I work part time and study Law with Criminology at UWE, but I make the time to commit 1 day a week to supporting and helping victims of sexual abuse. For 2.5 hours once a week, I volunteer on a helpline.
Survivors of sexual abuse, recent or historic, call the helpline and talk to me for up to 40 minutes. The reasons for the call hugely vary. The majority of the calls I handle are offering survivors who are currently struggling some emotional support, such as talking about what has happened to them. Many of them have never spoke about it to anyone before. I talk about their feelings, and together we find ways they can cope.
I help survivors who are confused about what’s happened to them, advising survivors of recent sexual abuse on what to do, referring people and taking their details for counselling and safeguarding survivors who may be in danger, both from themselves and people they may be around.
There are 2 types of outgoing calls. Some are just returning missed calls from when the helpline was closed. Others are scheduled every 3 weeks for those who need that extra emotional support.
Volunteering for SARSAS (Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support) means they have 1 extra person who can take calls, meaning together we can support those extra few people. The impact on the community is huge. Survivors feel that they can talk about what happened with someone and they can get advice. They also feel believed and not alone. Several calls have even ended with the survivor feeling empowered and wanting to make their own difference.
This is totally new for me. I never thought I’d be able to listen to some of the things that are spoke about on the helpline, let alone support and offer advice to it. I’ve gained so much confidence since starting the helpline. I feel that if I can talk to the brave people I talk to and they feel they can talk to me about what has happened to them, then I can tackle pretty much anything.
It’s boosted my listening/communication skills more than any other experience ever could. I’ve learnt lots since volunteering, including how to support survivors, how to safeguard and what to do if they have been recently sexually abused eg. where to go for evidence, how police reporting works. But I’ve also learnt other things I never thought I would: its gave me the ability to look out for the little things and have a great eye for detail, amazing confidence and communication skills. Since volunteering, I’ve began leaning towards the career path of victim support. It’s nothing I’d ever thought I’d be able to do before – I didn’t have the confidence in myself and think I’d be able to do it, but I can.