Last month we talked about Support Within Reach and the services we provide, but this month we are diving in deep to what advocacy really looks like. There isn’t a day where we can expect what will happen or attempt to guess what will happen. It always seems like the moment you schedule an appointment something else pops up that requires immediate attention.

What might require immediate attention? Part of our work includes answering new and ongoing client calls. So, if a client calls in crisis, we will tend to that first and go from there. If a new client walks in the door we will work with them. Right now during COVID-19, we only have one person in office daily and this can get complicated quickly. Another one of our services we provide is advocacy to hospitals when someone goes in for a sexual assault nurse examination (SANE). OK, so just imagine with only one person in office who has a scheduled client meeting at 10 a.m., and then gets a new client walk-in, and during that gets a hospital call. We can never anticipate that we will have a nice and calm day because a variety of things could happen.

We also have a 24/7, 365-day crisis line. Our advocates and volunteers take anywhere from 15- to 48-hour shifts being on-call. So now add in all that we wanted to get done in a week and then we are on call. While on call, we could get 3-4 crisis calls, including a SANE exam (which on average can last up to two hours). So, when we talk about what we do in advocacy we say we have “no typical format.”

There is no “typical” client meeting. Every person is different, and every story is different. Maybe one client comes into the office in total crisis mode, speaking all over the place. Another client may come in calm and collected, yet crying. Another client could call yelling and screaming. We as advocates say this work is messy and beautiful for this exact reason. It allows us to see our clients in their very being, whether in crisis or calm and collected.

Please consider watching a video on YouTube called “The night I was sexually assaulted.” This video can be triggering for those with a history of sexual violence, so I encourage you to take care of yourself during this, whether it is coloring, playing with fidgets, or watching with someone else. In the video, look for signs of distress in the person telling their story. Did you notice the fidgeting hands? Tears? Stuttering words? Shaking legs? Excuses she uses to make it “OK”?

We are with victims/survivors for as little or as long they need us. We tell them this is their journey and we are along for the ride with them. Now, onto why we decide to do this messy but beautiful work.

You might be thinking, “Why would we want to do the crazy, messy, and beautiful work of advocacy?” For most of us at Support Within Reach, we say we are naturally caring, compassionate and empathetic people. Also, the driving force for some people in wanting to do advocacy is a result of being a survivor themselves. I have been very open thus far about being a survivor, and is a reason for me wanting to do advocacy. If I can help even one person grow and heal from their negative experiences, then I have done my job.

My hope is to give my clients, survivors, and community members hope that there can be a reduction in the stigma associated with sexual violence.

Marcy (Cass County coordinator) says, “I’ve always wanted to help people, especially people that are hurting. I think it’s just the way I’m made.”

Sam (Hubbard County coordinator) says, “I believe crime victims and survivors deserve to be heard. If I can be a person that makes them feel heard, then I am doing my job. Therefore, I chose to be an advocate.”

Lastly, Gabrielle (Clearwater County advocate/Sexually Exploited Youth coordinator) says, “When I got away from my exploiter in 2007, there weren’t very many resources available. I had to heal alone, through trial and error. I consider it a duty and an honor to hold space for and be of assistance to other victims/survivors of Sexual Exploitation/Sexual Violence as they navigate the complex path forward.”

Kori Nelson is Development & Volunteer Coordinator for Support Within Reach.