In college, I volunteered at the rape crisis center for about five minutes before I figured out that I was not cut out for it. I signed up at the center with a bunch of my roommates, thinking only about how I wanted to do something valuable with my volunteer time and not about whether or not I had the emotional temperament to sit in the trenches with someone who has just been raped. It turns out I don’t.
Our training involved six weeks of pretty intense education, hours of statistics, trips to the hospital to walk through the process of what a rape survivor would go through, and also counseling for ourselves to uncover any demons that might surface during those highly emotional times. After the six weeks, I was given a pager one weekend with detailed instructions on what to do if it started buzzing. If it did go off, it was my job to get in a cab and meet a rape survivor at the hospital to be their advocate while they went through the system; giving them support, information, or just a kind human to lean on. We were instructed that, for the first few weekends, we would be able to work alongside a more experienced advocate, a relief.
When I clipped on that little black pager that first weekend, I remember the sick feeling that settled like a rock in the pit of my stomach. It felt like I had entered into a horrible kind of waiting game. I was waiting for someone out there in the world to get raped, because it was inevitable. On any campus, anywhere, at any time, rape is so inevitable that there are entire systems and crisis centers and advocates in place for when it happens. I thought about, how, right at that moment, someone just like me was going out to a party with friends or making plans to hang out or study with someone they trusted. And in a few hours, they were going to have their life completely upended because some dude was going to take something that was not his. I couldn’t get that girl out of my mind, and I felt nauseous.
Going through the rape counseling training, we learned that 1 out of every 6 women are the victims of attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. And 7 out of 10 times the perpetrator is someone who the victim knows. This is especially true for women on college campuses.
That’s why it is horrifying when an actual police chief, like NYPD Captain Peter Rose, says that “the troubling” rapes are the ones where “a random guy picks up a stranger off the street.” He continued by saying that acquaintance rapes are “not total-abomination rapes.” As if the friend or acquaintance who decides that your body is his to do with what he wants is not an abomination. Rape is rape is rape. Full stop. Exclamation point. If someone violates your body in the most intimate of ways, it’s rape. It doesn’t matter if it’s some random guy on the street or your ex-boyfriend or your best friend or the guy who you talk to occasionally who works at the gas station.
The pager I was given did go off. It went off on the first night of my first weekend of volunteering. At 3 o’clock in the morning I got into a cab to meet a woman at the hospital who had just been raped. I was legit terrified, and my main hope was that I could hold it together to be of some help and comfort.
That ended up being the last call I ever took.
It was horrifying and sad, and I had to constantly stop myself from crying. I had a really hard time being the person who the woman needed me to be. She was having one of the worst experiences of her life because she’d just been raped by a friend of hers whom she’d trusted. A friend who had decided that they were both drunk enough for him to do whatever he wanted to her. A friend had done that to her. Not a stranger “ripping her from the streets.” And trust me, it was as awful as anything you can imagine.
Yes, it would be horrifying and traumatizing to be grabbed in some back alley by some deranged madman. But it’s also horrifying and traumatizing to be taken advantage of by someone you know and possibly trust. It does no one any good, and does nothing to help the survivors of rape, by minimizing their feelings because they were raped by an acquaintance. In fact, making gross statements like NYPD Captain Pete Rose pushes victims into shame and hiding and prevents them from seeking support and medical care. Rape victims deserve far more compassion than this, and our anger and outrage needs to be placed squarely on the predators who commit these atrocious crimes.
We can do better than this. Stop shaming, stop victim blaming, and stop making excuses. The world does not need more Brock Turners.
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