After pairing up, participants were instructed to draw each other’s face without looking at where they were putting pen to paper. “Please just focus on your partner so that she can feel your presence and care,” we added. Participants caught on that the instructions were difficult to follow and being fully present for someone meant not being distracted. This was the introductory activity for a session to explore how one may connect and care for someone in distress.
For context, we elaborated that studies have found that victims of sexual or intimate partner violence usually disclose their pain to a loved one, and the response of the first person they inform is critical for their healing.
To facilitate a thoughtful discussion, 2 volunteers role-played 2 different responses to a scenario of a teen confiding in her friend. She was deeply troubled that she may be pregnant because her boyfriend ignored her request to use a condom.
“This is rape, and you must file a police report!” The friend insisted angrily. The teen was taken aback and replied softly that it was not rape and she did not want to go to the police. Visibly distressed, she kept quiet as her friend continued to advise how she must be strong and not be bullied. Eventually the teen meekly requested, “I wish you could just understand how I am feeling.”
In response to this first role-play, participants applauded the friend and expressed that they admired the firm, no-nonsense approach. They felt that the teen should listen to her friend’s advice. However, when we asked if it was likely that the teen would do so, and how they would have felt if they were the teen in the situation, they became a little more reflective. After much discussion, they concluded that the teen was not helped and would probably not confide in her friend again.
In the second role-play, the friend responded differently. “Sounds like you are scared and exhausted by all the worrying,” she reflected. After the teen nodded, she continued, “Do you have some ideas what you’d like to do?” The teen looked comforted but remained quiet. The friend then suggested that she should just take one step at a time and only do something that she is agreeable to.
The friend continued eliciting feelings that the teen found difficult to express, “How did you feel when your boyfriend refused a condom?” Disrespected, vulnerable and powerless were the answers from the teen. When asked if she wanted to talk to her boyfriend about the incident, the teen clearly said that she was not ready and when her friend suggested staying away from her boyfriend for a while, she agreed immediately. It was a sensitive processing of the incident which helped the teen decide that the first step was clearly to get a pregnancy test.
The group reflected that the conversation in the second role play was so much more comforting and supportive and that it empowered the teen to make her own decisions, which also enabled her to open up much more. In the process she explored her dilemmas, concerns, and feelings.
Participants noted the difference between offering options and dishing out advice and spontaneously started chanting a mantra, “options, not advice!”
“Options not advice!” We could not have summed it up better.
For peace, community, and care,
“The biggest present you can give are options.” ― Daren Martin