Augusta area program trains volunteers to help women who have been sexually assaulted

Advocates offer aid in emergency rooms

 

Since being sexually assaulted in 2008, Gloria Holloway knew she wanted to help other people who had been through it.

“I really felt compelled to volunteer,” said the 22-year-old Augusta State University student. “I wanted to use my experience to help other people, to show them that life doesn’t have to be over after going through it. You can move on.”

Holloway is now an intern with Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Services, which provides crisis intervention and consultation, legal advocacy, community education, in-service training in sexual assault and prevention and outreach services to Richmond, Columbia, McDuffie, Burke and Jefferson counties.

Sunday was day 4 of a five-day training program for new volunteer advocates at University Hospital.

Held a few times a year, the training teaches new volunteers how to help sexual assault victims at area emergency rooms. The 12 women in the room on Sunday learned about active listening from Donna Lewis, a licensed therapist who has worked with the program since 1984.

“To me, the backbone of this whole program is the volunteers,” she said. “We just treasure them.”

After the women graduate Monday, they will be asked to volunteer at least 24 hours a month in the form of two 12-hour shifts. The program allows volunteers to work around their schedules.

Prevention specialist Cecilia Kemp, who was overseeing the training, said the volunteers are on call for their shifts, and the response time is 30 minutes to any hospital.

The focus of the training is to prepare the volunteers for what they might see in the emergency room and what they might hear from a victim. They are also told the next steps in the process.

Some of the training includes classes taught by Columbia and Richmond county investigators who deal with sexual assault, a representative from the district attorney’s office speaks about the legal aspects including patient confidentiality, and a crisis specialist teaches about rape kits.

“They are very well-prepared,” Kemp said. “It is a very strong training program that teaches them a lot.”

The volunteers come from all walks of life, Kemp said. Most are women. Some are students or work in a related field. Some, like Holloway, have been through it themselves.

“It’s not easy when you are going to the hospital and speaking to people who have been through these kinds of experiences,” Lewis said. “We need fresh volunteers so no one gets too burnt out.”

A lot of the recruiting happens through word-of-mouth, and some through advertising. But more volunteers are needed.

Cheryl Dorsey, a Rich­mond County sheriff’s investigator who works in the sexual assault division, was tasked with teaching the ins and outs of the investigation process to the volunteers Sunday.

“I think it’s a very strong program,” she said. “Before, no one wanted to deal with sexual assault. It’s gotten better, but they need volunteers.”

Holloway now knows what it is like to be on both sides of the program, and she said victims have responded well to her.

“I didn’t know what it was going to be like,” she said. “But every family has thanked me. It’s been really rewarding.”

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