By Christine Cherrone
I've been a volunteer at YWCA New Britain’s Sexual Assault Crisis Service (SACS) for about a year and a half. I originally got involved through a friend on the staff. I had heard all about her experiences but until my first hospital call, I had no real idea what I was getting into, or how challenging and ultimately rewarding the experience would be.
After completing the 48-hour Counselor Advocate Training Class (or CAT class), it was time to put everything I learned to use to empower survivors of sexual assault. This may be in the form of a phone call or an accompaniment to the hospital or to the police station. While no two calls are exactly alike, I had an arsenal of tools from my training to help me.
Here's a sample shift based on my experience as a SACS volunteer.
6:55 p.m.: Five minutes before your shift starts. You call the answering service to make sure they have your contact info to reach you when any calls come in. They confirm that they do, so everything's all set. You review your binder of materials from CAT class, hoping you remember it all when the time comes.
7:00 p.m.: Your shift has started. You take a deep breath, readying yourself for anything.
10:45 p.m.: A call comes in. It's from a Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner nurse and you are to meet them and a patient at Hartford Hospital. You have limited details but you take another deep breath, grab your tote and head out the door.
You're going to meet someone under extraordinary circumstances and spend the night listening to their story, advocating for them under the harsh hospital lights, and doing what you can to make the reality less harsh as they go through the evidence collection kit. You're going to let them know you are there for them and that SACS is there for them, always. Sexual assault and the resulting crisis doesn't keep bankers hours; Volunteers are needed to ensure that someone is there 24/7.
I've been told by a few survivors that I am the first one that they have told their story to. The CAT class training has helped me realize how important this role is, and how important it is that when they do tell their story to someone, that that person believes them.
3:00 a.m.: You've been at the hospital for hours but it's now time to go. You make sure the survivor has all the information on SACS, and you take her contact info so someone on the SACS staff can follow up. You leave her with a hand-knit scarf from Threads of Compassion and you see an actual smile across her face – tentative, but a smile nonetheless.
What I've outlined is just a sample shift in the life of a SACS volunteer. It is challenging but it leaves me feeling like I made a difference - even if no calls come in during my shift. I’m simply there, holding space for someone in case they need me on the other line of the phone.
SACS relies heavily on its volunteers. For more information or to get involved, click here.