SUPPORT WITHIN REACH: Victim advocate: A challenging yet rewarding job
The phone rings and it’s the hospital.
They have a victim of sexual assault in the emergency room and they need an advocate. You grab your things and head to the hospital. When you arrive, you introduce yourself to the victim, who is scared and unsure of what to do. You sit down with them and explain who you are and that you are there to help and support them. They tell you about what happened and the two of you talk for a while about their options. They start to calm down and feel more secure the longer you talk. It’s clear that you are earning their trust, and they are glad to have someone there to help them figure things out.
Ultimately, they may decide to have the forensic exam (or not) or report to law enforcement (or not). They may need help finding a safe place to spend the night or they may need help talking to family or friends to let them know what happened or to get a ride home. They may need to sit and talk until it’s out of their system or they may need your help to connect with a spiritual advisor or to get supplies for a cultural practice. Or at a more basic level, they may have had so much going on throughout this whole process that they haven’t eaten in hours and they just need you to find them a meal.
No matter what their needs are, you are there for the whole thing, helping them so they don’t have to do it all themselves and supporting them while they deal with the varying emotions they are going through.
Every call is different. Sometimes they are hospital calls like the one described here, while other times they are someone calling the crisis line just needing to talk for a while. No matter what the call is about or what you are doing as the advocate, you are making a huge difference in the life of someone who has experienced sexual trauma. You are letting them know that they are believed, that it wasn’t their fault, and that they don’t have to go through this alone. Being there for support in the immediate aftermath can help start them on the path of healing and transforming from a victim to a survivor.
This work can be very challenging. It can be draining to help people through trauma, it can be challenging to find solutions when there don’t seem to be any, and you have to be able to set aside any personal traumas which you have experienced so you can help the person in front of you. Despite all this, however, being the advocate for someone who needs you can also be one of the most rewarding things you could do. To get to the end of a call and have someone say “Thank you; I couldn’t have gotten through this without you,” is a reminder that you have truly impacted their life.
If this all sounds like the sort of thing you have questions about or might be interested in helping with, please contact Support Within Reach. We have openings for volunteers and a volunteer training class starting in October. The class is 40 hours and will teach you what you need to know to get started being an advocate, helping clients in crisis, and helping to make that difference in someone’s healing process. We can be reached at (218) 444-9524 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nikki Miller is Victim Services/Sexually Exploited Youth Coordinator at Support Within Reach. Reach her at (218) 444-9524 or (800) 708-2727.