Hello, Kankakee. Lately I have been feeling compelled to speak more publicly about a topic very close to my heart. This fall, I am approaching my two-year anniversary of volunteering at KC-CASA here in Kankakee, a local nonprofit that provides a wealth of free services and resources to survivors of sexual assault.

Many people have asked me what being a volunteer entails and why I do it, so I thought I would share it here. As a volunteer, I have manned the 24-hour hotline from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. generally two nights a month since I completed my training in 2018.

Sometimes the calls are simple. Just questions, someone needing to talk. But there are also hospital calls. When a survivor is taken to or goes to the hospital after an assault, the hospital calls the KC-CASA hotline and a volunteer and/or employee responds. Essentially, I go to the hospital and provide support to the survivor before, during, and after an evidence kit is performed, photographs are taken, and a ridiculous amount of meds are swallowed and injected into a woman who is probably in those very moments having the very worst day of her life.

This support includes, but is not limited to, comfort, non-judgement and making the survivor aware of his/her rights.

You can volunteer, too, if you want. Even men volunteer. I have responded to roughly 10 to 12 of these hospital calls since I began my volunteer work. Every single one is different and not easy in the least, but I do it because it seems like such a minimal sacrifice to give some of my time to another woman in her darkest moments.

I completely understand that a man can be raped, too, but I am going to use the female pronouns she/her for the duration of this letter.

Over the past two years and in training for this position, I have learned some facts vs. myths about sexual assault that I wanted to share.

Myth No. 1: Most rapes are committed by strangers.

Fact No. 1: Roughly 85 percent of survivors know their attacker before the incident, whether it was through a friendship, a relationship (previous or current), or a family member.

Myth No. 2: Men who rape are mostly psychologically deranged individuals.

Fact No. 2: Men who rape are mostly ordinary, everyday guys. Most rapists are indistinguishable from your friends. Some may even be your friends. Many are considered charming and charismatic in other settings. Many can even have female friends. But the major difference between men who rape and men who do not is in their attitudes toward women. Men who rape typically view women with contempt and sometimes deep hostility.

Myth No. 3: Men rape, it is just the way it is.

Fact No. 3: There are many societies in which men never rape women. In these societies women and men are viewed with equal status, there is little objectification of women, and tough, overly aggressive behavior of men is primarily discouraged.

So, what does this all mean, I hear you asking. Well, most importantly, it means we do not have to live in a society with rape. We have the power to eliminate it — if we stop ignoring the truths about it.

If you have considered volunteering in the past, I urge you to contact KC-CASA and get the ball rolling toward training and making a difference in someone’s life. If volunteering is maybe not the best option for you right now, KC-CASA is always doing fun fundraising events and free educational training. You can connect with the organization on Facebook and Instagram to stay in-the-know.

And if you are a survivor of sexual assault, I urge you to contact KC-CASA and speak to an advocate about your rights and the free services available to you for support. You are not alone. I haven’t met a single person at the organization who isn’t full of non-judgmental compassion, and I am convinced that if all human beings emulated the people who worked at KC-CASA, the center’s purpose would actually no longer exist and they’d all have to find new careers.

And most importantly, if we truly want to make a difference and change the world, we must talk about sexual assault openly. We must discuss the prevalence of rape in some of our favorite TV shows and movies and the potential effects this can have on truthful understanding of what rape is. We can confront societal terminology like “daddy issues” and can better understand LGBTQ terminology with just a little bit of effort.

And we must talk to the men we love. Really talk. We must pull them aside if they are behaving, saying, or doing something inappropriate toward women, if they are treating women poorly in any way. We must call-out our friends and our brothers and our husbands and our fathers. Men must call out other men. This is a huge component to ending sexual assault. And oddly enough, it may not feel this way while you’re doing it, but calling out the people you love on their bad behavior, despite the extreme discomfort, actually conveys more love than allowing comments and actions to slide by as if unnoticed. It shows that you are aware and that you deeply care about them and their well-being. It is so important. It might be the most important conversation you will ever have with someone.

Kankakee County Center Against Sexual Assault (KC-CASA)

Office (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.): 815-932-7273

24-Hour Hotline: 815-932-3322

Melissa Zigrossi

Kankakee

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