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Wide Awake: Making a Statement
Doing something when it needs to be done

When I was in my early 20s, I was standing at a bank teller’s window when I heard the man next to me explain quite loudly why he was certain Mike Tyson – who was on trial for rape at the time – was innocent. “Mike Tyson could get any girl he wanted,” he said. “He doesn’t have to rape anybody.”

If I heard that now, I would speak up; I suppose aging has made me braver. Back then, though, I didn’t say anything, but after I left the bank, I did take action. I researched organizations that helped rape victims, and was soon volunteering for Women Against Rape (WAR), which was then based in Collingswood.

I was trained to counsel women in two settings: on a phone hotline and in an emergency room immediately after the crime. For both roles, you were assigned a night to be on-call. I usually had Tuesdays, which I soon learned was a plus. When you’re a rape counselor on the weekends, you’re busy, so only experienced volunteers took those times. Ditto for holidays, when people often drank. And  counselors who were on-call on Super Bowl Sunday knew they shouldn’t make any plans.

Soon after completing my training – which was pretty extensive, two nights a week for two months – I got a call late in the afternoon. A woman had been raped and was being taken to the ER. Could I meet her there? It wasn’t Tuesday, but they needed someone. I apologized and said I was too busy at work to leave.

I hung up and sat there feeling paralyzed. It would have been easy for me to leave work, but I was afraid. My training was done in a classroom. This would be crime, suffering and pain right there in front of me. I didn’t know if I was ready. And it wasn’t Tuesday.

But then it occurred to me that no one had called the woman to see if this was a good time for her to be a victim of a horrific crime. She didn’t get to resist the unpleasantness of the moment. I called back and left my office to go help this woman.

That was the first of many ER calls. I met women of all ages who were never asked if this was a good time for someone to turn their life upside down, physically hurt them and emotionally change them forever. Sometimes I got up in the middle of the night, got dressed and headed to the ER. I would greet each woman and explain what was about to happen to her, how during the procedure to gather evidence for the police – completing what is called the rape kit – the doctor would pull pubic hairs from her body and a nurse would cut off her fingernails. These women would have to stay in hell just a little bit longer. I stayed with them and tried to ease their pain.

I did more ER visits than hotline calls. I wasn’t very good at phone counseling. I spoke to woman after woman who insisted she couldn’t report the rape. Usually because she didn’t think anyone would believe her, or her rapist was a family friend and she didn’t want to cause any rifts. It was beyond frustrating.

I felt I was better in the ER. I could be calm and helpful there.

Plus, every time I answered a call and started my drive to the ER, I felt I was making a statement against that really stupid guy in the bank. Just like he put his message out into the world, I was putting mine out there. And mine said simply that a woman who is raped needs one thing: help. So I helped.

August 2013
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