Community Power Research Project 2
Throughout the Fall 2015 semester I have been interning at the Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault (RCASA). At the internship, I complete various tasks such as reading grant applications, helping collect data to create surveys, and training to be a crisis responder and victim advocate for those survivors of sexual assault. This training consists of online modules, on-site hospital training, and lectures from RCASA staff on topics relevant to advocacy. Thus far, I have completed the majority of this training including the online portion, two lectures, and the on-site hospital visit. As I was reflecting on the training I have completed in an online journal for my internship class, I realized the great service I was doing for the greater Fredericksburg community by attending these trainings. Not only am I furthering my own education to help reduce the social stigma around sexual assault, but I am learning how to empower others and help them deal with the wrongful things that have been done to them.
RCASA provides the sole source of hospital accompaniment to the Mary Washington and Spotsylvania Regional Hospitals to assist victims of sexual assault not related to domestic violence. The most recent part of my training involved visiting the hospital and learning about the evidence collection and examination process so that I can be prepared to assist in hospital accompaniment as a crisis responder or advocate. During this training I learned about victim rights, forensic exams, evidence collection, court processes and much more. A forensic nurse from the hospital gave a tour of the emergency room and showed all of the equipment in the sexual assault examination rooms used to collect evidence or give an examination. Absorbing all of this information was overwhelming to say the least, but the most shocking part of this training was seeing reports of cases of sexual assault that have come through the hospital in the last year. Seeing the exceedingly high numbers, well over 500, pushed me to consider how overwhelming it must be for those 500-plus men and women to take in this information. These individuals must attempt to make sense of legalities while also trying to make sense of the horrible event they have just experienced.
Sexual assaults are typically executed by someone close to or known by the victim in an attempt to execute any and all sense of power over them. During a sexual assault a victim’s body often goes into a state of shock where survival is the only goal, the only option. Because of this natural response the victim has no power to try and overcome their attacker, nor do they have power to try and stop the assault by crying out for help for they are often physically unable to speak or move. In fact, such forceful execution of power over another individual strips any and all power away from the victim. It is not until after the assault, when the victim is often emotionally and/or physically damaged, that a survivor can attempt to regain some of that power by visiting a hospital, asking others for help, seeking therapy, pressing charges, or simply reminding themselves that the attack was not their fault. The recovery period is where hospital accompaniment or advocacy comes in to play. The job of the advocate is to help ground the survivor and to remind them that they are in control and have the power to press charges, to take care of themselves, and to recover. Without victim advocacy, survivors would often be left to seek help on their own and because of the social stigma towards sexual assault survivors, many would most likely choose not to speak out and admit their hurt.
Not only do advocates help with personal feelings of power, but they also help with power on a community or legal level. Victim-blaming has become a huge issue in today’s society. This term refers to blaming a victim for something that has happened to them and making them feel as if they did not do enough to prevent the situation. Statements like this do nothing more than convince the affected parties that they are to blame. This is especially relevant to sexual assault survivors who are often told they should have dressed more conservatively, known they were in a dangerous situation, or fought back against the perpetrator. Statements such as these further strip the power from survivors by convincing them that they are at fault and would be naive to report, press charges, or speak out about wrongdoings against them. During hospital accompaniment, advocates remind survivors of their rights and talk them through the typical process of reporting or pressing charges. They are also there to ensure that survivors are treated with respect by all persons involved such as police and hospital nurses and that no victim-blaming takes place. Without advocates there are many individuals who would not know how to move further, what their options are, or how to ignore the hurtful judgements of society.
Without individuals who are willing to stand up against social norms, such as victim blaming of sexual assault survivors, there will never be power or justice for those who have been wronged. Each report filed has the potential to lead to another perpetrator of sexual assault being punished for wrongfully taking advantage of another human being and stripping them of their power. With more reports and less perpetrators comes a safer community for all. However, if advocates are not trained and sent out to better the community the likelihood of survivors being notified of their rights and responsibilities becomes exceedingly less. My taking part in this training helps to ensure that there is at least one more person working to do everything in her power to ensure that survivors of sexual assault have their personal power restored and have the potential to remove perpetrators from the area and empower the entire community as a whole.