Like most “millennials,” I have trouble working up the nerve to order pizza over the phone. Most people wouldn’t pin me as having volunteered on a sexual violence crisis hotline. And yet, my time taking calls was the most necessary work I’ve done.
And you — you might not consider yourself someone who would use a crisis line. Most of us don’t. And yet, each of us exists in a culture where sex is always marked by power dynamics. Each and every one of us is somebody, or knows somebody, who has had that power compromised or has taken it from somebody else.
Despite the number of people on my Facebook feed in the past few weeks who have been able to vocalize their “me too,” the conversations that we have about sexual assault are scripted. When they are spoken aloud, conversations about assault and the grey areas of sex and power happen behind closed doors: only ever with people of the same gender, only ever contained in private spaces.
But most often, these conversations happen through faceless organizations, through brief hashtags or scrawled across banners like “sexual assault month.” There are always things we can say here — but most of the time they aren’t ours.
And yes, we do need these things. Awareness has brought us so far, but there’s a fundamental disconnection happening when our conversations about sexual assault become a disturbing game of Mad Libs.
That said, there are prescient reasons why many of us choose not to use crisis and support lines, the foremost pair being that
- those who haven’t experienced oppression are quick to call out “victim culture” — and read us claiming our pain as a movement towards gaining social clout through sympathy. If I were to call a crisis line, I’m admitting I’m a “victim,” and I’ll either come off as a social justice warrior or have to prove myself to those who think I should be stronger.
- we’re not always “in crisis” — pain defines itself in variant ways but those who use crisis lines must be at rock bottom in that moment, otherwise it’s not “serious” enough. Why should I take up a line when there might be someone who needs it more?
These sentiments are so pervasive that we rarely have to think them through fully before they become legitimate reasons not to reach out.
But the thing is, the conversations I had on the crisis line do not fit into these predefined narratives of what sexual assault looks or feels like, and that’s because our conversations are based around human beings, not ideologies. There are no criteria here other than the imperative to talk, to share what weighs on you, and to move past the paralysis that so many of us survivors feel. Grappling with and healing from our experiences doesn’t just happen in singular moments of crisis — it is a constant process in which acknowledging your truth plays a profound part.
While our social scripts stigmatize frank conversation, there is something radical in being able to speak our stories and to have these conversations on our own terms. The crisis line is a space that allows this to happen. More importantly, the crisis line is there for you. It’s there for us: those of us who have ever negotiated moments of skewed power dynamics, violence or the grey areas of agency, which is to say all of us.
Picking up the phone sucks. Reaching out sucks. Making yourself vulnerable with someone you’ve never met sucks. But once you’re able to dial that number, you become part of a provisional community based around the humanity that still exists astride our existence in inhumane hierarchies of being. When you call, we listen. We don’t judge you on anything you say or don’t say. We make space for the thoughts that’ve been forgotten in our public.
We are waiting to hear from you.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, a list of on- and off-campus resources can be found online.
There is also a 24-hour crisis and support line in London operated by the Sexual Assault Centre London: 519-438-2272 or online.