Advocate in Training

As mentioned in my previous post, I am about to embark on two exciting projects. The first begins next week and will take me to the next level in victims advocacy. Twice per week, for six weeks, I will participate in certification training so that I can be a certified victims advocate for the local rape crisis center in my town.The training will require 5 hours of my time each week for a total of 30 hours. Upon completion, I will be required to volunteer at least 24 hours per month whether it be answering the rape crisis hotline, meeting victims at the hospital (at any hour when I’m on call) or joining them at court or other proceedings. Yes, it’s quite a commitment, but I welcome it because it’s time I take this step to be a better representative for victims issues and a better citizen.

Having lived and worked in six different states since college, I’ve realized that when you don’t have a reason to anchor yourself to your community,  it’s very easy not to.  For a large part of adulthood, I’ve been a volunteering dilettante. I’ve fixed houses for the poor in Indy, cleaned parks and woodlands in New York, and broken trail in the hills of Oregon. And none of it ever connected with my heart. The closest I came to connection was as a City Meals on Wheels volunteer in NYC for almost three years. I loved meeting the various clients – elderly shut-ins who had rich stories to share of 1920s/30s Manhattan and life as immigrants. I can still see one of them convincing me to stay longer than I should have so she could show me her concentration camp tattoos and tattered uniform. Those meal delivery trips made me incredibly sad about the state of our elderly in this country, and eventually, I became exclusively a letter writer to the clients, eking out notes in large handwritten print on cheery stationery I’d buy at Target.

Now, I am staring down an effort and cause that hits closer to home than anything I’ve ever done and it scares me. I am scared I won’t be good enough as a sympathetic and helpful advocate or that I’ll wind up feeling frustrated by the circumstances presented to me, or worse, heartbroken. As an advocate, I could see cases ranging from rape and domestic violence to child abuse/molestation and stalking. Victims take all forms, men and women. It will challenge what I think I know about sexual assault and about the myriad obstacles victims face both inside and outside the social services our communities put in place for them. And on the outskirts of my resolve, I worry that it could disturb the peace I’ve found regarding my own assault. Some of the advocates I have met tell me to watch for that. I will do my best.

The timing of my training will coincide with a national think tank I will participate in in early October. The group’s charge is to explore the issue of interpersonal violence on college campuses, and specifically, in college athletics. The invitation took my breath away as it represented to me a seat at the table on a topic I’ve been clawing and scraping my way through for almost four years. Expected participants include the State Department, representatives from the most renowned anti-sexual violence organizations in the US and the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women – the very people I’d write letters to/call when I was trying to figure my way through my case. We’ll all be in one room to identify the most urgent issues under the interpersonal violence umbrella, and it might be all I can do not to weep at the sheer joy of being there. Finally.

I will do my very best to take you all with me as I train and as I prep for my meeting. I’d love to hear from any of you who have had experience with either realm – certification or anti-sexual violence efforts in college athletics. Once I am certified, I won’t be able to share anything about the cases I handle. And I imagine there will be limits on what I can share from the think tank. But I can and will use this space for my observations leading into both.

Patience has never been a virtue of mine, but I think four years was long enough to wait for a chance to be heard and contribute in a meaningful way. Now, I am so excited, I can hardly wait to roll up my sleeves and get started. Wish me luck.

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