Why I Volunteer

Guest Blogger Patrick Anderson is STSM's Volunteer of the Quarter for June of 2014. Patrick's compassionate nature helps him to successfully connect the survivors he serves at the hospital to STSM counseling services. Patrick has responded to 10 hospital calls in the year he has served as an advocate. Patrick serves on STSM's Speakers Bureau and also speaks on the Advocate Panel to help train new advocates. STSM staff especially love when Patrick comes by as he usually brings cookies and milk.

When people find out that I volunteer with STSM, their reaction is usually some variation on the following theme: “So…what made you want to volunteer with a group like that?.. I mean, that’s something a lot of guys wouldn’t do.” Incidentally, they have at least partially answered their own question by the statement appended to it, but I’ll get to that later. Perhaps I should first address the reasons why most people think I want to work with survivors of sexual violence.

Many people assume that I must be a survivor of sexual violence myself, and am deriving a cathartic sort of therapy from helping people who have experienced a hardship that I myself have endured in the past. While this is by no means unusual, it is not the case with me; I am not a survivor. The other most common misconception is that I’m a gay man, the rationale (and I use the term very graciously) being based on inaccurate stereotypes; in other words, gay men are much more effeminate and in touch with their feelings, so naturally they care about sexual assault which, after all, is a women’s issue. Again, this is a false assumption in my case; I identify as heterosexual. These assumptions are reductionist, dismissive, and ultimately harmful to meaningful discourse concerning the end of sexual assault; but they do present an opportunity to consider why the assumptions are there in the first place.       

In my experience, the reason is an all-too prevalent one in the fight against sexual violence: it stems from a psychological defense mechanism. Far too many men do not want to confront the ugly realities of sexual assault; that it happens every day, in every socio-economic group, is no respecter of gender, and that it could even happen to them. By confining sexual violence to the realm of “a women’s issue,” men abdicate their own responsibility to work towards the admittedly challenging goal of a world free of sex crimes. This is made even more morbidly poignant when one considers the fact that the vast majority of documented sex crimes have been perpetrated by heterosexual men.

So, now that we’ve thoroughly established why I didn’t, why did this straight guy who is not a survivor ask to volunteer with STSM? I’m afraid the answer might be just the tiniest bit anti-climactic, but here goes nothing: I was raised to believe that everything happens for a reason, and that everything will come around right at the end for everyone. I no longer believe this.  As far as I can tell, the world is a very dangerous and at best indifferent place, and the only hope that we, as human beings, have of making our limited time here bearable and, I dare hope enjoyable, is one another. Based on what I have seen in my time at STSM, sexual violence is one of the most difficult things a person can experience. There is nothing magical that’s going to stop it for us. If sexual violence is ever to be made a thing of the past, we as a society will have to collectively say “No more.” 

I view it as my responsibility to fight this complete and utter menace to public health and happiness, in order that I might make the world a safer place in which to live for all of us. I invite everyone, regardless of gender identity, regardless of sexual orientation, to join the fight, because the only way we can hope to win is together.