By Cassie Clemmer

When I hear the word hotline, my mind immediately jumps to those bright-red, constantly-ringing phones from superhero cartoons. I think of the urgency with which the mayor or the president of these fictional worlds calls up their crime-fighting colleagues when disaster strikes the city, most often in the form of a giant bug or amphibian stomping on people and buildings. I think of the times when someone in the office, typically a blond-haired secretary, accidentally uses the hotline for non-emergency purposes and gets a lecture from the man in charge for sending the superheroes off on a “useless” mission.  As a 6-year-old, with eyes glued to the TV screen broadcasting Cartoon Network, I learned something that has stuck with me for over 16 years:  Hotlines are for emergencies only.

Now, in my 22 years of wisdom, I can recognize that emergencies don’t always have to include radioactively-powered, genius-monkeys trying to take over the world to be considered serious events, but there always remained this sense that a certain level of urgency was required in order for me to be justified in picking up that symbolic, red hotline.

So the morning after I was sexually assaulted in college, I hesitated when a friend suggested I call the rape crisis hotline. I was scared – scared that my experience didn’t justify such an urgent and important act. After all, hotlines are for emergencies only.

The most private violation of my being that I had ever experienced was not an emergency to me, and how could it be? I had been taught by society all my life that my body belonged more to any random man who crossed my path than it did to me, the sole occupant for over 22 years. I had been taught that what happened was my own fault simply because I didn’t follow the strict handbook of “How Not to Get Raped” that all girls receive at birth. I had been taught that even in the case of a crisis line specifically dedicated to helping people who have experienced what I had gone through not hours before, hotlines are for emergencies only.

The honest truth is that I didn’t feel worthy of an emergency; I didn’t feel like the monsters stomping around in my head were big enough to justify me picking up the phone and calling for help. If it weren’t for a friend of mine who kept encouraging me to call, and even dialed the numbers for me, I probably would have never summoned the courage to do it on my own.

But once I did, it made an incredible difference in my ability to process what had just happened to me. The woman on the other end of the line was supportive, patient, and extremely informative. She helped me figure out what I needed to do next, and most importantly, helped me realize that my experience was not only worth her time, but also worth my ownership of it as an emergency.

So even though I wasn’t calling about a giant rat taking over New York City, or a villain who was planning on using the water supply to brainwash the country, my own pain and trauma was worth the use of that hotline, no matter how hard that was to recognize.

And the phones they use may not be the bright-red landlines featured prominently in cartoons, but the volunteers on the other end of that line who dedicate their time and energy to helping people like me, struggling with the most intimate crises, are most certainly my superheroes.

Remember, your experience is worth a call – the hotline is there for YOU.

*If you are in immediate danger, please dial 911*

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) Hotline: 800-656-4673

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8525