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A HEART for advocacy and education

Guest Column
Sunday, April 14, 2019

The following article is the third article of a five-week series focusing on raising awareness about sexual assault and child abuse. April is both Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Awareness month and it is our hope to educate our local community on these two very serious issues. 2 in 5 women and 1 in 5 men will experience a form of sexual assault in their lifetime. Locally, the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center has been serving victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and child abuse since 1978. Last year, HCWC served 2,111 victims of abuse (face-to-face) from Hays and Caldwell Counties. 749 of those were adult victims of sexual assault and 545 were victims of child abuse.

An act of kindness from a stranger can have long lasting effects on a person. It could be helping with car issues on the side of the road, or being there for someone in a time of crisis. In the last few years alone, sexual assault has been a crisis that has increased across the nation. The #MeToo movement has inspired victims and survivors to speak out and share their stories. This has resulted in more individuals learning that one of their loved ones has been affected by sexual violence at some point in their lives and they in turn want to take action and get involved in the movement. When a victim of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence or child abuse goes to a hospital in Hays or Caldwell counties HCWC sends an Advocate to be with them. The Advocate can be a staff member, intern, or a community member. This is our Hospital Emergency Advocacy Response Team (HEARTeam).

HCWC Advocates have responded to 32 hospital calls since October 1, 2018, which is a 45% increase from last year. Volunteers who go through the necessary training to become Advocates are able to respond to the hospital and be a support system to a recent victim of assault. Anyone with a heart for victims can be an advocate. With the increase in hospital calls, HCWC is encouraging compassionate members of the community to volunteer their time to our HEARTeam.

Once a victim arrives at the Emergency Room a nurse calls HCWC, and we dispatch an Advocate. A Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) meets with the victim to explain the process of the Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE). The purpose of a SAFE is to collect potential evidence that could be on the victim’s body. Law Enforcement is called if the victim chooses to make a report. Advocates empower clients to make their own decisions while offering their knowledge of the SAFE procedure.

A HEARTeam Advocate is there to provide emotional support for the victim and any supportive family members or friends who are with them, and to give them information about HCWC’s services. Responding to someone who has gone through a traumatic experience so recently can seem overwhelming; however, there is training that is required to help community members learn the best ways to offer support. All Advocates must complete our Certified Sexual Assault Advocate Training, which consists of 30 training hours in a classroom setting and 8 hours shadowing an experienced staff member. Advocate Training is free, offered locally, and food is provided. After training, Advocates are able to choose their own shifts during the day or overnight. Not only do you learn skills to better empower volunteers to provide such an important service but you also develop relationships with other like-minded community members all working together to make a difference in their community.

Being a victim of abuse can feel confusing, isolating, and scary, among many other things. There is no telling how someone is going to respond after being victimized and it’s important to know that there is not a right or wrong way for someone to act. We at HCWC want victims to know that there is support for them during one of their most vulnerable moments. We are not there to make decisions for them or tell them what to do. We remind them that this was not their fault and that they did not choose for this to happen to them. Every call we respond to is different, however we approach them all the same. The victim is not to blame, and we are an empathetic resource for them.

In our world today, it’s difficult to avoid conversations about sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse in the media and with loved ones. At times, these topics can be seen as controversial. However, being kind to a stranger in a time of need is rarely viewed as controversial; being a HEARTeam Advocate is one way to make a difference. The most important thing is you are able to be there in their time of need. Long time hospital response Advocate, Ondrea Moffatt, put it best: “HEARTeam is amazing. It is the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done. It can be overwhelming at first, but it doesn’t take long to figure things out and become knowledgeable and confident. I have grown so much as a volunteer, and as a person, through HEARTeam.”

If enough people take action, we will successfully create an environment that will not tolerate violence and abuse.

Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center (HCWC) offers free and confidential services to victims of family violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and child abuse who live, work or go to school in the Hays County and Caldwell County area. Another way you can be proactive in taking a stand against abuse and violence is to consider getting involved in your community. Join us for a special event to support those affected by sexual assault at our Candlelight Vigil on Thursday, April 18, at the Hays County Courthouse lawn at 6:30 p.m. Or you can attend, donate an item or become a sponsor to help support HCWC’s biggest fundraiser, our Annual Live and Silent Auction where all proceeds benefit services for local survivors of abuse. The Auction will be held Saturday, April 27, 2019 at Texas State’s LBJ Student Center Ballroom at 6pm. For more information, please call HCWC at (512) 396-3404 or visit www.hcwc.org

This piece was written by Zoe O’Balle, HCWC Volunteer Coordinator and Laura De La Paz, LPC-I Sexual Assault Counselor/HEARTeam Coordinator (supervised by Kevin Fall, PhD, LPC-S).