Sexual Assault Victim Advocates provide much needed support, compassion Published Sept. 14, 2007 By Holly Birchfield 78 ABW/PA Robins Air Force Base, Ga. -- Sexual assault victims sometimes need an ear to listen or a shoulder to lean on. Volunteer sexual assault victim advocates are available to provide that support. Cindy Graver, sexual assault response coordinator in the 78th Air Base Wing SARC office, said being a VA takes compassion. "A sexual assault victim advocate is someone who has a desire to provide support to anybody who has been sexually assaulted," she said. The Department of Defense defines sexual assault as intentional sexual contact characterized by the use of force, physical threat, or abuse of authority, or when the victim does not or cannot consent. It includes rape, non-consensual sodomy and indecent assault, such as unwanted or inappropriate sexual contact or fondling, or attempts to commit these acts. Sexual assault can occur without regard to gender or spousal relationship, or the age of the victim. Sexual assault can be skin-to-skin contact or touching through one's clothing. Robins currently has 12 victim advocates, or VAs, and when a sexual assault is reported, Mrs. Graver assigns one. "When a victim comes to see me, one of the things I offer them is the services of a volunteer VA and I go through their role and tell them what they will and won't do," she said. Mrs. Graver said she and the VA will meet with the victim in a designated, safe place and discuss what is expected of each person. Being a victim's advocate isn't as hard as some may think, Mrs. Graver said. "A VA is not somebody that gives clinical counseling," she said. "A VA is not somebody who gives legal advice. A VA is somebody who supports a victim (emotionally)." Mrs. Graver said the VA's role is to figure out where the victim is in their recovery and provide support as needed and as appropriate for that person. Senior Master Sgt. Brenda Warren, Force Utilization Branch manager in the Air Force Reserve Command who has been a VA since July 2005, said being a VA has opened a door of ministry for her. "I've had only a couple of victims that I've actually attended to and I've learned that I have a lot of compassion to give," she said. "It's a program you get a lot of peace from because you know you're assisting people." Sergeant Warren said she takes a personal approach to the service she gives. "With me, I share what I've learned through Christ," she said. "I share that with the victims because that's the mainstay of my life. I try to encourage them if they're not active in a church to be active. I share the things that I draw comfort from." Staff Sgt. Wendell Boone, Enterprise Service Center supervisor in the 78th Communications Squadron who has volunteered as a VA since June 2006, said his VA role has helped him as much as it's helped other people. "It has changed my life in a way that I look at people in a different light," he said. "It doesn't matter your race, your financial status, or anything like that, anyone can be a victim and anyone can be affected in a negative way by this. It has just given me a different outlook on people." Sergeant Boone, who served as a VA while on tour with Tops in Blue in 2007, said he does what he can to reassure victims and help rebuild their self-esteem. "I just reiterate that they are still men and they were violated," he said. "The perpetrator is the person that was in the wrong. Those circumstances are out of their control; but what is in their control is to reassure themselves that they are still men, still worthy, and still valued people." The staff sergeant, like other VAs, is in charge of answering the sexual assault response phone one weekend every three months. Mrs. Graver is on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but if she is ever away on temporary duty or on leave, a VA is designated to answer the phone until she returns, a task that helps her greatly. The role of a VA is best served by someone with a flexible schedule, Mrs. Graver said. "Most of our sexual assaults don't happen between 8 and 5," she said. "So, it might be when you're sitting down for supper. It might be on a Friday afternoon at 4:28. It might be at two o'clock in the morning. Reports aren't always made at convenient hours for us so somebody who has a real rigid schedule or can't be away, may not be the right person at this time in their life."