Resilience: Become an advocate for sexual assault survivors

by Karina Aguilar / Staff Reporter

Resilience logo.

On average, one sexual assault occurs every 107 seconds in the United States. This totals out to an average of 293,066 victims ages 12 and older every year. Resilience helps over 2,000 of them.

Resilience, founded by Dr. Natalie Stephens (Turner) in 1974, is an organization — formerly called Rape Victim Advocates —  that focuses on improving the policies surrounding sexual assault and the treatment of sexual assault survivors. 

The organization partners with 16 public hospitals to provide services for survivors of sexual assault. If a person goes to the hospital following a sexual assault, Resilience is paged and a medical advocate is sent to stay with them throughout his/her stay at the hospital. Advocates provide anything from crisis counseling, trauma therapy or legal advice to a shoulder to cry on. 

Organization staff also works closely with Cook County Jail.

Advocates work at least two 12-hour shifts a month. During those shifts, they are expected to respond to any hospital that reaches out for a medical advocate and provide survivors with all of the support and crisis counseling they might need as they go through the examination procedures for sexual assault survivors. Advocates can also help survivors fill out a police report if they so choose. 

In order to become a medical advocate, volunteers have to become a certified Rape Crisis Counselor in the state of Illinois — 60 hours of training required — commit to a full year of service and attend a minimum of six units of continuing education sessions.

“As a medical advocate,” says Ashley Denny, a senior at Roosevelt and an advocate at Resilience, “we may be the only person who tells the survivor that they are believed, they are important and they are not alone, and I think that is incredibly powerful.”

If survivors have a request for an advocate of a specific gender, Resilience does its best to get an advocate that fulfills that request. However, all of the volunteers are very well trained and prepared to work with all survivors, no matter how they identify. 

“We are actually the only rape crisis center in the state of Illinois, that I am aware of, that utilizes people from all of the gender spectrum,” says Brittny Blackwood, the Advocacy Volunteer Coordinator at Resilience.  “We want the survivors to know they are in charge of the situation.” 

“I was incredibly nervous to go on my first call,” Denny says, “but when I got there, I realized that all of the training that I had instinctively kicks in. The biggest challenge I’ve had while working with Resilience is dealing with survivors not being believed.”

Resilience offers plenty of opportunities for people to get involved and help to spread awareness, including short-term volunteer opportunities, providing education and training and medical advocacy. 

“I think it’s an incredible organization and they have a number of ways to get involved,” said adjunct women’s and gender studies professor Annie Warshaw. “The advocates program is a time-intensive program but your role is priceless.”

Resilience offers short-term volunteer opportunities during Sexual Assault Awareness Month and a campaign called OurMusicMyBody, where volunteers set up booths ar music festivals to bring more awareness to women’s portrayal in music and their treatment at concerts.  

There are also opportunities to volunteer as an educator or trainer, meaning volunteers can go to schools and rallies in the community to change the public perception and educate people about the realities of sexual assault. They also have the opportunity to train other volunteers that will have more direct contact with survivors. 

In order to become an educator or trainer, volunteers have to complete the 60-hour medical advocacy training, train new advocates or professionals and be comfortable speaking publicly about sexual violence.

According to Blackwood, some of the survivors they help continue on to become a volunteer with the organization. They typically recommend waiting a year after an incident to protect the survivor from any further emotional pain. Resilience considers each person and his/her experiences individually when it comes to deciding if he/she feels ready to become a medical advocate, since everyone reacts to personal traumas differently. 

“The fact is that nobody comes to this work for no reason. There is usually some kind of personal connection or a reason someone is feeling moved in some way to be a part of this since it’s not typical volunteer work, it’s trauma work,” said Blackwood. 

Since this is trauma work, Resilience supports its volunteers every step of the way. The volunteers always have a third level support system to talk to throughout their calls and debrief with. They are always welcomed to meet with Blackwood since they are under her supervision. On top of that, they have a monthly support group for volunteers to support one another.

Rachel Maglione, a senior at Western Illinois University that volunteers with Resilience, said, “Through the training, I met so many new friends that I call whenever I’m on my way to a call so they can hype me up or give me words of encouragement.”

Resilience volunteering flyer.

The environment itself provides a lot of encouragement and promotes community engagement.

“My favorite part is being able to work in a place where I can walk in the front door and I don’t have to check my personality at the door,” said Blackwood. “I think that there is a lot of unity in the agency when it comes to the culture and very much wanting to practice what we preach. It’s a community, it truly is.”

“Getting a hug at the end of a call has to be the best feeling,” says Denny.

“If you are thinking about volunteering with Resilience, do it! This is something that I will keep with me forever,” said Maglione. “The feeling when you leave an emergency room after a call is something you cannot explain until you experience it for yourself.”

If you or anyone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, please contact the Rape Crisis Hotline: 1-888-293-2080 or visit  www.rainn.org to find your nearest rape crisis center.



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