Being an Ally by Susan Mooney

Being an Ally (from CALCASA‘s “Support for Survivors” training manual; altered to fit the YWCA)

The most effective advocates are those who can assist survivors in understanding their individual experience in the larger social context of oppression. Women who were able to see a connection between society’s reactions to their experiences of victimization and the status of women in general founded the anti-rape and anti-domestic violence movement. This chapter assumes that you have previously explored the connections between the multiple forms of violence against women and sexism and the connections between sexism and other forms of oppression: racism, heterosexism and transphobia, ableism, classism. The focus here is on how you as an individual can use your awareness of oppression to be an effective counselor and a powerful agent for social change in your community.

We first explore what an ally is and then how being an ally relates to your work as a sexual assault counselor. Included are tips and challenges for the long journey that awaits you.

What is an Ally?

“Epiphinal moments, in many ways, occur only when one is primed for them.”1 A good ally is ever on the prowl for an epiphinal moment, ever mindful of our status in the world and ever watchful for opportunities to use our privileged status to effect social change and interrupt oppressive behaviors and actions. The process of learning how to provide support to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, intervene when you witness injustice, and contribute to creating a world that does not tolerate sexual violence is the process of developing skills as an ally.

Allies are persons who seek opportunities to use their knowledge, personal commitment, access to resources (financial and otherwise), and willingness to overcome fear to promote the well-being of a marginalized group or an individual within that group, of which the ally is not a member. It takes courage to act for the benefit of others, particularly if the act requires acknowledging your own status or giving up privilege.
Each of us is a complex person with many facets to our identity; we both need allies and can be an ally to others. For example, a heterosexual woman of color can benefit from the actions and commitment of her white allies; at the same time she can be a powerful ally to lesbians, gays, bisexual people, and transgender people. How and when to be an ally can be confusing and complex, but remember that the more you practice, the more you understand, and the better your skills become. Each of us has within us the ability to act as an ally to others, and your participation in the volunteer training can be a huge step toward increasing your ability to act as an ally.

Being an effective ally to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence requires that you are an ally in every area of their lives. Survivors do not experience sexual assault or domestic violence in isolation from the accumulated total of their life experience. Being a good advocate means you have to understand that a woman experiences of racism, homophobia and transphobia, classism, sizeism, and ableism, combined with sexism, all inform the experience of sexual assault and the process of healing from the experience of victimization. Your commitment to understanding the totality of a woman’s life will make you a more effective advocate. Your dedication to changing the social conditions within which sexual assault and domestic violence exists is an essential component of being a an advocate.

How does being an Ally Relate to your Work as an Advocate?

The more you practice and develop your skills as an ally working to end oppression, the more effective a advocate you will become. Try to think in terms of the ripple effect:
When you drop a stone in a bucket of water, many ripples are produced; they travel out, hit the side of the bucket, start traveling back to the center, and begin crossing and affecting one another’s paths. Eventually the water settles down, but the arrangement of the water in the bucket is forever changed. The ripple effect of your work as an ally is much the same: every act affects the complex social conditions that allow sexual assault to occur and the conditions that influence a survivor’s healing process.
Now let’s apply that image to an example (see below): a heterosexual woman who answers the hot line at the rape crisis center is also involved in PFLAG:

IMPACT OF PFLAG CAMPAIGN RIPPLE EFFECT
In the process of preparing for the PFLAG campaign, the advocate becomes more aware of the emotional and social impact homophobia has on lesbians, gays, bisexual people, and transgender people. The advocate receives a hotline call from a lesbian survivor of same-sex violence. The counselor’s ability to assist the survivor as she sorts through the effect of internalized homophobia on her reaction to her assault is enhanced by increased awareness.
PFLAG campaign includes presentation to law enforcement on hate crimes against lesbians, gays, bisexual people, and transgender people, during which a couple of officers show that they are very sensitive to the issue. The advocate’s ability to assist the survivor in realistically assessing the potential outcome of reporting the assault to the police is enhanced. The counselor has increased access to officers who are more likely to respond to the survivor’s experience sensitively.
The law enforcement officers who are sensitive to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues notice that the majority of officers in attendance are not educated on these issues. Working with the rape crisis center to assist the lesbian survivor makes the officers aware that their department’s response to incidents of same-sex violence can be improved, and they work as allies with the rape crisis center to get more training included in courses at the police academy.
The advocate passes out leaflets at the local mall as part of the campaign and talks to dozens of people, one of whom she tells about her work at the rape crisis center, A lesbian survivor of child sexual assault calls the hotline; she is willing to make the call because her friend tells her about her conversation with the advocate at the mall so she thinks the rape crisis center will be a safe place for her.
The advocate mentions to the crisis line coordinator that she is involved in the campaign, and the rape crisis center ends up endorsing PFLAG’s campaign. A number of lesbians in the community notice this relationship and call the rape crisis center to inquire about volunteering.
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What you might be feeling after sexual assault

