Faces of the National Sexual Assault Hotline: Meet Bilingual Shift Manager Francisca

RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24/7 in both English and Spanish. This October, as we continue to celebrate and uplift the voices of those who support survivors on the Spanish hotline. National Sexual Assault Hotline bilingual shift manager Francisca Merino shares how working with members of Spanish-speaking communities differs from English-speakers, and shares a message to survivors.

Francisca Merino had a deep interest in supporting survivors and ending sexual violence prior to joining RAINN. She studied these topics in college and previously worked in the fields of human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual abuse. After completing college, Francisca joined RAINN as a full-time bilingual support specialist on the National Sexual Assault Hotline. In this role, she had first-hand experience with survivors and deepened her knowledge and skills. As a native Spanish speaker, after a year on the hotline, Francisca applied to be a bilingual shift manager to provide further support, not only to visitors but to colleagues.

RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24/7 in both English and Spanish via telephone and online chat. The services are free, anonymous, and confidential.

On the Spanish hotline, support specialists often hear different concerns from survivors than what is heard on the English hotline. For instance, many Spanish-speaking survivors come to the hotline looking for someone to listen to them about their mental health concerns. Finding qualified therapists who speak fluent Spanish is a challenge nationally. Spanish-speaking survivors often also have concerns about reporting that go beyond being believed; they are frequently also concerned about interacting with law enforcement due to their own immigration status or the status of a family member.

Among the most urgent needs on the Spanish hotline, is the need for more bilingual support specialists to help meet survivors’ needs in their preferred language. “The goal is to hire and train more bilingual staff members,” Francisca explained, noting that the team is also constantly searching out and vetting new U.S.-based resources for Spanish-speaking survivors to ensure they can provide visitors with as many options as are available for follow-up support and action.

According to Francisca, “Many of the survivors often just want to talk about how they are feeling,” she explained. She noted that the hotline also frequently hears from individuals who have not experienced sexual assault but do not know where else to turn. “They are really just looking for someone to listen to their struggles,” she said. “We have folks who experience depression, past trauma, or suicidal thoughts, who come to the hotline just wanting someone to listen to them because they can’t find that support,” she said.

Becoming a shift manager has also helped Francisca develop her leadership skills. “You have to develop yourself and find a balance with each person in your team,” she said.“Not everyone learns the same way, so molding yourself to each individual on the team is very important so that you’re able to better help them grow in those skills in a way that they understand.”.

“Before, I was a bit more timid, but this position has helped me come out of my shell,” she said. “I have always been a person that has wanted to help others and I think that this role has helped me do that. I am sharing the skills and everything that I’ve learned coming into RAINN. I never experienced working on a hotline before, so as a full-time bilingual support specialist I was learning a lot and once I found my rhythm, I wanted to help those who were just coming in that may not have that experience just yet. Being a bilingual shift manager is teaching what you have learned and also helping others find their way or their rhythm too.”

Francisca shared one last final message to survivors.

“You are not alone. Although many times it may feel like you are alone and have no one to turn to, know that this is what we are here for. You can always count on us to be a listening ear or like a cheerleader to encourage you throughout the way and help as much as we can to get you back to your full self.”