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Supporting Clients From An Intern’s Perspective

On my dresser sits a seemingly insignificant pile of items: a change of clothes, my wallet, keys, a coloring book, and a folder. Someone could walk past this pile a hundred times and not think anything of it, but for me, it carries a very special meaning. This collection of materials is ready for me in the event I need to meet a survivor at the hospital. When I’m on call, that means anytime, day or night. I need to be prepared, always, for the next phone call.  

 As I reflect over the last several months of my internship at the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, I’m reminded of the countless examples of the power of the human spirit I had the honor to witness. Somehow, despite experiencing unimaginable trauma, I saw survivors continue to hope, to dream, to support one another, and to fight back against biased, frustrating systems. This didn’t happen in the absence of difficult days; the challenges and hopes co-existed, even when that hope was understandably limited.  

 I learned so much from the staff and the clients we supported; much more than I could ever capture in a short blog. That said, there are some key lessons I’d like to share with people who interact with survivors. Given the frequency of sexual trauma, that includes everyone. In speaking with many survivors, the responses they received after disclosing sexual trauma ranged anywhere from supportive to retraumatizing. Helping survivors in their healing journeys requires all of us, and the good news is that there are many things we can do to make this process better.  

 Listen: There is no substitution for non-judgmental, supportive listening when someone discloses sexual trauma. This means we may have to push back against our human nature to instantly try to solve or fix someone’s situation. Listen without trying to make someone immediately feel better – just hear them. It’s really important that survivors of sexual trauma feel like they have some control. Keep in mind that they likely experienced a situation where they were robbed of control. Stay as calm as possible, validate the survivor’s experience, and ask how you can best support them.  

 Maintain Trust: If a survivor discloses their trauma it means that, on some level, they have decided to put their trust in you. I cannot overstate how important this is. Justifiably so, survivors may have difficulty trusting people after what they’ve experienced. This is an incredible opportunity to provide an example of what a trusting relationship can look like and help create an environment of support and healing. Respect the survivor’s boundaries: if they do not want to talk further about something, that’s okay. If they ask you not to share what they’ve told you, keep it private. If a survivor is trying to decide next steps (report to police, go to the hospital, etc.), help them research their options so they can make decisions they feel are best for them. Acknowledge the strength and courage it took to disclose their trauma and make this experience as positive as possible for them.  

 Patience: There is no direct, linear pathway to healing from sexual trauma, and everyone responds differently. During my internship, I learned quickly that no two hotline or hospital support calls were the same. Some people may show emotion, others may not. Some survivors report being able to heal from their trauma relatively quickly, while others may take a lifetime. All of these responses and everything in between are completely valid. Trauma work can be extremely complex and exhausting for survivors. For those operating in a supportive capacity to survivors, patience is critical. If the survivor is someone close to you, it may be very hard to manage your own emotions. Often, caregivers and partners of survivors are referred to as secondary survivors because of the wide-reaching impact of sexual trauma. Your own self-care is very important in this process, too. It can be difficult to support others if we aren’t taking care of ourselves.  

 Support Is Available: Sexual trauma can feel extremely isolating. Despite statistics illustrating how frequently sexual violence occurs, it is still largely kept in secret. This secretive nature of sexual violence is one of the reasons it has been able to persist. If we’re not supposed to talk about it, it must be something shameful, right? Sadly, this mentality denies survivors the type of support they need and deserve as well as limits critical dialogue about preventing sexual violence. When someone has experienced sexual trauma directly or they are supporting someone who has, support is available. The Orange County Rape Crisis Center offers a variety of support groups, a 24/7 helpline (call, chat, or text), therapy referrals, education and outreach, and advocacy.  

 In closing, the most significant lesson from my internship is that survivors and secondary survivors do not have to navigate the complexities of sexual trauma alone. There are many people committed to this work: to supporting survivors; to changing conditions that perpetuate sexual violence; and to transforming systems that fail at obtaining justice for survivors. As a survivor myself, having the opportunity to support fellow survivors and work with others who tirelessly strive to end sexual violence has been life-changing. Like I was throughout my internship, these advocates will always be ready to take the next call, until we finally end sexual violence.

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Asking About Pronouns is for Everyone – An Intern Publication

In the U.S., it’s estimated that about 0.6% of people identify as transgender. That’s about 1 in 165. This population is highly vulnerable: almost 50% experience sexual trauma in their lives. It’s important in our work here at the OCRCC that we serve this community with humility, sensitivity, and respect. 

