Published on June 27, 2018
Updated on July 27, 2018
At the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) Center, I serve as one of the student staff members who focus on daily operations and special events. I typically work at the front desk, where I answer calls and interact with clients. Being at the front desk is an important position because I am the primary person that clients interact with. By providing them with a good first-impression ensures that they feel comfortable enough to utilize the resources that the RSVP Center has to offer.
Along with working the front desk, I attend weekly student staff meetings. These keep staff members up-to-date on RSVP Center events and educate us about topics related to relationship and sexual violence. One of these meetings in particular left a profound impact on me and helped me gain a better understanding of why the resources offered by the RSVP Center are so important.
At the meeting, all of the student staff members participated in a “choose-your-own-adventure.” This activity placed us in a position of an individual who suffered from relationship or sexual violence. We were each given a name and backstory, then had to navigate through a narrative that changed based on decisions we made in response to various situations.
In this activity, I was a woman named Jennifer who was in an abusive marriage. Her husband was verbally and physically abusive and did everything in his power to limit her independence. For example, Jennifer was not allowed to have a job, so she spent every day at home alone while he was at work and the kids were at school. She frequently turned to alcohol as a way to cope with what her life had become.
Jennifer was staying with her husband for several reasons including our three children and fear of what her religious family would think if we got a divorce. Finally, she decided that she needed to leave her husband. She found a low-paying job and made plans for the day that she would take the kids and leave for good.
I did not anticipate all of the obstacles that she had to face, including being rejected from a shelter due to her son’s age, having to pay for a hotel with little money, losing her job, and having to pay hospital bills after her other son suffered a serious asthma attack. In the end, Jennifer had no choice but to do what was best for her children and return to her abusive husband.
I found this activity to be a lot more intense than I expected. The immersion aspect of the activity made it more impactful than simply reading an article or watching a video about Jennifer’s situation. I was able to feel the despair that she had in her marriage, her hopefulness when planning to leave her husband, the frustration towards all of the obstacles she faced and the disappointment when she could not financially manage on her own and had to return to her husband.
Every student staff member had similar experiences, some had even more tragic experiences than mine. One that stuck out to me was a woman who was in a similar position as Jennifer, but her husband was a police officer that was able to use his role in the community to further control her, even after she left him.
That day, I walked into a RSVP Center staff meeting expecting an overview of events and a quick PowerPoint presentation. Instead, I had a moving experience that allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the importance of the RSVP Center. I am fortunate that I have never been in an abusive relationship. Jennifer’s situation gave me a new perspective. I have seen the value of the RSVP Center from the viewpoint of a student staff member, but never from an individual who is experiencing abuse. This activity allowed me to do that.