You don’t have to have a degree in social work or psychology. Basically, you just need to have empathy and STAR’s training is going to give you all the basic skills that you need to be able to help someone when they call.
– Stephanie Jacque
1. What is your current connection to STAR?
I am a hotline volunteer and also a member of STAR’s Capital Area Regional Council.
2. You’ve been involved with STAR for a long time, from the early days when we were the Stop Rape Crisis Center. How did you initially get involved with community efforts to address sexual violence?
I got involved with Stop Rape Crisis Center through a friend who was a volunteer. She invited me to one of the volunteer appreciation banquets one year. That was when Ossie Brown was the DA, so probably around 1980. At that time, it was just something I wanted to get involved in because I always felt a need to volunteer and because there were very few African-American women involved in the program.
At that time, the organization was very small and basically only had three staff members. They always made you feel so welcomed and were very helpful in getting me started by training and mentoring me along the way in my volunteer experience.
When I started volunteering, I didn’t realize how prevalent sexual violence was. I think we all know about sexual trauma and people who’ve been assaulted. But unlike now, back then people were very hush-hush about it. After I became a volunteer, there were multiple instances where people I knew told me that they had been assaulted sexually. The only reason that they felt able to open up to me was because they found out that I was volunteering for the rape crisis hotline.
3. How have you seen the community response to sexual violence change for the better over the past few decades?
When I was training to be in the Army Reserves, I was told to not go out alone at night, and to always have two or three people together if you were going out at night. Nobody said, “You may be assaulted.” You were just told never to be alone at night on this base. There was also an officer I could not be caught in the copy room with by myself. It got to a point where I would ask another guy to come with me when I needed to go make copies, because if I was alone in the copy room, this major lieutenant colonel would put his hands all over you. So I can understand what these women today are talking about when they tell their stories of harassment and assault. And back then, when you told people about something like this, the first thing they said was, “What did you do to provoke this?” I was in my unit making copies. What could I possibly be doing to be responsible for that?
So, years ago when I started volunteering, people’s perspective was that it was always the victim’s fault. The whole responsibility for that act was put on the victim as it being her fault. From being a volunteer, I learned that it had nothing to do with the victim — with how she looked or what she had on — it was that the person who committed rape and sexual assault wanted to overpower someone. We were always told to make it absolutely clear to the victim that this was not your fault. And that is something that we still need to emphasize because victims still blame themselves.
I also think people who’ve been victimized are more open now to seeking out assistance from law enforcement. As people have more positive experiences with law enforcement or with people at STAR, when the community sees positive and caring responses, that makes a big difference.
I think the culture has changed drastically, but I think we still have a long ways to go.
4. What changes do you think are still needed to better address the problem of sexual violence?
Education. And my big thing is we want to educate young people, but then parents need to be educated also. If you hear of a mother who is 28 and who has a 14 year old daughter, she may not be informed about what constitutes rape or sexual abuse. So in addition to educating adolescents and teenagers, I think we also need to go into the home because really the parents should be educated and they should be talking to the kids.
Also, children need an advocate. If a child doesn’t feel comfortable going to their parent if they are being sexually abused, then another adult in their family, school system, place of worship or community center needs to be available for that child to go to.
I think that we have a community right now here in Baton Rouge that is just thirsty for help. In the Bible it says, “My people perish for lack of knowledge.” And so many people here are not knowledgeable about services that are available to them. So many people are hurting and they need someone to talk to.
5. What motivates you to continue your victim advocacy after decades of volunteering? What advice do you have for others about getting involved?
I believe that if we want to live in a community that is a certain way, we have to make it that way. We have to work to make it like that. I never saw myself doing this in a million years, but what motivates me is the call that you get from the young woman who’s crying because her best friend’s boyfriend assaulted her. Or the lady in her 40s or 50s that was molested when she was 20 and something happened that triggered her, and she woke up at night and can’t sleep, so she calls. It really just tugs at my heart.
My advice for others is that you have something to give that someone else needs. When you have the hotline overnight, you may never get a call but then one night you’re going to get a call and that person has nobody else to talk to.
Also, I think a lot of African-American women feel inadequate or like they don’t have the skills to do this work. And like I was telling one friend of mine, you don’t have to have a degree in social work or psychology. Basically, you just need to have empathy and STAR’s training is going to give you all the basic skills that you need to be able to help someone when they call.
6. How has your involvement with STAR contributed to your life?
I feel rewarded in doing it. I think ultimately, my involvement with STAR has made me be more patient, long-suffering and compassionate toward people—not only toward people who’ve been assaulted but towards people in general. It has made me feel more empathy for people. I’m not married and I don’t have kids, and it really has made my life fulfilling and has been a blessing in my life.
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