Interview with Mick Foley: wrestler, writer, VAW activist

After my blog yesterday, Mick Foley very kindly got in touch with me, and I asked him whether he’d have a quick chat with me about his work with RAINN – the US’s Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Not only is he a fundraiser for the organisation, he’s also a volunteer – maybe not what you might expect from a man who’s known in wrestling as ‘The Hardcore Legend’ and has performed feats like this ‘Hell in a Cell’ match…

How did you get involved with RAINN?

As a longtime Tori Amos fan, I had been familiar with RAINN and the work they did for many years – probably dating back to the founding of the organization in 1994. But until I actually met Tori in 2008, and then took the time to learn more, I didn’t see how I could really contribute to a cause that I had no understanding of. I had been doing volunteer work for quite a while, but until learning to use the computer – I actually linked to RAINN from Tori’s website on the first night I learned how to access the internet, in September 2008 – I had never thought that an organization like RAINN could be my piece of the puzzle to figuring out how one might be able to make the biggest difference. Now I see it as the perfect place for my piece of the puzzle to fit in.

You rightly say that a lot of men don’t think women’s issues are anything to do with them, and that you used to think that way too – what changed your mind?

I’m really hoping that I’ll be able to get more men to at least think about getting involved. If I could pass along one piece of wisdom to the world about sexual violence, it would be to understand that is far from being just an issue for women. It’s a terrible crime that affects men and women alike. Though the vast majority of survivors of sexual violence are female. men are victims as well.

So many survivors choose to suffer in silence, so that their stories may not often be heard by the males in their lives – husbands, sons, friends. But the psychological trauma of rape is so severe, and the incidents so frequent that I believe every man knows somebody who has been a victim, whether they realize it or not. I probably seem like an unlikely advocate for survivors, but I think we could make real progress on this issue if more unlikely advocates got involved.

You’re now a volunteer with RAINN – what kind of training and time commitment has that involved?

I started doing the 40-hour training to be an online hotline volunteer in January 2010, and started doing sessions about a month later. Those first few sessions were really tough, largely because I was still so new at computers.

By the time I began training, I had been a RAINN donor for a year and a half, and was already pretty involved. I knew RAINN depended on their volunteers to really make the hotline work, and I thought volunteering would be a good way to be part of the group in a more hands-on way. I knew some of the stories would stick with me, but helping someone take that first step on the road to healing can be such a source of happiness, almost joy – even if it’s a subtle sense of joy.

I started putting in quite a few hours as I got more comfortable, and saw that the sessions I was doing seemed to be helping people. I promised my wife I would start sleeping more, so I may cut back on hours, but I’m hoping that I can continue to be an advocate for survivors through other methods, like fundraising.

Wrestling (or “sports entertainment”) has traditionally been a very “macho” world – what kind of reaction have you had about your work with RAINN?

You know, wrestling can be kind of macho, but because it’s something of a performing art as well as an athletic endeavour, I think there is quite a bit more creativity and sensitivity than you might find in another type of locker-room. Little by little, the other guys, and the ladies I work with, are finding out about the work I do with RAINN, and I think they find it to be kind of inspirational in a way. If anyone makes fun of me, they’re not doing it to my face.

Tell us about your fundraising campaign that’s running now, and how readers can help.

I was very flattered to be asked to serve on the RAINN board of directors, but a little worried too. I don’t really have an organizational bone in my body. Organization, and obviously fashion, are not my strong suits. But I’m going to try my best, and that involves my very first real fundraising attempt; the #10forRAINN campaign.

We’re just asking for ten-dollar donations, but on a whim, while my wife was recording my RAINN PSA, I mentioned that for enough money, I would go to someone’s house and cut their lawn. When RAINN got the video – which I had to send, because I had no idea how to download – they asked if I was serious about the lawn mowing. I assured them I was, and yesterday, we got a $5,000 donation for me to mow a lawn.

There’s part of me that believes that my wrestling fans’ love for me begins and ends with what I do in wrestling, and to some extent, the books I write about wrestling. I’m not sure how much support they’re going to give me. But I think this campaign is just offbeat enough to attract attention from the outside world – like the people reading this blog. That attention might create more money, but I also hope it leads a better understanding of the issue of sexual violence, and back to the idea that there is a place in the issue for even the unlikeliest of candidates.

I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you to Mick for his time giving me this interview, and wish him the very best of luck with the fundraising campaign.

To find out more about RAINN, you can look at their website; and here’s their page specifically about Mick’s fundraising drive.

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