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Who Would You Want to Help You If You Had Been Raped?

It just happened again. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a young woman’s report of having been raped on the UC Santa Cruz campus in broad daylight earlier this month was determined to be a false report, and within three hours, almost 100 people had weighed in on the “comments” section to express their opinions as to why women falsely report sexual assault, and what the punishment for false reports should be.

Disturbingly, several readers opined that the woman should be sentenced to “work with real rape victims” in order to gain an understanding of how serious a charge rape is. Do these commenters seriously feel that it would be therapeutic for a person who has been traumatized by sexual assault to spend time with someone who is being punished for filing a false rape report? Why does “teaching a lesson” to the bogus victim take precedence over providing specialized services to survivors of sexual assault to assist them in recovering emotionally from their trauma, and providing support and advocacy as they negotiate the systems of law enforcement, the courts, health care and social services? And why is working with rape survivors perceived to be a punishment rather than a respected calling that requires enormous dedication, empathy and knowledge?

The volunteers at Tri-Valley Haven’s Rape Crisis Center have all completed a 65-hour state-approved training to prepare them to provide crisis counseling, advocacy, case management or professional psychotherapy to survivors. It is a comprehensive and emotionally difficult training, and not everyone who begins the training completes it. Sometimes trainees discover that their own emotions are so triggered by the content of the training that they are afraid they will break down in tears themselves when they should be providing support and reassurance. Sometimes our staff observes that a trainee persists in holding victims responsible for their rapes by questioning why they allowed themselves to get into a dangerous situation, or in dictating what a survivor “must” do rather than empowering a survivor to determine what she or he feels is the best course of action.

When we see that a trainee is struggling to contain their own emotions, or that they propose interventions that are detrimental to survivors, staff meets with that person to express our concerns and ask for feedback from the trainee. Depending on the response, the person may need additional training and role-playing with staff before being certified to work with survivors, they may be re-directed to other volunteer opportunities at the Haven that do not involve providing client services or, if they have a serious conflict with our agency values, they may be asked to leave the training and not volunteer in any capacity.

Our first responsibility is to provide the highest quality of services to the survivors who turn to us for support in the aftermath of trauma. These services can only be provided by volunteers and staff who have a passion for the work and are motivated to support and empower survivors. It is not a job for court-ordered convicts who may be struggling with mental health issues of their own.

Tri-Valley Haven provides community education about the realities of sexual assault, the services the Haven provides, sexual assault prevention and self-defense for women and girls. To schedule a presentation for your school, workplace, club or place of worship, please call our community building at (925) 449-5845. Together we build a world without violence.

Vicki Thompson

Director of Domestic Violence Services

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