How to talk to a stranger about sexual assault: Jen’s story

Written by Workhorse Marketing

JenSmith_forwebBy Jen Smith, SafePlace Community Education Intern

I never would have thought that taking a bathroom break would turn out to be providential. I know what you are thinking, “Am I reading a post about being an active bystander that opens with a restroom scene? Seriously?” Yes, you are.

I had just finished my last scene in a Voices Against Violence Theatre for Dialogue Performance and made a beeline for the door.  After drinking sixteen ounces of berry vitamin water, I had to step out. I ran down three flights of stairs to find the restroom, then ran three flights back up, and I was relieved to find that the performance was still running without me when I returned. As not to disturb the captive audience, I sat down on a table in the hallway outside the performance and let my legs dangle as I waited for the right time to slip back in unnoticed.  Due to the sensitive nature of our performances (they’re about domestic violence and sexual assault) we encourage the audience to take care of themselves and step out if they need to. Of all the performances I’d done, this was the first time I personally needed to step out for a bathroom break.

A woman in the audience was doing the same, and as she opened the theatre doors I could see from her face something about the play was resonating in her. Concerned, I asked her how she was feeling. She replied, “you know you would think the second time around it would be easier to take everything in, but it’s not.” I nodded my head as she continued to tell me about how she saw the same performance a month earlier, and ever since she’d been mulling over seeing a counselor. I felt that being present and simply listening is what would be the most helpful. I thought it was very courageous of her, and a step towards healing, to be vulnerable with a stranger about needing counseling for sexual assault. Had I not guzzled down my beverage earlier I would have never taken a bathroom break and never met this woman.

I told her that I, too, had been to see a counselor, and I didn’t think it meant I was weak or incapable of handling things on my own. Seeing a counselor, admitting I needed a shoulder to lean on, seeking guidance and healing made me a stronger, more resilient woman. Fortunately, I was able to refer her to counseling services for survivors and allies of sexual assault and domestic violence through Voices Against Violence. Suddenly, my bathroom break seemed less of an inconvenience and more like providence for a woman in need.