Sept. 6, 2007 — The hours may be long, and the work grueling, but being a victim advocate with the Family Resource Center has its own rewards, said Michelle Joshua, the agency's victim advocate coordinator.
For the past few years, the center has been training local volunteers to be victim advocates, Joshua said Thursday. During a 13-week course, they learn how to respond and provide various services to residents in need, such as rape or domestic violence victims.
"Most of the time, these individuals can't understand what just happened to them," Joshua said. "They need someone to be there for them, even if it's just to sit and hold their hand. Other times, the victim advocates would be responsible for providing them with whatever information they need, such as numbers to the different agencies that offer counseling and treatment services."
Once the training is complete, volunteers are responsible for responding to calls that come into the agency between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m.
"We get a lot of calls — sometimes just from individuals requesting information on the services we offer," she said. "But whenever a call comes in from the police department or the hospital, then the victim advocates would be the ones to respond, and go out to the hospital, talk to the victims and see what kind of help we can give them."
Joshua added that the center's volunteers also provide assistance to local police officers at times, helping them to question and soothe victims after an incident has occurred.
"It's hard sometimes for people to ask for help," she said. "And that's what we're there for — making sure that these individuals have someone there they can lean on and talk to, someone who makes them feel comfortable."
As with any job, there are some pros and cons, Joshua said.
"The worst part, sometimes, is having to make runs to the hospital at all hours of the night," she said. "For me, it's also horrible to see children who have been raped sitting on the hospital's examination table. Just seeing the condition of some of the victims, both children and women — we don't ever know what to expect. And at times, it is difficult to know what to say to them."
In the end, however, the best part of the job is being able to turn the situation around, Joshua said.
"When something so traumatic happens to an individual, it's normal to see them just shut down," she said. "But the best part of being a victim advocate is knowing, and seeing, how you are able to help, knowing that you can work with these individuals to make things better."
The center's training program, which begins Monday, will put all the right tools in volunteers' hands, Joshua added. She said that representatives from a number of government agencies, including V.I.P.D. and the Department of Human Services, would conduct some of the workshops, giving tips on how to relate to and handle some of the cases that come up.
"The speakers will also discuss what each of their respective departments can do to assist the victims," she said. "That way, when a volunteer responds to a call, they have all the information they need to properly deal with the situation."
While Joshua said that not all volunteers enrolled in the program go on to become victim advocates, many do stick around and take different jobs at the center, which also provides a bevy of services to domestic violence and sexual assault victims.
For more information on the victim advocate program, or to become a Family Resource Center volunteer, call 776-3966, or visit the center's offices at the bottom of Bunker Hill on St. Thomas.
The first victim advocate class begins Monday at 6 p.m.
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