Youth is an increasingly powerful voice in our world. We are a driving force behind social justice movements and political change. Through social media and the Internet, the presence of youth is ubiquitous and global. I truly realized the power of youth’s collective voice as an online hotline volunteer at Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). When I first started to work with online visitors affected by sexual assault, I felt helpless. I interacted with people who had experienced incredibly traumatic events and typing words of support through an online interface seemed cold and fruitless. As a completely anonymous online hotline, RAINN serves to protect the identity of visitors. I saw the value in this but how helpful could I be as a faceless virtual volunteer?
However, as I continued to work with visitors, I began to see RAINN’s purpose in a new light. Some visitors came to the online hotline because they had no one else to turn to, no one to rely on. Some were so ashamed of what had happened to them that they buried it inside, only to experience repercussions of the pain a year, 5 years or 15 years later. Some were struggling to type what they had experienced, let alone talk about it on the phone or to someone in-person. To these visitors, RAINN’s online hotline was a safe and approachable way to express their trauma anonymously. As volunteers, we were there for them. We gave them necessary medical, legal and mental health information. We referred them to local and online resources. Most times, we were just someone to talk to. For many survivors, their visit to the online hotline marked the first and necessary step toward the healing process.
My volunteer work at RAINN also exposed me to youth activists who were fighting against the poor management of sexual assault reports at their universities or in their communities. Despite the lack of response at many institutions, more sexual assault survivors and youth activists are speaking out through documentaries (such as The Hunting Ground), campus organizations, sexual assault networks, and/or public protests. The widespread backlash against the Stanford rape case and the survivor’s powerful message published on BuzzFeed demonstrate the growing fight against sexual violence. While many are not ready to publicly share their sexual assault experiences, the activism of fellow survivors serves as inspiration and support for many RAINN visitors coping with the aftermath of sexual violence.
I wasn’t an activist in the spotlight but I took pride in raising awareness about sexual assault and connecting visitors with fellow survivors. My experience at RAINN taught me that no matter how small my contribution, I was part of the fight against sexual violence. Whether you’re speaking in front of a crowd, marching with fellow survivors or volunteering online, there’s more than one way to be part of collective movement.