When I Was Victim-Blamed by a Sexual Assault Hotline
As someone who advocates to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, I often encourage people to reach out for help by contacting crisis lines. I would stamp the phone number or website across my social media posts as part of a trigger warning, even though I had never personally used them. I didn’t fully understand the use of these support hotlines until I had to use them. I expected a nice, happy, conversation that would soothe my pain and make me feel better again. What I actually received was the exact opposite.
It was around midnight a few months ago, and I had been feeling pretty badly about my life in general. I’d been triggered earlier in the day and I felt like I was spiraling and would do something I would regret. At this point, I felt I may begin to self-harm. I kept thinking about a past sexual assault and I had no one around to talk to, so I had the idea to take my own advice and contact a crisis line.
I found a hotline to call specifically for self-harm but nobody answered. Their hours were over for the day.
I Googled and found a hotline for sexual assault survivors. I called and nobody answered. They were closed, too.
At this point, I was getting annoyed. Weren’t these hotlines supposed to be here to help people? Shouldn’t they be answering?
I Googled and found another hotline for sexual assault survivors. This one was 24 hours and had a separate line for young adults. Relieved to find someone to talk to, I dialed.
A man picked up after a few rings and asked me what was wrong. I took a deep breath and told him I was thinking about a past sexual assault and I was thinking about self-harming. This was a huge step for me; I was putting myself out there pleading for help. I didn’t know what to expect but it certainly wasn’t what happened.
He asked me, “You were sexually assaulted? When did this happen?”
“Yeah, a couple of years ago.” I answered.
“Oh. That’s a while ago. Why are you thinking about it after so long?”
I was instantly silenced, stunned, grasping for some defense against his question. “Well, what kind of sexual assault was it, then?” he asked.
There was something in his voice that unnerved me and I didn’t feel safe talking to him. “I would rather not say,” I muttered into my phone, thinking I might as well just hang up.
“Well, do you know the person who did this? Are you still in touch with this person?” he demanded. I told him I did know who assaulted me, and I saw this person on Facebook, often.
“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “Why haven’t you unfriended them? It’s not that hard to click a button. Look, you have to help yourself and move on. Don’t let this one thing ruin your life. Unfriend them, forgive them and stop thinking about it. You’re only hurting yourself at this point.” His voice had turned harsh as he lectured me.
I began to cry as I listened to this man berate me on the phone — a crisis hotline employee. “It wasn’t my fault,” I protested.
“Hey, I didn’t say it was, but think of it like this: If I break one of my favorite plates, am I going to throw a fit and cry? Will that bring the plate back? Or am I going to clean up the pieces and buy a new plate? You’ve gotta clean up your pieces.” At this point, I quickly said I didn’t think this conversation was helping and hung up the phone.
After this phone call, I immediately dialed the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, something I had put off doing because I hadn’t been feeling suicidal… until this point. The man who answered the phone was incredibly nice. His name was David and I told him what had happened, why I was feeling so low and what the man from the other hotline had told me. David apologized for that — even though the hotlines weren’t connected at all — and helped reaffirm that my sexual assault was not my fault. He helped calm me down, and we brainstormed some things I could do after this phone call would end. He gave me advice on how to prevent myself from self-harming and did more for me than any number of Google searches or phone calls had done before.
I thanked David and, when I hung up that phone call, I felt a lot better about things even despite my initial conversation with the victim-blamer. I didn’t end up self-harming and I’ve even called back a few times since then, when I’ve felt like I needed help. I won’t let one bad experience ruin the good that crisis lines usually do. I hope that man gets proper training and no one will be seriously affected by his ignorance, but overall, I do think contacting a crisis line is a good resource and one that everyone should feel safe doing.
This article represents one person’s experience with a hotline and does not reflect the experience of everyone. To know more about what to expect when calling a hotline, check out some of our other articles:
Getty Images photo via AntonioGuillem