As a nonbinary person, I often think about how unfortunate it is that our language and culture is so gendered. Every time I talk with a stranger and they “Sir” me (or “Ma’am” me, sometimes), I wince a little inside. I get it, though. I was also raised to “Sir” and “Ma’am” people, and I know it’s an attempt to show respect and politeness.  

The thing is, for someone like me it always has the opposite effect. I’ll be completely honest here and say that I don’t know what a nonbinary version of “Sir” and “Ma’am” might be. I just know what it feels like for people to always put me in the wrong box. If you happen to have a name that is common for both men and women, such as Alex, Leslie, or Jamie, you may know this feeling too. 

If you’re cisgender—that is: if your sense of your own gender matches what the doctor wrote on your birth certificate when you were born—and you’re reading this, I’m sure you can imagine what it would feel like to have strangers call you “Sir” (if you’re a woman) or “Ma’am” (if you’re a man). If it happens once, it might feel awkward. If it happened continuously though, you might feel embarrassed, frustrated, or worse. 

But the fact is that English is gendered when we talk about people, and pronouns are the most common place where that shows up. Pronouns are a marker for gender as surely as that M, F, or X on a driver’s license or passport. 

When we ask you your pronouns, your gender identity, or “how would you like me to address you,” we are expressing our respect for you as a person, and a desire to be as respectful as possible. If you are a cisgender person and struggle to understand why things like pronouns are important, you might think about what it would feel like if people consistently referred to you as the opposite gender. 

But this is more than just respecting trans and nonbinary people. Plainly asking for pronouns and preferred ways to address someone you’re talking to—and making that practice a normal part of everyday speech—benefits everyone, especially when we talk over the phone and in text messages. Instead of guessing (and sometimes guessing wrong) we can avoid that awkwardness by asking.  

Instead of assuming that everyone is comfortable being addressed by their first name, or that everyone hears politeness in “Sir” or “Ma’am” or “Mr. Jones” or “Ms. Smith”… we can ask. And then we can show our respect by consistently using the address they prefer. 

We can also all be a part of respecting others by making it a habit to introduce ourselves with our pronouns or with how we’d like to be respected: “Hello, I’m Jamie, and my pronouns are he/him.” “Hi, I’m Alex, and my pronouns are she/her.” “Hi, please call me Mr. Jones.” “I am Mrs. Smith.”  

Because the English language makes gender an issue even in situations when it shouldn’t matter, we’re all better off when we’re clear about our own identities. When we don’t try to guess other people’s gender, and don’t make others guess ours, we can interact from a place of mutual respect. 

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OCRCC Roe v. Wade Statement

OCRCC Roe v. Wade Statement

The US Supreme Court’s vote to overturn Roe V. Wade is imminent. Overnight, abortion will become illegal in over half of the states of our country.  Roe v. Wade has always been the floor, not the ceiling, for abortion access. Removing this federal protection may be one of the biggest public health crises of our lifetimes- which is saying a lot in 2022.

Abortion is healthcare. OCRCC supports all survivors’ right to access the healthcare that they determine is right for them. Regardless of changes to federal protection or state law, we commit to always helping survivors get what they need. 

Over the next weeks and months, OCRCC will commit to sharing information about the unfolding attacks on public health and bodily autonomy with the following priorities:

  • Reproductive Justice is Bigger than Abortion: Even with federal protection, abortion access has never been equitable. But a reproductive justice lens goes way beyond issues of right and access: it includes Black maternal health and mortality, Medicaid expansion, universal Pre-K, ending state violence against Black bodies, ending family separation at the border, gender-affirming healthcare, and so much more. It encompasses movements for voting rights, racial justice, violence prevention, and queer and trans liberation. We will center the perspectives of those fighting for the totality of reproductive justice.
  • Action over Despair: This is the time to get involved. We will share groups to follow for action updates and alerts, information on how to find and support your local abortion fund, how to help clinics do what they do, and how to show up for one another with compassion and respect for the trauma this chapter of our history will bring up for folks. We’ll also share information about how and where abortion is showing up at the ballot box.
  • Focus on Resources: People who can get pregnant have immediate resource and information needs, and we will be sure to share information about where to go for questions about legal issues, financial support, locating and accessing abortion care, medical abortion, etc.