goodbye – A volunteer testimony

After three years of volunteering for the Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC), it is time for me to graduate and move on. Volunteering at the SASC has been an emotional journey. As a survivor of sexualized violence, it was a big decision for me to even begin volunteering with the SASC.  I can still remember walking in on the first day of our three day intensive training session to Sharon’s (the then Manager’s) smiling face and wondering if I had made the right decision.  About twenty future volunteers sat in a circle facing each other. No one was talking and eye contact was scarce. I felt a little relieved to realize that I wasn’t the only one who was nervous. Talking about sexual assault was not something that I did on a day to day basis and from the anxiety in the room; I felt that I was not alone in this. The tension was easily broken when Sharon and Emily (the then Program coordinator) welcomed us and wanted us to open with a round to introduce ourselves. The round gave me a good sense that I was in the presence of some fellow survivors and the rest were just genuinely lovely people wanting to make a difference and put an end to sexualized violence.

We spent the weekend together listening and learning about the many facets of sexualized violence including victim blaming, the laws around sexual assault, the various layers of oppression that make certain people more vulnerable to experiencing sexual assault and trying to reflect on the role we may play in promoting values that condone or ignore sexualized violence in our culture. The most troubling part about the training for me was when we were taught some basics about supporting a survivor. One of those basics was telling the survivor over and over again that it is not their fault. It could not be any clearer to me that we live in a society that blames survivors. Each day after training I would sit on the bus and feel any energy I had left drain from my body. My emotions were worn out, my mind past its level of coping. How could we live in a world where survivors were left with so few options? I’d learned that day that even when survivors do report the violence that they have experienced (only 10% do) that most of the time the police will try to figure out what they did wrong to make it happen, not believe them or even if the perpetrator is brought up on charges and convicted the sentencing can be as little as thirty days of community service. It was starting to become clear to me how it was possible that the doctor I had gone to after my assault hadn’t believed or supported me. At that time I had thought that, that doctor must have known something that I didn’t. She had told me that I was eighteen and sex was okay. She must have known that it was my fault. The worst part of it was that I had believed her. I truly thought that it was my fault. Clearly I was not the first person who had been made to feel that way while still processing the trauma they had experienced. Knowing that I wasn’t alone didn’t make me feel better. It only made me feel angrier. Anger was and still is a motivator for me. It pushed me to table at outreach events, to facilitate workshops that educated people about what was going, how they can get involved, even putting stickers on endless amounts of condoms and putting together safe sex packages felt like a small sacrifice to make, especially when I was doing all these things alongside people who think and feel the same way I do about the injustices surrounding sexualized violence.

When I think about having to leave this Centre and these people although many have already left before me, I feel saddened at the prospect of not being able to table with someone I’ve never met before and end up having a two hour conversation about anything and everything , about not being able to be present in a room full of people that are all respectful and interested in learning and contributing to making the community a safer place for survivors and contributing to the eradication of rape culture on a daily basis. Mainly I am sad about leaving a place that was an incremental step in my journey to learning that what happened to me was not my fault. That what happens to so many people far too often is never their fault. The fault lies with the perpetrators and a society that blames the survivors for the perpetrators actions and ignores the reality of what is really going on. Going into the training, I was one out of twenty people who felt anxious about even discussing sexual assault. After three years I’ve become one out of sixty people who feel that to not talk about what is going on is an act of violence in itself.

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