Learn more about Marco’s story.
From his bedroom, a reticent 12-year-old boy named Marco* dialed 1-800-RUNAWAY on a cell phone one night after a confrontation with his father turned violent and resulted in child abuse.
“He was kind of questioning whether he should even be calling in the first place…It turned out that he identified as gay,” says Alex, the National Runaway Safeline frontline team member (aka ‘liner’) who fielded the call. “All he wanted to do was hang out with his friend, who I assumed to be his boyfriend or whatever at that time. I asked him, ‘Why can’t you do that? It’s okay. It doesn’t matter. You want to be who you are.”
Marco* revealed that his father had discovered the nature of his son’s relationship with his best friend, banned them from spending time together, and “punched him in the face.”
Callers of all ages utilize the National Runaway Safeline, and minors like Marco present unique legal and practical challenges to NRS volunteer liners when incidents of physical child abuse are reported. After determining that Marco was safe from immediate danger (he was, though he needed to hang up and call back to avoid detection from his family), Alex prefaced the rest of the conversation by noting that any identifying information would obligate him to report the incident to the police.
Living in a deep southern state with no nearby extended family to fall back on, Marco had no interest in pressing charges against his family or pursuing the complicated, uncertain emancipation process. “It’s not like he was going to become 18 in a year and he just has to push through it. He was stuck.” Instead, Marco vented. “I hate myself. I hate that I’m gay. I just want to be straight because I hate it, I hate it.” Alex listened, repeatedly validated the caller’s worth, and steered the conversation toward the pragmatic–albeit imperfect–steps he can take to stay out of his father’s line of fire.
“Adults can handle themselves,” says Alex. “If they are in a dangerous situation, they will get out of it. These youth, they don’t have that opportunity. We talked about what would happen if his dad was drinking. ‘Can you go into your room? Can you stay away from him?” Liners will similarly work with callers to find nearby safe spaces, be they shelters or 7-Elevens, to take refuge in during crisis times. Callers are also encouraged to seek out trusted authority figures in their life who can, at the very least, be witnesses to what the youth is grappling with.
Over the course of an hour, Marco’s demeanor on the phone opened up, and Alex emphasized that Marco should feel comfortable reaching out literally anytime moving forward when he needed an empathetic ear to listen. “They just want to be heard some of the time…I think it was a conversation he was dying to have.”
Alex has been an NRS’ frontline team member for one year
*The youth’s name and details have been changed to respect anonymity.