I will never forget the first time I supported a survivor of sexual violence. It was less than a week into my job as an educator at Mount Sinai’s Sexual Assault and Intervention Program (SAVI). I was at a Halloween party dressed as a giant fried egg with sperm trying to break into the yolk. I was excitedly telling a number of acquaintances about my new position. I could see one woman, (who I believe was dressed as a seductive werewolf) react when I mentioned that I worked in sexual assault prevention.
Later that evening, amidst the blaring sounds of punk rock, she shared with me that a week prior she believed that she was drugged and assaulted and since then she has been walking around in a zombie-like state. I remember feeling helpless, as it felt all I had to offer was a joke about the connection between her zombie state to her costume choice.
Listening to her story, though awkward silence and uncomfortable moments, I was able to be there for her. I offered her my ear, told her that what happened was not her fault and let her know that she was not alone. Despite feeling like I said the wrong thing on multiple occasions, I also felt a strong feeling of connection to her and goodwill in having a role in her recovery.
Calls are now open for the 2019 SAVI Volunteer Advocate Training Program, which is basically the scene I just described minus the egg and the punk rock. In this program, SAVI volunteers support survivors of sexual violence and intimate partner violence in the Emergency Department.
The emergency department can be a bustling, chaotic, frightening place. The nurses and doctors are there to care for the health of the survivor, police are looking to investigate the case, the hospital staff are trying to manage the space. The Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) is there to collect evidence and document the crime. The only person who is there wholly to support the survivor is the SAVI advocate. “How powerful that moment is, not just for our survivors, but for us as well,” described Christine, a SAVI advocate.
Bushwick-based violence prevention specialist Marcy Zingman at Wyckoff Hospital spoke to Bushwick Daily about the importance of having advocates in the emergency department. “You don’t know what to expect, hospitals can get so chaotic,” Marcy Explained. “Doctors are great but they have to be in and out. Having a calming presence amidst the chaos is of the utmost importance.”
When someone has been sexually assaulted or is in a violent relationship with an intimate partner they have had their power taken away in the most profound way. As a volunteer you are a part of giving them that power back. As SAVI volunteer Hannah describes, “I know that even if I accidentally forget something or make a mistake, the survivor was made more comfortable just because I was there with them. Sometimes I sit next to the survivor in silence, sometimes I actively listen as they tell me their life story, and sometimes I keep an eye on them while they get some sleep. I kind of feel like I am giving the survivor the VIP treatment which I know sounds weird. I am there for their beck and call.”
There is a 40-hour training in October that prepares SAVI advocates with the skills to support survivors. SAVI advocate Derek describes, “the training was informative, inspiring, and incredibly rewarding on so many levels. Although I was a victim of sexual abuse many years ago, I am a survivor today who is more than a statistic; I’m a member of a community of support.”
There are also services for survivors of violence in Bushwick. Wyckoff Heights Medical Center offers free therapy for those that have experienced sexual assault and intimate partner violence. These services, available in both English and Spanish and are open to all persons regardless of immigration status. For more information about Wyckoff’s services call 718-906-3846 or 718-906-3857. RAINN also has a 24-hour support hotline 800-656-4673.
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