These past few days have been heavy for those of us who care for sexual violence survivors- and even more so for the thousands of survivors in our own community. Sexual assault helplines across the state have seen an uptick in calls from survivors of all genders seeking support in their journey towards healing. Some of them want to press charges, inspired by the courage they’ve witnessed in Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony.
Regardless of your political views, you are surrounded by survivors of sexual violence, and many of them are struggling this week to keep their heads above water. If the #MeToo movement has taught us anything, it is that none of us is untouched by sexual violence. Over the last year, you have no doubt learned uneasy things about people you love. The promise of this movement all along has rested on the proposition that as more and more people who previously thought their lives had been untouched by sexual violence come to realize they, too, have survivors in their families and communities that their compassion will grow. When your sister, brother, daughter, spouse, best friend said “Me too,” they were hoping you might see their pain as valid and deserving of support. The gamble has been whether that support and compassion is transferable- if your survivors deserve support, maybe all survivors do? For those of us who spend our days working to end sexual violence and its impact, this week has been a nail-biting test of this gamble. The question on our minds has not been “Is she telling the truth?” but rather, “Will it matter?”
The answer to this question won’t come from the decisions rendered in this investigation and confirmation vote. There are far too many other complicating factors to muddy the waters here, and in the end I am not particularly hopeful that the partisan motivations of our leaders can be fully outweighed today by the courage and passion of survivors and advocates. Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong. I sure hope so. For me, the answer to this question will be answered in homes across the country, in classrooms and football practices and car rides and family dinners.
I invite you to read this message free from the partisan arguments and analysis that we’ve come to accept as debate, and to consider what we have all just witnessed from the perspective of a young survivor of sexual assault who has not yet found the words to describe what they’ve endured. Or better yet, as that young person’s parent, teacher, or neighbor. If you have found yourself questioning the motivations or veracity of those who come forward to disclose past sexual assaults, that is of course your right. But consider the message it sends to that young person in earshot of you. Will she tell you when she’s been hurt? Will he come to you to recount the horrors visited upon him by his classmates? Or might their memories of this historic moment be marked by clues that despite what they’ve been told in school, at home and in their community, it’s actually not ever safe to name their attacker?
If you find yourself struggling under the weight of silence, doubt, and uncertainty, know that there are whole communities of people ready to receive you and your story. There is a place you can go where you will be believed, you will be supported, and you will be cared for. You do not need a reason. You do not need to have all the details straight in your memory. You don’t even need to tell us what happened. You can just call.
Rape crisis centers have played a critical role in healing for survivors and communities for decades. Through the provision of 24 Hour Crisis Helplines, pro bono therapy and support groups, and the promise of being by your side as you navigate whatever steps you want to take next, rape crisis centers provide a lifeline for survivors, even when their families cannot. If you or someone you know needs help, please consider calling us or your local rape crisis center. The North Carolina Coalitions Against Sexual Assault maintains an up-to-date listing of all helplines across the state. Outside of NC, contact the National Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN): 1-800-656-4673.
Perhaps you’re not feeling the need for support, but for action. Consider adding “Support My Local Rape Crisis Center” to your task list. Cash donations matter- it makes it possible for us to do all we do at no cost to survivors and their families. We also always need volunteers– to answer the Helpline, empower kids through education, and help us spread the word.
The answer to the question of whether or not the #MeToo movement has made a difference depends on us. Decide today if you’ll make it count.
Rachel Valentine is Executive Director at the Orange County Rape Crisis Center in Chapel Hill. Rachel can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-968-4647.
Help us provide help, hope, and healing to those in our community and across the state, by making a gift to the Orange County Rape Crisis Center today. You can donate via credit card on our donation page or by sending a personal check to P.O. Box 4722, Chapel Hill, NC, 27515.