"So... a call center?"

I work at the Iowa Victim Service Call Center.

“So… a call center?”

I’ve heard this from friends, family, and people in general when I tell them about what I do. I can hear the tone in their voice - as if working in a call center automatically devalues my job.  I won’t lie, I understand the hesitation. When I first applied for this position a little over a year ago, I imagined a dim room hidden in a small, crowded office.

Call centers seem to have this negative stigma attached to them because we automatically think of telemarketers, insurance call centers, large retail banks, etc. We think of something that isn’t personal – a place where you call in and are read the same script the last 18 people were read.

Trust me, I get it.

I only have a few seconds to make a lasting impression to grasp the depth of what we do at our “call center” to those who ask.  What do I say? Do I tell them how we work with every domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and homicide program across the state of Iowa? Do I tell them about the hours upon hours I’ve had of training through the Iowa Attorney General’s Office and the Coalitions Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence? Do I tell them about the state-of-the-art equipment we have to ensure no call goes unanswered? Do I tell them about the countless nurses and police officers I’ve worked with along the way to ensure victims don’t have to go through a SANE exam alone or to ensure a victim has an advocate with them after a violent crime? Or do I tell them about the first time I left work crying because I spoke with a college-aged male who was being sexually abused by his brother and was so traumatized he could barely speak?

There is truly no way to sum up what we do. I freeze.

What do I say?

I can say that every call is personal. It’s so personal that often we feel a connection to the callers and feel so much hurt for them that we will do whatever it takes to help them find shelter, transportation, food, or apply for a protection order. I can say that every call is answered, and that sometimes when we have 5 lines ringing at the same time, that is not an easy thing to do. I can say that not a single advocate on the line will ever cast judgment toward a caller, and that takes a special kind of person. I can say I’ve spoken with children, adolescents, college students, moms, dads, grandparents – ages 8 – 76. I can say I’ve spoken with people of all races, backgrounds, religions and sexual orientations.  I can say I have spoken to victims who don’t have enough money to put a tank of gas in their car, as well as victims who are well known in their community with great financial means. There is no demographic divide when it comes to violent and sexual crimes.  I can say with 100% confidence that this can happen to anyone - and it does.

I can say our office is much like any other. My coworkers include a wide range of generations and backgrounds. They are some of the most compassionate and genuine people I have ever met. It truly takes a special kind of person to do this work – someone with an open mind, willingness to do whatever it takes, and most importantly: a huge heart. We celebrate birthdays, we decorate for the holidays, and we chat about what’s going on in our personal lives. What separates us from other offices are the times we are not celebrating or making conversation - the times we are heavy with someone else’s story and feel as if we can’t do enough to help.  Like when we take a call from a nurse to dispatch an advocate because an infant or child was sexually abused.  Or when we are talking someone through the pain of being abused by someone who was suppose to love and care for them.  The stories are endless.

So how do I tell my friends and family that I am that special kind of person? How do I tell them all the horrific things I’ve heard in the past year and how I have more of a passion than ever to work in the movement to end violent and sexual crimes? How do I tell them that it’s not “just” a call center?

That’s when I realize that I don’t have to tell them. I don’t have to justify what I do. I can show them. I can show them when I notice our number and logo advertised at a Casey’s gas pump or a local coffee shop. I can show them the communication skills I have gained from speaking with people from all different backgrounds, and encourage them to enhance their skills and competency as well. I can show them compassion when they open up to me about problems within their family. I can show them my honest and open opinion when they bring up news articles about someone who recently suffered domestic or sexual abuse – by respecting their opinion, explaining why law enforcement acted a certain way or why a victim might not have left right away.

I can show them that I am a better person because of the work I do, and that this is now a part of who I am.

Is it “just” a call center now?