Feature: Victim advocates train for personal touch
Fighter Wing Public Affairs | .
published: September 14, 2012
9/9/2012 - KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Being a victim, regardless of the crime, can have a traumatic impact on one's life and those around them. But behind each tragedy is a network of support waiting to lend a helping hand or ear.
Twenty Wolf Pack members devoted themselves to becoming victim advocates for sexual assault survivors during a 40-hour course, Aug. 27 to 30. The sexual assault response program is a support network for victims, and the team consists of the sexual assault response coordinator, NCOs in charge, SARC assistants, and victim advocates.
According to Maj. Iris Coleman, 8th Fighter Wing SARC, advocates are critical in the emotional and mental health of the victim, especially during an unrestricted report*, where the duration of the investigation process can be challenging.
"If a member was sexually assaulted, I ask if they would like a victim advocate, a trained individual who is there to listen and believe in them nonjudgmentally," Coleman said.
During the weeklong course, advocates learned about the dynamic of a sexual assault, engaged in class discussions and watched videos of those who have experienced an assault. Doing so allows advocates to get a stronger sense of what victims go through.
"Before this class, I didn't know much about sexual assault, specifically how much a victim needs someone to help them through the process," said victim advocate, Tech. Sgt. Kevin Crawford, 8th Maintenance Operations Squadron development section chief. "Whether the victim knows it or not, they need someone to guide them to the resources."
To gain a better picture of the investigation process, staff members from the 8th Medical Group briefed about the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence kit the nurse examiners use.
Mental health professionals, Judge Advocates and Office of Special Investigation Agents talked about their procedures as well.
"We want the advocates to know what the investigation entails, so they can tell the survivors it's not going to be an easy process and can be invasive," Coleman said. "We want survivors to have as much information up front to mitigate surprises."
For Crawford, taking the course helped him prepare mentally as a victim advocate.
"As the class instructors mentioned, no two cases are the same and a lot of assaults are pretty bizarre," he said. "The best thing to do is to review the resources that are available, so the survivor can take the right course of action."
While the process is challenging for a survivor, being a victim's advocate can be stressful, especially when a significant amount of time is spent with the survivor.
"It is human nature for many of us to feel a sense of empathy and emotional attachment to the victim," Coleman said. "It can become very fatiguing for the advocates if they are not taking care of themselves properly."
In the class, advocates learned to recognize signs of compassion fatigue and were reminded to think of things they are grateful for. Maintaining a routine and continuing to do things that motivate them such as meditation or prayer are key to helping victim advocates stay mentally healthy.
A recently certified CPR instructor, Crawford is willing to take on the challenge.
"Sexual assaults do happen, so I wanted to extend the ways I can help just in case someone needs a victim advocate," he said. "As with other skills like CPR I'm trained on, I hope to never use it, but if they need my help, then I'm ready."
*The Air Force has instituted new avenues for reporting sexual assault in the form of Restricted and Unrestricted Reporting.
Restricted Reporting allows a victim to report a Sexual Assault without triggering an investigation. It is intended to give the victim (survivor) time and control over the release of their information. Further, it also empowers the survivor to make an informed decision about participating in the criminal process.
Unrestricted Reporting is any report of sexual assault made through normal reporting channels (for example: reports to chain of command, security forces, and/or Air Force Office of Investigation).