Note: I didn’t write this post – another escort did, un-named at their request. I wish I had written it. It’s well said, and needs to be said. The truth is, I probably need to hear it!
Listening to the shouts and sidewalk preaching aimed at clients this morning on the sidewalk, I couldn’t help but think how important the words and tones we use to say things are. Blame, shame and humiliation are preached outside the clinic door. Escorts strive to bring acceptance, normalcy and empowerment to clients who are faced with hateful words when they arrive at the clinic. Words matter.
We have a new anti on the street the past two Saturdays who has brought the importance to differentiate the escort language and approaches to an even stronger idea to keep in mind. He was present on the sidewalk in the past, disappeared for about two years and is now back. Dave is his name. He screams, “Do not kill me, Mommy,” at clients while he rushes up to walk in front of them.
Today he had a heart painted on his hand with a square inside it. Dave would thrust his hand up so the client could see the drawing and say, “I drew a picture of you and me. Here it is. I love you, Mommy. Don’t kill me.”
It is hard to keep a semblance of normalcy while dodging him, a line of praying antis and soapbox preachers screaming messages of hellfire. We are there to empower the clients in their walk through this gauntlet. It is important we use the words that calm and reassure the client that they have people who respect their right to make a choice.
The following is a recap of things we have covered in training and discussions. I think it is worth repeating at this point. Experienced escorts will recognize all of these points and can add to them, but for newer escorts it might help to restate some of these.
While talking to two new volunteers this morning, some of us touched on the subject of how you approach and talk to clients and their companions. We all have different approaches and verbiage we use, but we are trying to get the same message across quickly. The main points are: 1. We volunteer to escort clients to the EMW Clinic. 2. Would you like us to walk with you?
How you convey your message is as important as what you say.
We always need to keep in mind the client has this one experience walking up the sidewalk. We can perfect our approach and conversation weekly, but we only have one time to get it right with the client we are approaching today. Calm, non-threatening presence and asking permission to escort them are imperative. The approach should be friendly and nonthreatening. A small wave and smile works to break the ice.
We have about 30 seconds to let the client know who we are and to gain their permission. If a client says they don’t want an escort, we of course let them walk alone.
Clients don’t know us and frequently confuse us with protesters. I usually start by asking the clients if they are going to the EMW Clinic. Sometimes, I say Abortion Clinic or Surgery Clinic. My personal preference is Surgery Clinic. It immediately distinguishes a difference from AWC. Using the term Abortion Clinic helps in destigmatizing the word abortion and some escorts prefer this. I find when I say EMW Clinic, I personally don’t speak clearly enough and usually have to repeat, but this may work for other escorts.
Then we ask the client if they would like us to escort them. If they say, “Yes,” we walk beside them. If they say, “No,” we back away and allow them to walk alone. It is all about the client’s choice. Sometimes the client will say, “No,” and then when they start walking change their minds. We should watch for this, but not approach them unless they request us to join them.
The next step is to identify the people on the sidewalk for the clients. Explaining to them all the people in the orange vest volunteer to escort and everyone else is protesting is quick and easy. We should be assuring the client the protesters will say things to them and try to hand them literature, but the client can ignore them and keep walking.
Giving permission to ignore the antis is important. Most people are too polite to be intentionally rude to anyone trying to talk to them.
If a client appears to be particularly nervous, I advise them to watch the sidewalk and don’t make eye contact to minimize the chance of engagement with an anti. It is important for one escort to keep talking to the client as you are walking to the door. This should be only one escort talking to the client. If more than one tries to talk, we overwhelm the client and they are not able to focus on one person. Then they are more likely to be distracted and distressed with the anti rhetoric.
While walking up the sidewalk, the escort talking to the client should use calming, non-inflammatory speech. Talking about the sidewalk is a tactic a lot of us use because the sidewalk is bumpy. We need to keep in mind the idea of non-engagement with the antis and non-political speech on the sidewalk.
Again, these clients don’t know anyone on the street (usually). They are confused, nervous and don’t know who to trust. If we engage in struggling verbally with the antis, we are not providing an empowering environment for them to walk to their medical appointment.
Telling the clients all the antis are haters, blamers and insane does nothing but cause the client to be more nervous and upset. It puts escorts in the same category as the antis. They are telling the client all escorts are liars and don’t care about them; we are telling them all antis are liars and don’t care about them.
Again, the client doesn’t know any of us and then is made more nervous when we talk against the antis because they don’t know what is going to happen when they get to the door of the clinic. They just want to go to the doctor and don’t want to get into a struggle with opposing factions on the abortion issue. Instead, if you just matter of factly say ‘some of these people will be trying to talk to you and you can ignore them if you want,’ it puts a veneer of civility to the otherwise bizarre situation they find themselves in.
We are all human and subject to human emotions. If the anti-rhetoric gets you angry and you feel like firing back, it is time to walk away for a little while. Always remember, we are there for the clients. We are there to help empower them in their decision. An angry escort yelling, pushing or just talking about how awful the antis are is doing nothing to support the client. It is time to walk away, cool off and regroup so you can escort the next client calmly.
No one should have to have support in exercising their choice to have a medical procedure. But until the antis stop coming out, we need to be there.