Jun 22, 2018
NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue’s Victim Services Program is recruiting volunteers to assist survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. New volunteers are often needed to provide support to the robust support program.
As part of their training, volunteer advocates will hear from Courtney, a survivor who shares her own story of care and recovery to emphasize the importance of the advocates’ role in a patient’s recovery.
“One of the greatest challenges for a sexual assault survivor is coming to terms and vocalizing their experience to another human being, because it makes it real for the first time,” said Courtney. “Everyone at Bellevue treated me like a person. I felt safe and empowered.”
Courtney also spoke about her interactions with her advocate, Danielle Elleman, who is a social work supervisor in the Victim Services Program. “She made me functional, and once I was functional, I could think about counseling so that I could begin the long healing process. The care I received empowered me so much that I volunteer and share my story at the advocate trainings so the potential advocates can understand why their role is so important in a victim’s life.”
With Ms. Elleman’s support and encouragement, Courtney started therapy and joined a support group for sexual assault survivors.
“Our Victim Services Program provides comprehensive services to all victims of crime,” said Ms. Elleman. “Every day we work with survivors by offering them information about their rights, advocacy with various systems they can engage as a victim, and emotional support to help them in their healing journey. For sexual assault survivors, we believe that having someone present with them during their emergency room visit can empower them to make the choices right for them to start their healing journey.”
Rape crisis and domestic violence volunteer advocates are essential to the healing of survivors who present in the emergency department because they provide a non-judgmental, empathic, supportive, and safe way for survivors to process their options and reactions to their trauma. Advocates attend 40 hours of training to learn about all the options and rights of a survivor, how trauma impacts survivors, and how to effectively advocate with different systems, in order to empower survivors to make the decisions that are best for them.
“Advocates are trained by the Victim Services Program staff to respond to the practical, legal, medical, and emotional issues that arise in the aftermath of an acute trauma,” said Ms. Elleman. “The training includes the neurobiology of trauma, video and review of the forensic rape examination, and presentations from Special Victims Unit Detectives and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.”
Other topics discussed during the 40-hour training are domestic violence, adolescent rights, and barriers to accessing services for certain populations, including those working in the sex industry, those experiencing Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDDs), those who identify in the LGBTQ community, and those who are in NYPD or Department of Correction custody. “No two patients are the same, but they all deserve to have kind, empathetic, and knowledgeable advocates by their side if they choose this option,” said Ms. Elleman.
Survivors are given the option of having a forensic examination if they arrive at the hospital within 96 hours after the crime. If a forensic exam is going to be completed, the medical staff calls the NYC Health + Hospitals Manhattan Sexual Assault Response hotline. The hotline provides notification to the on-call Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (who is either a registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, physician assistant, or physician). If a survivor arrives after 96 hours or if the survivor opts not to have a forensic examination, an advocate is still called, options are discussed, and emotional support is provided.
The mission of the Victim Services Program is to empower and educate victims of crime, domestic violence, elder abuse, and sexual assault and their family members about their rights, as well as the range of comprehensive services available to them following a life-altering trauma. To help facilitate the recovery process, NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue provides confidential and empathic services for a diverse survivor community. Staff work in collaboration with the Emergency Department, sexual assault forensic examiners, and other hospital services to provide comprehensive medical and supportive social work services to survivors of crime.
For additional information on becoming an advocate, please contact Francis Rullan at Francis.Vazquez@nychhc.org.or