Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Giving up a career in social services

When I started at the university I went to, I wanted to become a psychologist. The reasoning is that I like to listen to people and help them, what could be better than a career in social services in which to accomplish that goal? I could have been an idealistic 17 year old, but isn’t that part of the charm?

As academics went, I was doing great. My GRE test scores to get into grad school were decent. But as I learned during the college application experience, having those interesting extracurricular experiences and internships were really what tipped the scales in your favor.  I realized to set myself apart from the other grad school candidates, I had to get some experience behind me.

I applied for a local county crisis center internship and got it (it was unpaid, so it wasn’t like it was a nail biter).  There was the general crisis center, which tended to be more suicide/depression sorts of calls, and there was a sexual assault division. Due to having lost a close friend to suicide right before the internship training started, I realized that I wasn’t in a place to deal with suicidal callers (Hint 1 that social services might not be my calling). So I decided to enter the sexual assault division training instead of the suicide prevention training.

After the requisite training, my volunteer gig will entail being on call for a 12 hour shift with a beeper. Some of the job was intercepting phone calls from people being diverted from the general crisis line if it was a sexual assault. The other part of the job was going to the hospital if a rape victim showed up at the hospital. The volunteer would be there during questioning, the exam, etc. to provide moral support and a shoulder to cry on.

I don’t like hospitals (Hint 2 that social services might not be my calling).
I get woozy easily when I’m close to ickiness (Hint 3 that social services might not be my calling).  

I complete the theoretical training just fine, as it is just like going to school. We do role play some, but I just follow what the training materials say to do. I get a certificate saying I have passed the training, and they ask me to take some shifts.

My first 12 hour shift is non-eventful. While I was kind of jazzed to do it, I was kind of worried that the beeper would go off, and I wouldn’t know how to deal with the caller. Or I was worried that I’d have to go to the hospital. We were warned that the hospital stuff could be a long time. It also sounded really draining and emotionally exhausting (Hint 4). My second shift there ends up being 1 or 2 calls. I have to do a follow-up a few days later and pencil that in on my to do list. Maybe I could do this after all!

My third shift was a night shift, something like 7pm to 7am. I had a paper due the next day, and I’m working on it with a good composing rhythm at around 10pm, and then the beeper does its thing. I call, and the crisis line person tells me that there’s a rape victim at the hospital, and I need to go there and go through the whole thing with her. Frick!  Sure, I knew it was possible I would be called, but I had wanted to finish my paper and get some sleep with a quiet beeper sleeping next to me.

During the hospital tour where we learned what we were supposed to do, I really hadn’t paid attention. It smelled bad. There was someone lying on a gurney moaning in the middle of the hall. Then someone was puking in one of the emergency cubby holes where they put the patients. I was so woozy with all of the stimuli that it was taking all my energy not to pass out. So I missed that part about what we were supposed to do other than tell the girl it wasn’t her fault and do reflective statements.

When I get there, I found out that the rape victim is 13 years old. 13!?! I start to feel woozy immediately. It starts out with questioning by the police. Her mom and sister are there, but she seems to want me there more than them. The police start questioning her about what happened. I just basically sit there and rub her arm because I have no idea what to do.

The gist of her story is that she was hitchhiking on the side of the highway (Hint 5 when I wanted to ask WHY she was hitchhiking), a guy in a pickup truck stopped, she got in, he took her to the middle of nowhere, raped her, dropped her back onto the highway, and she got home somehow. I don’t know much, but I do know that her story isn’t making a whole lot of sense because her timeline is wonky, and the logistics of her saying they fought and me not seeing any defensive wounds on her is slightly perplexing. Not that I am a detective by any means, but I guess I would expect to see a few cuts/marks/the beginnings of bruises on her hands or arms if she’s fighting this big guy in a pickup truck.  The policewoman does a good job of not making it sound accusatory, and she did ask about the whole hitchhiking thing. The girl said she got home from school and wanted to go to the store. I would think waiting until your mom got home or even walking there would be safer than hitchhiking, but obviously I have a different decision tree in my head than this girl.

After an over an hour of questioning, they have to get the rape exam room ready, so they send us back to the waiting room for an epic wait.  It is quickly apparent to me that there is bad blood among all three of them – the victim, the mother, and the sister. They practically start shouting at one another. I start out being woozy in anticipation of the exam, then I pretend not to listen to them, and then I get sucked into their drama once it seems like they might start hitting each other at any moment like it was the stage on Jerry Springer.  It seemed odd to me that after the girl was raped that the mom and sister would start a fight with her. Based on the conversation, this 13 year old girl just got out of rehab (I didn’t know 13 year olds COULD be in rehab), she runs away a lot (perhaps why she was hitchhiking?), and she has a probation officer (again, I didn’t know 13 year olds could have such things).  My experience of being a 13 year old was reading Forever by Judy Blume with my friend and trying to figure out what all the naughty passages meant. She obviously had a different experience as a 13 year old with the rehab and probation officer than I had.

We get called back for the exam. Her mom goes with us. I’m sweating at this point because I really don’t want to be there. The exam takes a lonnnnnnng time. It’s dark (probably because of all the black light stuff), so I can at least sweat and be woozy without calling any attention to myself. I just do the pat-pat-pat thing to her arm and whisper words of what I hope is encouragement into her ear.

Now I don’t know what’s going on down there since there’s a sheet. There’s people and instruments coming and going from what I can see. The girl is beyond patient given it had to be at least an hour of lying there with everyone looking at you. She just lies there zoning out, not crying, not telling people she wants this over with like I would have done. I keep pat-pat-patting and slowly get less woozy as I’m getting more comfortable. No one seems to be talking to the girl, but they keep talking in those hushed voices to each other. It’s becoming obvious to me why they have volunteers come stay with the victims. It can be isolating and dehumanizing as all these police and health professionals do their thing while all you want is a shower and your own comfy bed.

Exam is finally over. The awful fluorescent lights come back on. A nurse starts to give her the discharge instructions. It’s after 1am, and I’m so ready to go home. I’m contemplating whether it would be better to go to sleep first and wake up early to finish my paper or just finish it when I get home and then go to sleep. I’m so drained, and I can imagine the girl is 100x more drained than I am.

Then a nurse comes in and sits down. “Is there something you’d like to tell us?” Huh? After all this time, it feels like it’s me going through it all instead of me sitting there next to the victim (Hint 6: getting too emotionally involved). I almost feel like the nurse is talking to me, and I start racking my brain. The most likely explanation is that they found absolutely no evidence of a rape. That’s what I’m preparing myself for because, given her awful responses to the police questioning, that’s my suspicion.

She just sits there. The nurse tells us that the girl is pregnant, which of course can’t mean that the father can’t be the rapist because it takes at least a week to register as pregnant. I am so tired and drained that this news completely takes me down. Not only has this girl been in rehab, on probation, been raped, now she’s pregnant by another guy? All at the age of 13?

Mom starts screaming at her. I get the sinking feeling that we’re not leaving anytime soon, and I think I’m treading outside the rape victim gig now that we’re into teenage pregnancy. Then the nurse asks who the father is.

The girl says, “I don’t know.”

I need some aspirin at this point.

Mom is acting crazy; she gets thrown out of the room. The nurses try to get more out of the girl. She says she only knows the father’s first name. She doesn’t know how old he is.  The funny thing is, she doesn’t really seem to care that she’s pregnant. Maybe she already knew, and the so-called rape was a cover up (Hint 7: I think the victim could be lying). Then they ask her if she’s on any drugs at the moment, and I suddenly put the reason for her rehab stay together with her current zoned out state.

That was the night I gave up wanting a career in social services.

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