This past summer at STAR, we were extremely fortunate to have a fantastic group of passionate and dedicated interns. Catherine Cooper was one of them. A STAR volunteer and current LSU student majoring in English, Catherine wrote a reflection of her internship experience. Here, we share it with you.
Oftentimes, myths obscure the reality. Truths become blurred in the fog of misunderstandings and misconceptions. Even though we live in the 21st century with unlimited access to the World Wide Web, social media connections, literature, news sources, and other boundless sources of knowledge, truths are still easily concealed by the dominance of harmful cultures. As a sexual assault advocate, I am confronted with the products of destructive, truth-covering culture firsthand. My friends and family members are skeptical to believe me when I tell them that sexual violence is an epidemic, that our culture is perpetuating norms that feed into this epidemic, and that rape culture has become a distinct and tangible entity in our daily lives. They assume that rape is a crime that is often falsely reported, over exaggerated, and under control. I didn’t know how to respond to them besides with a feeble “you’re wrong.” Working as a STAR intern has transformed my faint response into a lively debate and has provided me with the tools to dismantle the misconceptions, norms, and behaviors that typify rape culture. By working as a STAR intern, I have become a more conscious and productive citizen who can debate and enter a discourse instead of attacking, infiltrating, or crawling into a hole.
This journey to become an effective member of the community was a two-and-a-half-month-long one filled with diverse experiences. Some have left me with a sense of accomplishment and purpose while others have induced heartbreak and despondency. Even though not all experiences have brought fulfillment, they have all been rewarding in their own way; they have all provided me with opportunities for personal growth and reflection. The particular experiences I keep in mind upon reflection are scanning files from previous clients, building a community contacts list, and observing a counseling session. Scanning files has been one such experience with mixed feelings. I was proud to be part of STAR’s progress into the age of technology, but illuminating the statistics of sexual assault with the names of survivors was heart-wrenching. My eyes glanced over the police reports deemed “unfounded,” “baseless,” or “false” as my mind exploded with frustration at narratives never being revealed as truths and survivors’ shame being compounded as their experiences were discounted.
As a hospital advocate, this irritation only increased as I placed faces to the names and dates. With this seemingly simple task, the elusive rape culture became concrete with account after account and name after name. The epidemic was solidified with numbers.
Hospital advocacy can frequently be one-sided, though. As the survivor attempts to process what has happened, what is now happening with doctors and police officers surrounding her, and what the future holds for her now-interrupted life, the advocate very rarely gets to see the recovery process unfold. Advocates are burdened with witnessing crisis and trauma but rarely are rewarded with seeing the light at the end of the winding, blackened tunnel. Being an intern with STAR, however, brought light to my life as an advocate. I was able to observe a survivor who has had to cope with various forms of trauma throughout most her life. Through the counseling process, I watched the survivor’s eyes light up as she proved all others before STAR wrong: she can lead a normal life, she can gain control once again, and she shouldn’t be ashamed of her experiences. In a matter of minutes, I transitioned from the business of watching lives fall apart to watching lives being rebuilt. It’s hard to believe that one roof that shelters teal walls and floral paintings can provide such a wide range of support and empowerment.
Constructing a community contacts list was yet another empowering experience. Through working with my team members, a sense of partnership began to resonate within the conference room and within the larger community as we all realized that STAR’s goals are similar to those of the community: to create a healthy environment free of violence and oppression. As the list of names, numbers, and email addresses grew, my team members and I gained a new hope for aspirations that will one day be reached. By working on seemingly lifeless Excel spreadsheets, we became aware of the value that everyday citizens hold in a network of fellowship and common vision.
Because STAR’s vision and mission so closely align with my own, building upon the knowledge I obtained while working there will become part of my livelihood. Indeed, it may even become my career. Even if I am not an intern or employee at STAR in the future, I will remain steadfastly committed to their mission to educate, empower, and achieve a healthy community free of sexual violence and oppression. I will honor the staff members’ core values as I continue to interact with my peers, family, and other community members. Perhaps most importantly, I will use the knowledge I gained at STAR as an advocate for sexual assault survivors.
As I continue to volunteer, I am committed to becoming conscious of intersectionality, becoming culturally competent, being more sensitive to the issues surrounding sexual assault, and becoming an overall more productive and healthier member of the community. The experience I gained while working with staff members, other interns, and survivors has helped me become cognizant of the veil that rape culture wears and yet realize how obviously pervasive its characteristics are. Because our culture still unabashedly condones sexual and sexualized violence, survivors are cast off as liars, pariahs, or burdensome objects. Just as I relive and recount now, STAR is working towards the empowering of all individuals and is mobilizing the community so that it too can self-reflect and realize the harmful norms that it has propagated and pardoned.