As hoped – and loooooong overdue, I am transitioning my site to my current work in the field both with victims advocacy and anti-sexual violence education. The three years I’ve lived in Atlanta, I’ve quietly worked on increasing my knowledge and skill set, and finding my voice and my perspective. These were not easy tasks for me.
For three years, I served 2-3 shifts per month as a rape crisis counselor/victims advocate at Grady Hospital in Atlanta. The shifts were either 7am – 7pm or 5:30pm – 7 am. I wish I could have done more shifts, but with my travel and the demands of my job, it was the best I could do. I’d come off the road with College GameDay or a random football game where people acted like a game win was life or death, and I’d head into the hospital Sunday mornings before the sun came up – no makeup, my hair a wild bird’s nest, wearing my black pants and big, red volunteer smock. Doctors often thought I was a grad student. Really.
Half awake, I’d buy a coffee in the cafeteria and sit – often completely alone in the dining area – and I’d wonder what the day would bring. And it almost always brought something.
As the only rape crisis center IN ALL OF METRO ATLANTA, there was no shortage of patients coming through the doors. And no victim was ever alike, not even close. The conversation around rape these days focuses on campus sexual assault. But I assure you, this disgusting crime knows no boundaries: Business women, homeless men and women, deaf men, beautiful young girls stunned that a night out with friends had turned so horribly wrong… mentally challenged male inmates at Fulton County prison I tended to with armed guards.
People ask me how I could stomach the work. The answer is… it just seemed right to me to be there in the middle of the chaos of a level 1 trauma center to tell someone I’ve got them and they’re going to be okay. I have always felt that I am mentally stronger than the average person, and it’s a role I’ve played my entire life, if I’m being honest.
Friends ask if there are any cases that were hard. And I tell them they were all hard in their own way, but one stands out. Maybe if I write it here, I can finally let go.
One evening, I bonded with a young woman who was very much in shock when she called the hotline for help. It took all of my skill to get her to share the details with me and to convince her to come in for an exam. I was on the overnight shift and I told her I would meet her at the hospital at any time of night that she could make it in. We had talked for an hour and she trusted me. She promised she’d come in as long as I met her there.
I woke up throughout the night checking my phone for a request to go to the hospital. But no calls came. When I went to clock out in the morning, I asked the nurse on duty if any “49s”(code for sexual assault victims) had come in overnight because I hadn’t received any calls from the hospital operator. When the nurse said that yes, a young woman had come in at 3am, my legs became weak. I remember the prickly sensation creeping up my cheeks and I asked the nurse why I wasn’t called. She shrugged and said whomever was on duty had forgotten to call me.
And what that means is that young woman stood in the hell of the ER and I never showed. She stood there and waited for the person who promised her she’d be there to help her through it. That fucking kills me.
I have never been more devastated in my time as a volunteer. Never. I cried most of the day and even now, typing this, makes me tear up. I know I can’t change what happened but I am heartbroken for her and that she thinks I lied. That she thinks I lured her there and then left her alone. I wonder how it affected her life. How her recovery might have been different if we met like we were supposed to.
For me, that was the tipping point in reconsidering my volunteer service. I believe victims in Atlanta deserve MULTIPLE centers for victim assistance and I believe that it is asking too much of victims to navigate a massive healthcare system like Grady. Lord knows I am tenacious; I will go down swinging before I quit on something like this. But a few weeks ago, on one of my Sunday shifts, I realized the time had come to put my energies where I think they’re best used, and also, to get the ongoing training and support that I need. I had no support for three years and just absorbed the stress of the work.
With that said, I am completing my training and beginning my victims advocate role with a center just outside the perimeter. I am SO excited. The facility is for adult and child victims only. I know I am going to learn so much. And I will take that learning to hopefully bring about change to metro Atlanta.
So, I hope to use this site to chronicle my learnings and experiences. I’ve got a few ideas percolating and I hope to finally give them life. And I’d love for you to come on the journey with me.