I'd forgotten - a little - what it means to advocate for survivors of sexual assault.
To be an advocate for a rape survivor, one must believe everything s/he says no matter what.
To be an advocate, one must direct all of one's energy toward being on her/his side, in spite of anything
To be an advocate, one must set aside any tendencies to evaluate the survivor and and take care of her instead.
To be an advocate, one must trust the survivor, even when trust is difficult.
Advocates must trust survivors.
Although I understand the reasons for the methods used to train advocates, I would appreciate a conversation about what this means ethically and epistemologically. I suppose that conversation doesn't have to take place during training.
But what does it mean to produce the effects of love without the love? What does it mean to put someone else's needs above everything else; to drop everything to take care of someone simply because she needs it; to trust what she says simply because she said it; to refuse even to let oneself consider whether anything she has said might be false - what does it mean to do all this as an outsider, as someone who can and will leave, as someone for whom this is not a crisis, as someone who manufactures, on the spot, compassion and authority for several hours at a time?
Kierkegaard claims that love believes all things and is never deceived. The one who loves does so regardless of the risk of being considered gullible or foolish. The one who loves commits to believing the beloved against reasons for disbelief. Of course, for Kierkegaard, the one who loves is following Jesus' command to love one's neighbor, albeit in a radical, self-altering way that even secular folks can understand.
Why do advocates believe survivors? Advocates do not believe survivors out of love (though some may indeed be moved by love to work with rape survivors). Advocates are trained with certain political and pragmatic goals in mind: advocates believe survivors because it is expedient to do so. Advocates believe survivors because it works. This makes it easier - particularly for volunteer advocates - to separate their advocacy work with the rest of their lives; advocacy training and work need not move volunteers to experience any deep ethical or epistemological crisis: volunteers need not import the practice of believing all things into any other part of their lives, nor need they consider the implications of such belief for their advocacy work or their "real lives".
How deep - and of what kind - is the impact of advocacy training and work outside of the settings in which it is needed?
I admit that one could not conduct a training session about loving survivors. That could be a panel presentation, perhaps, at a conference attended by seasoned advocates. If Jesus had had PowerPoint and ran a seminar, his commandment wouldn't have been nearly so effective. Kierkegaard's book is so convicting because he describes in such detail what it means to love. Love believes all things and is never deceived. Love hopes all things and is never put to shame. Love builds up. Love hides a multitude of sins. Love abides. These things would be terribly unhelpful - and inappropriate - at an advocacy training.
And yet. Why do we believe survivors? That's not a question one can ask in training. This is not a place for hypothetical and theoretical conversation. Believing survivors is a political choice that works to help survivors to get the best care possible. But I wonder if being already motivated by love (an ethical commitment not easily at home in a secular world) might help advocates to find or create something like joy even in the emergency room, even while watching a homeless woman's fingertip being sewn back onto her finger. Expediency doesn't seem to help combat advocate burnout. Love might.