Thursday, April 3, 2014

TOP STORY>>Why I am a victim’s advocate

By Senior Airman Regina Agoha
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

When I was sophomore through senior in college, I became a peer-tutor mentor, which was a student that helped freshman smoothly transition from high school to their first year of college in any way that was needed.

While performing the duties as a mentor, a door was opened for me to have the unique privilege and unexpected chance to become an unofficial victim’s advocate.

I say unofficial because I did not go to training, there were no certifications, and I never had an actual case.

Men and women from my college just saw something in me and felt comfortable enough to open up and tell me their terrible stories of sexual assault, whether recent or years old, and I was honored and willing to listen and help.

These experiences unlocked something in me and prepared me for an event that would come a little later in my college career and for what I’m doing now in my military career.

One night as I was eating dinner with my roommate, I received a call from another college student. The call went something like this, “hey, you might want to get to the male dorm room. One of your freshman girls is drunk and in a room alone with about seven basketball players.”

We dropped everything and got to the dorms as soon as possible. As my roommate grabbed some guys who were standing outside to help her retrieve this freshman, I pulled the car up as close as I could to the exit door of the dorm.

When this freshman was carried downstairs, her shirt was ripped, exposing her torn bra, and though she was awake, she was completely unaware of her actions or surroundings.

My roommate and I took her to our dorm room, where we cleaned her up, tried to figure out what happened and just listened to anything she wanted to say.

While my roommate slept, I watched the freshman all night as she would fall asleep and wake back up constantly. I skipped my morning class the next day and cared for her until she was sober.

What happened that night?

This freshman, who never had an alcoholic drink in her life, trusted that the older, sophomore female “friend” she was hanging out with would take care of her. They both drank a lot alcohol before going to the male dorm, which is against the rules. The freshman later told me that she was left in a room filled with men who thought they would have their way with this poor girl.

She remembered certain faces and names but couldn’t remember if she had sexual contact with any of them and of course when questioned, they all denied it. But what she did remember was enough for anyone to become sick to their stomach. She was indeed sexually assaulted, but we never found out to what extent.

Because she was ashamed, afraid and blamed herself for going there, she didn’t do anything about what happened to her. She even rejected being medically examined because she just wanted to forget. So, I called her mom, who was the only person she wanted to inform, and that was that.

I think about that night often and parts of me wonder if there was more I could have done. The other part is honored that out of all the peer-tutor mentors at school, someone thought enough of me to feel like I was the one who would handle thesituation appropriately.

Moving forward four years later, as soon as I came to Little Rock Air Force Base and heard there was an opportunity to be a victim’s advocate officially, I jumped on it. I did the training, I got the certifications, I’ve handled some cases, and it has been extremely fulfilling.

The definition of an advocate is someone who speaks or pleads in supports or on the behalf of a person or a cause. I like being a victim’s advocate because we just need to be there. Just show up and listen. You don’t have to say a word. You don’t have to know what happened to be supportive for someone. You offer your time and your ear to a person in need.

Sometimes it requires more and that’s why we are trained and prepared. Other times, the most powerful action can be a simple smile, holding someone’s hand as they walk into court or just listening.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Remember, if you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault there are many avenues for you to receive adequate help and support. The chaplains are here, the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator is here, Special Victims’ Counsel is here and we, victim’s advocates are here.

The SARC is available 24/7 at (501) 987- SARC.

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