Victim advocates: they help, you heal

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Stephanie R. Plichta
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The phone rings at 3 a.m. A nurse from the emergency room says someone has been sexually assaulted and a victim advocate is needed. Immediately, the victim advocate reports to the ER.

Victim advocates support victims of sexual crimes. They inform patients, provide emotional support and help them find resources to aid in recovery. Advocates assist victims throughout the recovery process.

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jabbar Williams, 93rd Signal Brigade Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, was a victim advocate before becoming a SARC. Williams said initially he became an advocate to fill a vacant spot in his unit.

"Attending the initial course was truly an eye-opening experience," said Williams. "I never realized what was happening to the people around me."

It is tremendously important for the program to utilize victim advocates to be a part of the program, said Williams.

"The program has evolved," said Williams. "Over time we've changed our approach on how we deal with sexual assaults. It has changed the way people behave in and out of the workplace, allowing us to correct inappropriate behavior and make a proactive difference."

Advocates are nationally certified and may also support victims through court proceedings. VA's may also contact organizations, such as criminal justice or social service agencies, to get help or information for victims. Some advocates staff crisis hotlines, run support groups, or provide in-person counseling.

"We have had multiple times where survivors have been unsure of what they wanted to do after being sexual assaulted, but accepted being assigned a victim advocate," said Capt. John Riley, 633rd Air Base Wing SARC.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Natasha J. Bryant, Air Combat Command Aviation Resource Management noncommissioned officer in charge, is a victim advocate at Langley Air Force Base. Bryant first learned of the position after inquiring about sexual assault prevention response training.

In 2011, Bryant's mother succumbed to cancer. After her mother's passing, a story her father told her drove her passion to become an advocate.

"After she passed, my dad revealed to me that she had been sexually assaulted by a distant relative two years before she died," said Bryant. "I never thought that my own mother could be sexually assaulted in her home by a person she trusted."

In memory of her mother, Bryant became a victim advocate -- a decision she never regretted.

"I could not help my mother," said Bryant. "But my emotions drove my empathetic concern for others that were facing tremendous challenges in their lives and for that, I am thankful."

Riley works closely with victims and their assigned advocates. While Riley's role is vital, he believes that victim advocates are among the most important resources available to any sexual assault survivor.

"They can be an ear to listen, provide support, advocate for the victim, coordinate services and even accompany the survivor to difficult meetings or appointments," said Riley. "These individuals volunteer their services because they truly care, and we're lucky to have phenomenal advocates who go above and beyond."

Throughout her career as a victim advocate, Bryant has experienced several cases that differ from one another on multiple levels.

"We offer a wealth of information and are trained to help a victim begin their healing process," said Bryant. "Often times it's easier for a victim to tell an advocate personal information that could be difficult to reveal to others."

Advocates act as peers, allowing victims the opportunity to speak with someone who will not place rank, age or bias of any kind into the conversation.

"Victim advocates have a positive effect on so many individuals," said Williams. "They show how important a life is and how we need to treat all of our brothers and sisters in arms."

For more information on victim advocates or to report a sexual assault, contact your local SARC.