Living Proof

Our occasional reminder that not all people are bastards

Sheena Shippee was taking a women's history class at KU in spring 2005. The professor gave the class two options: write an in-depth research paper or sign up for service learning in the community.

Looking for something interesting, and that would fulfill the class requirement, she found the website for the GaDuGi SafeCenter, which needed volunteer advocates.

The job description: every month or two spend a week on call 24 hours a day. Answer phone calls from victims of sexual violence and meet them at the hospital after an incident.

A few weeks of training later, she was a full-fledged advocate. Alright, a way to help people.

"I figured when I first started that they would contact me and I could just magically do this and make everything better in their world," says Shippee, 25.

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It turns out, coming up on three years later, that it's not magic. She doesn't make everything better. But when she's paged, at any time of day or night, she does help.

"Sometimes it's something that's happened very recently and they want to talk about it," she says. "Sometimes it's something that happened months or years ago. Sometimes it's family members or friends who are freaked out because of something that's happened to their friend."

Sometimes Shippee is the only person the victim can turn to at the moment. Sometimes she has to reassure the victim that it's not her or his fault.

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Illustration by Molly Murphy

"There are lots of precursors to sexual assault sometimes that makes the particular woman feel somewhat responsible for the situation," she says. "If they're hanging out with the person and they're drinking, of if they're partying late, or if they're in someone's room and all their friends leave-well, they stayed."

She's often there, at the hospital, as the victim decides whether to press charges.

"We just listen and talk things through with them," she says. "Sometimes they'll decide, 'Well, regardless of how I feel about this individual, what this person did was wrong and we need to pursue this.' Sometimes they just want to be done with it. They want to be at the hospital, get that all wrapped up, and then put it behind them and move on with their lives. And we have to support that."

She's learned that she can't fix a rape victim's problems. She can't erase the memory or the trauma, or dissolve an ongoing abusive relationship. But she can lend a hand for a moment.

"I think for that moment we do," she says, "and we continue to support them through the process."

GaDuGi SafeCenter is a local organization that provides advocacy, support, and prevention education to help stop sexual violence. It needs volunteers to advocate for victims/survivors and help with community outreach. Contact Christie Dobson, youth and adult outreach coordinator, at (785) 843-8985 or outreach1@sunflower.com.

Comments

Aufbrezeln Eschaton 11 years, 6 months ago

Sheena, you rock. Holding someone's hand through pain you can do nothing to alleviate is one of the hardest and most essential jobs anyone can do. Stay strong.

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