Speaking Up with Speaker's Bureau

Guest blogger Bethany Tisdale recounts her most recent experiences as a Speaker’s Bureau volunteer and reminds us of the importance of providing culturally competent services to all survivors of sexual assault and abuse.

“Have you heard of our organization before?” That’s typically my go-to line when someone approaches the STSM table at the many community events we attend. I’m always surprised when people say “Yes,” which is ridiculous considering how visible STSM is in our community. I am part of the Speaker’s Bureau, and I like to think that some of that visibility is thanks to us. If you’ve attended an event and seen a table stocked with STSM brochures and informational flyers, that table has likely been staffed by a Speaker’s Bureau volunteer.

At every event STSM attends, our materials are tailored to our audience. Last weekend at SC Pride, for example, our presentation board featured a “Power and Control Wheel” specific to lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, and queer/questioning (LBGTQ) relationships. This attention to the different groups our agency serves is also reflected in the careful training that Speaker’s Bureau volunteers must go through. (For more on using Power and Control Wheels as a model of understanding intimate partner violence, see this FAQ page and/or find more models of the wheel at the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence website.)

STSM strives to be an inclusive, sensitive, and non-judgmental agency whose purpose is really and truly to serve our entire community. When people ask us if we provide culturally competent services to certain identity groups—whatever they might be, whether men or the LGBTQ community or Latin@s--I’m surprised, because I wonder, why would someone even feel the need to ask?

We encounter social stigmas every day. Being made to feel embarrassed or ashamed about one’s identity, sexual practices, or background is unacceptable in any setting, especially in a post-assault counseling session. For example, it seems unfathomable that rape survivors might also have to endure judgment for their sexual preferences, but we see another version of this shaming in the ways in which survivors are treated in the media. Think back to the Steubenville case, or to the young Montana girl considered too mature for her teacher-rapist to be guilty of taking advantage of her. What a woman chooses to wear, her level of intoxication, and even her personality are repeatedly brought up as evidence of her complacency in her own rape.

Anything that prevents a survivor from seeking help and self-care is wrong, and shaming survivors is certainly not something that STSM counselors or staff would ever do. It’s important that our community knows not just what services STSM provides but also how to identify the destructive and hurtful attitudes that help perpetuate rape culture. The educational mission of STSM and the Speaker’s Bureau are a vital part of dismantling rape culture. Don’t you want to help with that?

Volunteering with the Speaker’s Bureau is not without its challenges, but what the staff won’t tell you is that engaging with your community for an important cause can also be fun. And even though you may sometimes get an unexpected question, that doesn’t mean you’ll be unprepared for it.

STSM volunteers Bethany Tisdale and Joe Ryan at SC Pride 2013.

Bethany Tisdale is a PhD student in English at the University of South Carolina. She was always marked for “excessive talking” on her elementary school report cards, so the Speaker’s Bureau is a perfect fit.

For more information about volunteering at STSM, please visit our Volunteer information page on our website and/or contact Sarah Nevarez, our Volunteer Services Coordinator, at vsc@www.stsm.org or (803)790-8208.