Hi, my name is Rachel and I am a new communications intern here at www.loveisrespect.org. One part of my duties will be updating this blog and our twitter account (follow us: @loveisrespect!). The other part of my week will be spent taking chats and calls at the National Dating Abuse Helpline, the organization that provides direct service at loveisrespect. Before any volunteer starts the phones, everyone has to go through 40 hours of training, myself included.
My training officially started last Saturday morning. There were so many thoughts racing through my head while I was driving- what if I’m not mature enough? What if I cry or get emotional when I hear these stories? What if I can’t even handle the training? I’ve always been the type to console my friends after breakups, but I have never had to console someone I don’t know. It seems strange to be invited in to someone’s life who I don’t know and talk to them about their relationships.
Luckily, the volunteer coordinators provide a TON of information (read: 4-inch thick binder). The group is about ten people and of all ages: few college-age, few post-college and a few older. After introducing ourselves, the first task was to complete a pre-task. There were some questions that I just did not know (what are the two questions you should ask every teen who calls into the Helpline?) and some that I felt like I made an intelligent guess on (what are three signs of dating abuse? Thanks Lifetime Movies for that answer!).
The volunteer coordinators promised that we would know all of the answers by the time we finished. After this, the coordinators led a series of lectures and discussions about what dating abuse and healthy relationships really look like. We watched the Lifetime movie Reviving Ophelia before lunch, then talked about how the relationship of Elizabeth and Mark had the warning signs of an abusive relationship. After lunch, we discussed the ‘big picture:’ how society’s demands on relationships cultivate abusive behavior.
This part was really intense for me– I just had never thought about the unspoken assumptions that are placed on relationships. It was so much more than the guy pays and opens doors for a woman; this was about how men are only allowed one emotion (anger) and women are conditioned to be gentle and nurturing and what this all means for the dynamics of relationships.
We watched this clip of a toddler having the time of his life to talk about what being free from these gendered pressures could really do for us. Then, we cut out pictures from magazines and talked about how popular TV shows reinforces these assumptions.
It gave me a lot to think about on the ride home. Our homework assignment was to make an advertisement with a message we would want young adults to receive. I have a younger sister, Molly, who is starting high school next year and will probably have her first teenage relationship soon. She is a very mature young woman, but I worry that MTV, Teen Vogue and the E! channel send her the message that she needs to have perfect hair, wear size zero jeans, and shop exclusively at Abercrombie and Fitch. It just seems like there is this constant message to teens that they are not good enough just being who they are.
My advertisement, not exactly an artistic masterpiece, sent the message everyone is perfect just the way they are. Hopefully, my fellow volunteers like it and maybe one day, teen magazines and advertisers will catch on too.
If you’d like to be a peer advocate like me, check out this page. And if you think you would like to talk to a trained peer advocate about your relationship, chat or call us at 1-866-331-9474.