What is it like to be a volunteer victim advocate?
August 23, 2009 11:39 AM   Subscribe

What is it like to be a volunteer victim advocate?

I am looking for personal experiences or descriptions of what it is like to be a volunteer victim advocate on an Emergency basis, not on an ongoing basis. Thank you.
posted by kathrineg to Grab Bag (7 answers total)
Do you mean a medical advocate? Victim advocates also include legal advocates. Medical advocates typically go to the hospital and sometimes the police station with a victim presenting to the ER.

I was a medical advocate for sexual assault victims. It's heartbreaking work, but very rewarding. You're there with someone on the worst day of your life, and you are able to help them. I was never one who adapted well to being on call, but it was worth it anyway. One pitfall is that you rarely get to follow up with the survivor. You should be comfortable being present for gynecological exams and not be freaked out by hospitals or blood. If you have any more specific questions, feel free to message me.
posted by emilyd22222 at 1:27 PM on August 23, 2009

I work with a domestic violence program that is run out of the police department. Essentially, we chase officers out on DV scenes, and provide crisis intervention, advocacy and referral services for victims.

The work is hard, but rewarding.

It's hard partly because of the nature of domestic violence, that you're working up against some pretty severe mental and emotional conditioning. It's hard because talking with people in crisis is hard, because you have to stay grounded even if the other person is in chaos. It's also hard because resources are limited, and you have to provide people with hope and reassurance, even though you know that it may take a while for them to get what they want.

It's rewarding because working with people in crisis in an opportunity that not many get. I work with a wide range of people in a wide variety of circumstances, and I've been exposed to many different walks of life that I would not have been exposed to otherwise (including working "behind the scenes" with officers). It's rewarding because sometimes a perfect storm of circumstances arises, and I'm able to provide exactly what the victim wants, and both our lives are changed as a result.

I'm not sure if that's what you were looking for or not...
posted by Gorgik at 3:34 PM on August 23, 2009

I was a domestic violence victim advocate at a police station on an emergency basis. There was a mandatory, extensive training period. I learned a lot from it and the volunteering. I hope (think) I did some good. By doing "good" I mean I gave people, almost always women, a chance to talk through a traumatic violent incident.

For advocate work like I did it helped to compartmentalize the experience from the rest of my life. Once I left the station or hospital, I left the situation behind. Because my work was on an anonymous basis, I could never know what happened to victims after we parted ways at the station. That part was frustrating, but made it easier to leave the work at the end of a shift.

NJ has very strict laws about domestic violence. That's a good thing. Few victims I saw tried to game the system. The few who did were usually men arrested along with their girlfriends in the course of a fight. In a gross oversimplification, whoever ended up with marks on them in a domestic violence incident could be considered a victim by the cops in NJ. Sometimes those male "victims" would use their counseling time to hit on the counselor. That was frustrating too.

You have to understand the limitations of what you can achieve as a counselor. You're not going to change the world, or even the person's life necessarily. If you do make a change you'll never know. All you are is a nonjudgmental resource for victims in a moment. It was for me a very rewarding experience.

If you're the type who can let things go at the end of the day and fall asleep, then I highly recommend it. If you're not, there are so many ways to contribute you will find the right one for you. You have to be honest with yourself about your limitations.

I, for instance, knew I didn't have what it took to work with sexual assault victims, although there was a need for them and in the course of my work I saw some severely messed up people anyway. Advocates like emilyd22222 are a rare, gifted breed.

You can memail me too if you like.
posted by vincele at 3:39 PM on August 23, 2009

I highly recommend Elaine Lawless's book "Women Escaping Violence: Empowerment Through Narrative."
posted by futureisunwritten at 4:49 PM on August 23, 2009

I'm about to start this kind of work in September, and would definitely like to be privately me-mailed about everyone's experiences as well.

Any advice for a noob who's fresh to doing crisis intervention work would be most appreciated.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 9:34 PM on August 23, 2009

Thanks all, this is what I wanted to know. I am thinking about being a medical advocate (who goes to the ER), not a legal advocate. I will be memailing some of you when I know what I want to ask.
posted by kathrineg at 8:35 PM on August 26, 2009

Another follow-up--I am going to be volunteering as a rape crisis advocate for St. Vincent's hospital. Classes will start this October. Thank you again!
posted by kathrineg at 2:04 PM on September 13, 2009

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