Turning victims into survivors

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Kudos to Coeur d’Alene Police and City Council for their decision to hire a victim’s advocate, who could have been especially useful in many of their 900 domestic violence calls of 2016. If their road looks like the one blazed by Post Falls Police Department’s advocate program, it’ll be a success.

For eight years I was a volunteer victim’s advocate for Safe Passage (f.k.a. The Women’s Center). One week each month I manned a hotline and met victims — usually in the middle of the night — at the hospital. It can be an emotionally draining job, but the reward is knowing you’ve been useful at what is often the most traumatic moment in a person’s life.

While the role varies by entity, a victim’s advocate fulfills a crucial role no one else can. Medical personnel, responding officers, and later, prosecutors all address crime and its effects, but each is busy with their job, and focused on a different target: treating physical injury, investigation and pursuit, or legal prosecution. Not one is able to focus solely on the victim’s broad and pressing needs.

An advocate stays focused on the victim, providing:

Explanations: Especially in interpersonal violence situations, some questions officers and medical personnel must ask can feel intrusive or accusatory. An advocate can explain why they’re being asked, reducing the sting and confusion.

Paperwork: Forms are part of investigations, medical examinations, and prosecutions. It’s not all straightforward, and trauma makes mundane tasks more difficult. Trained advocates can interpret and assist with that process.

Emotional support, now and later: It’s bad enough experiencing certain crimes; reliving it through repeated questioning can feel like being traumatized all over again. Common reactions are crying, resistance, fatigue and — eventually — a sort of dull numbness. Advocates recognize this, and can provide a victim with a little more stamina, strength, and comfort to endure. Some advocates help victims making statements to courts and parole boards — an otherwise intimidating experience.

Information: Not only when a crime occurs, but for months as it’s investigated and hopefully, prosecuted, procedures, timelines, and details are often frustrating or baffling. Trained advocates inform victims about case developments, legal rights, procedures, and what to expect. Especially if risk is ongoing, they also provide safety information, resource referral, and options.

Without advocates, victims tend to be less likely to endure the weighty processes of charges and prosecution. Many in sexual assault and domestic violence situations who need help simply don’t seek it (less than a third do, by most estimates) or don’t stick with it.

Advocates change that.

In multiple studies authored by Wasco, Campbell, Barnes, and Ahrens (1999 through 2006), survivors consistently reported experiencing less distress and rated advocates as supportive, informative, and beneficial. For example, sexual assault victims were more likely to:

• Receive information on STDs (72 percent vs. 36 percent without an advocate),

• Tested for pregnancy (42 percent vs. 22 percent) and receive emergency contraception (33 percent vs. 14 percent),

• Not be refused a medical exam because the assault occurred “too long ago” (24 percent refused vs. 36 percent), and

• Not feel as if they were treated “impersonally or coldly” (69 percent vs. 36 percent).

Cases were also more likely to be investigated further (24 percent vs. 8 percent).

While the hope is never to need one, victim advocates are a welcome addition. For more information visit the National Center for Victims of Crime at: http://bit.ly/2zL8qGb

•••

Sholeh Patrick, J.D. is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.

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