Hospital Advocacy: Emotional support in the aftermath of sexual violence

19 August 2019 Published in DOVE Center Blog

Most people volunteer or choose to go into “helping” professions because they want to make a difference in the lives of others.  This is the very reason I serve on DOVE Center’s Hospital Advocate Response Team (HART). Over the years, I’ve enjoyed volunteering in a variety of ways- from schools and soup kitchens and church organizations, to a non-profit hospice for the indigent, and even a celebrity concert series. But of all the capacities in which I’ve served, hospital advocacy is currently the most meaningful for me. 

 

But what is a hospital advocacy? 

Hospital advocacy refers to the practice of providing unbiased, emotional support to individuals visiting the ER in the aftermath of one of the most shattering experiences a person can endure. Incidents of interpersonal violence and abuse are severely traumatic, and compassionate support is crucial as survivors begin the healing process. Too many victims don’t have a friend or family member with them to offer such support, yet every victim deserves it. That is why DOVE Center always has a specially trained hospital advocate on call.

DOVE Center’s team of hospital advocates are called upon to support victims of sexual assault during a forensic exam, as well as victims of domestic violence needing medical treatment for physical injuries. 

 

Never heard of a sexual assault forensic exam?

The sexual assault forensic exam (more commonly known as a “rape kit”) is the process by which immediate needs for care are addressed and a head-to-toe examination is conducted to document injuries and collect and preserve evidence, including DNA evidence. Such evidence may increase the likelihood of prosecution if a survivor chooses to report the crime. The DNA is added to a national database, making it easier to connect a perpetrator to other crimes. During a forensic exam survivors may also receive preventative treatment for sexually transmitted infections, as well as referrals for follow-up care. While there are many benefits to receiving the sexual assault forensic exam, the process can be upsetting and re-traumatizing for some. It is therefore entirely up to the individual whether or not they undergo the examination. 

 

So what is the hospital advocate’s role? 

With the survivor’s permission, the hospital advocate has the privilege of being an emotional support for them throughout the exam—listening, validating and empowering as needed, as well as introducing available resources for healing and recovery. Hospital advocates provide replacement clothing for a survivor to wear home (and keep), as the clothing worn at the time of the assault must be left with the examiner as part of the evidence kit. Advocates can also increase a survivor’s comfort by retrieving snacks and drinks or warm blankets and socks. In addition, the advocates help survivors complete an application form to Crime Victims Reparations which helps pay for their medical treatment. 

If a survivor doesn’t have a safe place to go after an exam or visit to the ER, advocates may make arrangements for them to stay a few nights (or more) at DOVE’s safe shelter. Once connected with the DOVE Center, survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault can access a myriad of services for crisis management, safety planning, and ongoing healing and recovery. 

 

How do survivors feel about or respond to all of this?

As we are all unique and have varied life experiences, we react to trauma differently. Some of the people for whom I advocate at the hospital seem numb; while others experience the whole gamut of emotions. Some are just trying to get the visit over with as quickly as possible so they can pretend it never happened, while others are fascinated by the process of evidence collection by the trained forensic nurse examiner. Many are anxious and some are just plain scared their perpetrator will retaliate if the crime gets reported to law enforcement.

The fear of being judged and blamed for the hurtful crime someone else chose to commit keeps many victims from ever disclosing sexual assault or domestic violence, let alone receiving supportive services in the wake of the crime. The courage of the survivors I meet at the hospital is awe inspiring. 

DOVE Center’s Hospital Advocacy Response Team responds to calls for hospital advocacy 24/7; so we need a lot of dedicated hospital advocates! If you’d like to make a difference in the lives of survivors here in our community, I invite you to become a volunteer advocate with HART. Below are some requirements and steps to take.

Hospital advocates must:

  • Show a commitment to DOVE’s mission to empower those impacted by domestic abuse and sexual violence
  • Pass a background screening
  • Complete 40 hours of Rape Crisis Advocacy training
  • Complete additional training on DOVE’s hospital advocacy protocol
  • Attend monthly training meetings
  • Commit to being on call for either three 12-hour shifts or two 24-hour shifts each month. (A 12-hour day shift is from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m; and a 12-hour night shift is from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.)

If you would like to learn more about this incredibly valuable and much needed service opportunity, contact Elizabeth Bluhm at 435-668-5081 or during business hours.

Yours truly,

Elizabeth Bluhm

Sexual Assault Advocacy Program Manager

DOVE Center 

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