UMass CWC Rape Crisis Services: Myths and misconceptions

By Edridge D'Souza

Collegian File Photo
(Collegian File Photo)

I spent every Wednesday evening this past semester taking classes at the Center for Women and Community. There, I received training to become a counselor advocate, a volunteer who helps manage the 24-hour rape crisis hotline and assists survivors of rape and sexual assault with medical and legal advice. I’ve been on call before, but haven’t received any calls yet. However, from my semester of training, which included lectures, real-life cases, roleplays and advocate guest speakers, I did manage to learn a good deal about sexual assault counseling and prevention. I was actually surprised through my journey to learn how many misconceptions I had beforehand. By listing some of these, the University of Massachusetts community might gain a greater awareness of how to prevent or deal with sexual assault.

Misconception No. 1: The role of a CA

First and foremost, the role of a CA is to support the caller. We’re not here to scrutinize details or try to play detective. That’s the law enforcement’s job.

My job as a CA is to provide assistance to anyone who is in need of help or support. Additionally, we don’t force callers to do anything; we simply provide emotional assistance and help them know their options so that they are empowered to make their decisions for themselves.

At our meetings, we’ve discussed the sentiment in our communities that, by not automatically reporting all calls to the police, we’re “letting the bad guys get away.” This is simply not true.

We’re bound by our code of confidentiality, and taking that decision away from the caller would be a massive ethical violation. Our callers come to us when they feel vulnerable, and taking the power of choice away from them is not an effective way to handle it.

Misconception No. 2: Who the hotline is designed for

Some students may believe they might not be “qualified” to use our hotline. This misconception might be because they’re in a relationship with their abuser, because they’re male or because their assault was a long time ago, so they think they’re not eligible for our services.

But in fact, the CWC is Hampshire County’s Rape Crisis Center and is open to all people who are experiencing emotional trauma due to rape and sexual assault.

This is a pretty far-reaching definition because it lets us provide help to as many people as possible. We serve men and women, incarcerated people as well as college students. We serve all of Hampshire Country. The bottom line is that no one who needs counseling for sexual trauma should ever be turned away.

Misconception No. 3: Rape counseling is just for liberal arts students

When I walked into my first CA class, I thought I might be the odd one out. From the group introductions, it seemed that almost everyone else in the room was a woman or a WGSS/Sociology student. As a male biochemistry major, I was somewhat uneasy about how this experience would go and how easily it would be for me to relate.

However, after a few sessions, I found that sexual assault counseling relates directly with medical science. Rape and sexual assault often go hand in hand with anxiety, PTSD and depression, in addition to having connections to diabetes, cardiac risk and even cancer.

The fact of the matter is that sexual assault is not just a crime but also a public health concern. While we’re not professional psychologists or psychiatrists who can treat these more long-lasting effects, we as CAs are equipped to provide short-term emotional support and guidance to anyone in need.

Since becoming a CA, I’ve found out a lot about how rape and sexual assault affect people long-term. There’s a reason why rape is seen as one of the most heinous crimes in our society, and by providing support to survivors of rape and sexual assault, we as CAs can provide a starting point to help mitigate its effects.

While statistics on sexual assault are notoriously difficult to collect, the incidence of rape has decreased significantly over time, and growing efforts to bring awareness to the issue are further helping. When I eventually receive my first call, I know it’s going to be a massive responsibility but also an opportunity to provide substantial help to our community.

Edridge D’Souza can be reached at [email protected]