By Dan Church, CCASA Blogger
One of my favorite parts of being a volunteer coordinator for a sexual assault prevention and care center is meeting with new potential volunteers. Some people have a real clear idea of what they want to do and others have no idea, but they are all people who are passionate enough about our goals of putting an end to sexual assault that they are literally willing to donate their time, effort, and energy to the cause. These people are not only absolutely necessary to help local rape crisis centers run 24 hour hotlines and hospital advocacy programs, but they are also a model of who we wish everyone in our communities could be. Not everyone needs to commit their entire life to stopping sexual violence (although I wouldn’t complain if they decided they wanted to). All it really takes is a community where EVERYONE is willing to take small steps to say, “Sexual violence is not okay. It will not be ignored, tolerated, or condoned”.
But you might ask, “How exactly should I get involved? What will be impactful and meaningful for me, as well as for my community?” Here is a list of questions you might consider when you’re thinking about how you would like to help support survivors of sexual assault and end rape culture.
What kind of impact do you want to have?
When you think about our current society views or treats sexual assault, what gets you the most fired up? How do you imagine a world that supports survivors, or where sexual violence doesn’t even exist, might look differently from the world we live in today? Rape culture is widespread and pervasive, so our responses need to be equally broad and dynamic. Perhaps you think change needs to start with what we teach youth. You might consider assisting in community outreach and education. Perhaps you passionately believe every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be believed, cared for, and treated with dignity. You might find a hotline, shelter, or advocacy program that lets you do just that. Maybe you think our government needs to hold people more accountable, so you could join a legislative policy committee. What kind of change do you want to see and how can you be a part of it?
Where do your talents and skills lie?
It can be good to push and stretch your comfort zone, but some of the best work we do is that which comes naturally. Do you find yourself starting up conversations with random strangers? Do you have technical or artistic talents an agency would love to use but can’t afford? Are your friends always coming to you to share their problems? Do you find joy in doing the number crunching that no one else seems to enjoy? A movement requires all types of people. Get creative and collaborative in figuring out what unique things you could bring to an agency or group!
What are your motivations?
I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t have a personal reason for getting involved in fighting sexual assault. Whether you are a survivor, know or love someone who is, or simply have a passion for justice and helping others, it is important to think about what doing this kind of work would mean to you. These motivations not only help us to keep going when we get that hotline call in the middle of the night or when we’re on our fifth straight hour of folding donation letters, but it also helps us determine what is going to feel the most fulfilling. If I want to tell survivors about how I found hope and strength after an assault, perhaps community outreach is a more appropriate venue than on a hotline.
How might this work affect me?
Sexual assault is not an easy issue to take up. Even if you are just handing out information at an event, it can be heavy and emotional. Doing this type of work allows you to see incredible acts of strength, love, and perseverance, but it also forces you to bear witness to pain, suffering, and injustice. Everyone has their own levels of what feels manageable. Don’t take on tasks that won’t be sustainable. It does no good to help others if we are only hurting ourselves in the process.
Where is there need?
The act of volunteering, or doing any kind of service-oriented work, is about what people need, not what you want. An agency or group may not have a specific need for something you had to offer, but don’t let that make you feel unappreciated or useless. Brainstorm and collaborate with others to identify the needs of a group, agency, or community. Educate yourself about the issue and what is already taking place in your city or neighborhood. Be open to the process and remember that no act of service is a small one.
There are individuals, non-profit agencies, businesses, and groups all across our state that are committed to coming together to end sexual assault. Contact your local sexual assault victim service provider or CCASA to find out how you can get more involved. An engaged community is not just a way to stop sexual violence, it is the way.