When you do CCBR’s internship, you have the opportunity to have unforgettable conversations with people on the streets. I wish I could say that all of the conversations I’ve had saw peoples’ opinion on the issue of abortion at least shift towards the pro-life position. Even though I’ve had a lot of those conversations, that’s not always the case.
Throughout this internship, I’ve had many conversations that shed light on a lot of darkness, reminding me of the darkness in my own life. One of those moments has stayed with me. It happened during my first month of the internship during a “Choice” Chain in front of a high school. As soon as we opened up our signs, most of my fellow team members were swarmed by students who were aggressively pro-choice. I was standing off to the side where I wasn’t getting any conversations. When I noticed that one of the male interns was getting strongly harassed by a group of female students, I decided to move over from my spot so that I could help him out.
As soon as I arrived, one of the students who was insulting us and screaming the loudest, came over to me and started to call me every derogatory name she could think of. When I asked her to calm down, she rudely told me that she didn’t want to calm down and that she wasn’t going to stop until we left their school. She kept repeating that she did not want a man to tell her what she could or could not do with her own body, while pointing to my friend. I knew that getting her to calm down was going to be very hard, so I decided to start having a conversation with her friend, who seemed calm and reasonable.
This conversation was going pretty well until the young woman returned to tell us that we were horrible people for standing outside of a school with signs when a lot of attending students have probably experienced sexual assault and/or had an abortion. I told her that our aim wasn’t to make them feel ashamed or to hurt them through what we were doing. Our goal was to start a friendly dialogue on the issue of abortion and to connect them to organizations that can provide them the resources and help they need in order to heal. The young woman didn’t respond to any of this, insisting over and over that we were just traumatizing the girls who had found themselves in those situations. I tried talking to her and getting her to understand that I did care about those girls and that I wanted to be there for them. I shared with her my experience with sexual assault as an 18-year-old, hoping she could see I wasn’t faking my empathy, but she didn’t respond. She left again, and her friend and I continued to discuss the traumatic situation of sexual assault.
I began: “Like I told your friend, being a woman who has been sexually assaulted is far from easy. You experience trauma that you will never be able to forget and you see the world in a completely different way. I know that from my own personal experience. Abortion will never erase that trauma. It’s not going to unrape a rape victim.”
She started to understand what I was saying but then said: “Well, what about an 11-year-old girl who gets raped?” I knew she was asking to see if my answer would change, and if it didn’t, she could prove that I didn’t care about little girls in those circumstances. At that moment I felt compelled to share something about myself that I never really share on the streets and that most people who have known me for years do not know about me. Right after I shared this, I saw understanding flood her eyes, but her friend returned yet again to insult me and tell me to leave. This time, the student I was speaking to turned to her and said: “Parmi, she understands. Listen to her.” From that moment onward, most of what happened is blurred in my mind.
What I do remember is that Parmi calmed down enough to share with me that she had also been sexually assaulted a few years ago. As she said, “I’ve never told this to anyone before. You’re the first person I’ve ever told. Not even my friends know,” I saw so much raw pain in her eyes that just pierced my heart, as she confirmed this with friends who were beside her. I started to cry because I could see how much she was hurting. When I asked her why she had never shared this with anyone, she said: “I’m a girl. No one is ever going to listen to me.”
What she said struck me hard, because I had been in the exact same position when I was 18, thinking that what had happened was all my fault. I shared with her the following words that I did not hear until I started university: “What happened to you is not your fault. You’re not alone. I’m here and I’m listening.” I had to say that to her multiple times and as we kept talking, I set the abortion conversation aside and listened to everything she was saying. After talking some more, she calmed down so much that eventually she said: “I never wanna see your guy friend here again but if you ever wanna talk, you can definitely come back because you’re really nice and sweet.”
I’ve never forgotten that conversation. I’ve experienced a lot of darkness in my own life and seen a lot of darkness while doing this internship, but I am so thankful that I’m able to use my experiences with darkness to share in the darkness of others and show them that they are not alone; to help be that light and show them that there is hope for all us, no matter how dark and painful our lives have been. Yes, this conversation did not result in an instant shift in opinion on the issue of abortion, but I was able to share hope and love with someone who needed to hear it.