Communication, Confidentiality, and Open-Ended Prompting

October 8, 2008 at 10:57 pm (Making Sense of Things) (, , , , , , , )

I have recently been accepted into SAA training at my college. SAA stands for Sexual Assault Advisor – a confidential peer that a sexual assault survivor can speak to and get information from (regarding various legal and college related processes). When I started this blog I thought, for the very first time, about the repercussions of not having grown up with any sort of religion (and thereby not having any morals and ethics hard coded into my childhood). Some time back in middle school I had developed an uncanny habit of stealing – breaking into lockers at the YMCA and extracting cash. When I was finally caught I received a brutal non-physical release of anger from my parents, in the form of the grandiose maxim “imagine if you were in their shoes”. I most certainly do not want anyone stealing from me, and that episode is the first time that I distinctly remember using my imagination. (Everyone uses their imagination, but how often is that memorable?)

So I wondered, when I wrote the first entries of this blog, about what ethics and morals and humanism and whatnot meant to me. And I honestly couldn’t say. One of my “proposed” theological models is the queue of souls, lining up for their turn on Earth to experience it, feel it, sense it. And death on Earth is non-permanent: the soul simply lines back up and gets another creature the next time around. However, given sentience, a soul in a human can lose its spot in the queue permanently (“burn in hell for all eternity”) by ruining this sensory Earth for others (for example through deforestation, genocide, rape, murder, etc). So by my model, we should all strive to make the world a better place (for our soul and others, the next time around the queue).

Let me add a caveat here. I don’t “believe” in this theological model. That is illogical, and “quantity” of total souls comes into question among many contradictions and incongruities. Still, just as (some) stories of the Bible are useful for illustrating socially acceptable and unacceptable behavior, so does this model loosely dictate some “rules” to live by.

Despite providing this model as a reason to be “good”, I reflected and did not find myself actually doing anything “good”. What kind of humanist was I, preaching (or at least accepting) humanism as a way of life, but not actively promoting it through my actions? To alleviate my internal conflict, I applied for SafeWalk and SAA. Safewalk sends teams of two out, from 10pm-2am, to walk any caller between any two locations on and around campus, to promote safety and security. In large part, to prevent violent assaults (and unwanted attention from passing drunk students). SAA then is a program to help survivors of sexual assaults (rapes) come to terms with their lives, accept the event, and move past it.

Communication (starting with body language) is the very first element of being an SAA. Poor posture, tension, or an overtly laid-back attitude can all break a survivor’s confidence and prevent the session from being at all effective. Then there is confidentiality – while I can describe the methods used by the SAAs, I obviously cannot disclose the details of any particular case. Confidentiality helps maintain the integrity of the SAA program, and keeps survivors willing to call us for help. If their confidence in our confidentiality was lost then they would not seek our help (and would be less likely to receive help from elsewhere).

And last is the mode of conversation: open-ended prompting. I wrote an article on Play-by-post forum-based dueling for the Role Play Academy, and started it with Open-Ended Prompting. The premise there was to keep the duel going by giving that person something they had to respond to, and open-ended prompts in SAA conversation are no different: to make a session productive, the SAA needs to keep the survivor talking (or at least able to talk, as pauses in conversation are not only allowed by are encouraged when necessary). To keep the conversation going, the answers to questions need to be long but possible to recall (rather than requiring analysis). As such, yes-or-no questions are a bust due to their one word answers (great for ending a conversation, but not necessarily on a good or useful note). But also “why” questions are a taboo. Questions that start with “why” require active analytical commitment to respond to. As the survivor is likely preoccupied with overwhelming emotions (rage, terror, hate, disgust, etc), requesting that they take a moment to analyze the situation objectively and answer your “why” questions is both selfish and unlikely to be successful.

It is one thing to speak on a subject; it is a whole ‘nother to do. It is easy to say that we should all be supportive of each other, so as to make the world a better place. I’m not saying that I’m now making the world a better place, but I think that I’m en route to figuring out how I would go about doing so. Baby steps.

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