What You May Be Feeling
Survivors of sexual assault experience a wide range of reactions. Some have said that after the assault their emotions go up and down from one extreme to another. It is important for you to know that what you are feeling and thinking right now is okay. Your reactions are your own way of coping with the crime that has been committed against you. There is no standard response to sexual assault. You may experience a few, none or all of the following emotions.

SHOCK AND NUMBNESS: Feelings of spaciness, confusion, being easily overwhelmed, not knowing how to feel or what to do. You may react in a way that is similar to your reactions during other crises in your life, for example, with tears, irritability, nervous laughter or withdrawing.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Be aware that these are normal reactions to trauma. Each person handles crisis differently, so think of things that helped you get through crises in the past. Get help to sort out what you would like to do and how you may want to organize you time, thoughts and decisions. Be compassionate toward yourself; give yourself time to heal.

LOSS OF CONTROL: Feeling like your whole life has been turned upside down and that you will never have control of your life again. Your thoughts and feelings seem out of control.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Try to get as much control over your life as soon as you possibly can, even on small things. Ask for information that may help you sort out your thoughts and feelings. Use outside resources, such as counselors and legal professionals. Ask how other people have handled similar situations. Try to make as many of your own decisions as possible. This may gradually help you regain a sense of control over your own life.

FEAR: Fear that you assailant may return; fear for your general physical safety; fear of being alone; fear of other people or situations that may remind you of the assault.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: If you want company, do not hesitate to ask people who you trust to be with you day and night. You may want to make your physical environment feel more safe such as moving, making your home more secure or getting to know your neighbors better.

GUILT AND SELF-BLAME: Feeling like you could have or should have done something to avoid or prevent the assault; doubts regarding your ability to make judgments.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: No matter what the situation was, you did not ask to be hurt or violated. Blaming yourself is sometimes another way to feel control over the situation, thinking that if you avoid similar circumstances, it will not happen to you again.

ISOLATION: Feeling that this experience has set you apart from other people; feeling that other people can tell you have been sexually assaulted just by looking at you; or not wanting to burden other people with your experience.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Recovering from an assault can be a very lonely experience. However, you are not alone in what you are feeling. You may find it reassuring to talk to others who have been assaulted, or to a counselor at you local Rape Crisis Center who has worked with other sexual assault survivors.

VULNERABILITY, DISTRUST: Feeling that you are at the mercy of your own emotions or the actions of others; not knowing who to trust or how to trust yourself; or feelings of suspicion and caution.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Trust your instincts about who you want to talk with about what happened with you. Try to talk with people whom you have found to be the most dependable in the past; select those who have been good listeners or are non-judgmental. Feelings of general suspicion may subside as you begin to find people you can trust.

SEXUAL FEARS: Feeling that you do not want to have sexual relations; wondering whether you will ever want or enjoy sexual relationships again; fears that being sexually intimate may remind you of the assault.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Try to tell your partner what your limits are. Let your partner know if the situation reminds you of the assault and may bring up painful memories. Let your partner know that is the situation — not him/her — that is bringing up the painful memories. You may feel more comfortable with gentle physical affection. Let your partner know what level of intimacy feels comfortable for you.

ANGER: Feeling angry at the assailant. You may find yourself thinking about retaliation. You may be angry at the world since you no longer feel safe. You may be angry that your faith did not prevent this.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Although these are common reactions, they can be quite disturbing. Take things very slowly. Some people find it helpful to keep a notebook at hand to write down feelings, thoughts, ideas, or details of the assault; keeping the thoughts and feelings in one place makes them feel more manageable.

 

An excerpt this information from the publication, “A Handbook For Survivors Of Sexual Assault.”