I first heard about the opportunity to become a Companion in my Women’s Studies 101 class at UNC during spring of my first year in college. We went around the large lecture hall and students shared the various kinds of feminist community service they were involved in. One young woman spoke about her experience as a Companion with the Orange County Rape Crisis Center and how meaningful she found the work. Having seen the effects of sexual violence in my group of closest friends and knowing the feeling of helplessness when they had come to me with their stories, I knew I wanted to be able to give more, but I was unsure of what that would look like.
After class, I spoke with my classmate and felt sure that I wanted to become a Companion with the Center. Sixty hours of training seemed daunting at first, but as the weeks went on, I built relationships with my fellow trainees and staff, and I began to understand the impact of what I was learning. When we discuss sexual violence in a classroom or read about it or even hear about it on the news, it can seem abstract. So many myths surround the topic that is often difficult to discern how someone might experience rape in real life.
As a Companion, I respond to our 24-Hour Help Line either in the office or after hours, providing crisis counseling, medical and legal referrals, and answering any questions the survivor might have. My goal is to empower survivors through our conversation and provide them with support by answering their questions and validating their feelings. We also provide legal and medical accompaniment. I have on many occasions met survivors at the hospital to advocate for them during the medical evaluation and treatment process as well as the legal interview or legal investigation.
Often when I tell people where I volunteer and what I do, they make comments like, “Wow, you’re a saint,” or “How do you do that?” All I have to say is that I love the work I do. Helping survivors of rape and sexual assault is so meaningful to me. Each call I have or survivor I meet, I feel as though time slows down just long enough for me to make the entirety of that interaction about that person such that he or she feels totally and completely heard. My goal is to provide a safe space for survivors so that whatever else is happening at that moment fades away, and all that matters is our conversation and how we can work together to start the process of healing. Every call I have, including the most trying of crisis scenarios I have faced, gives me a feeling of hope – yes, hope. If I can help someone who has gone through so much and is still brave enough to call and reach out for support from me, then I know that there is one fewer person out there suffering alone.
I am proud to say that I have been volunteering for the Orange County Rape Crisis Center as a Companion for over three years now, and I have just finished training to facilitate a support group this upcoming spring. One of the most challenging parts of being a Companion is the limited interaction we have with any one client. Due to the nature of crisis work, I might only talk to or meet with someone one or two times, and generally I do not get to see how that person is progressing and healing in the next weeks, months, or years. My hope is that through my work as a support group facilitator, I will be able to see this kind of growth.
My work as a Companion, as isolated as it might sometimes seem, has had an immensely positive impact on me. I am grateful to know that I too have had a positive impact on the lives of the survivors I have had the chance to serve.
Marissa Gluck has served as a Companion since 2010. She has supported survivors and the Center in a variety of ways since then, first as a Companion and later as an intern. Marissa has recently completed Support Group Facilitator training and is looking forward to supporting survivors of sexual violence in this new way. Many thanks to Marissa for all her hard work and dedication to the Center and those we serve, and many thanks for sharing her experiences with us as a Companion!