Victim advocates: support when you need it

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Morris
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
April is sexual assault awareness month and some Team Dover Airmen are taking it a step further, working as victim advocates, to help prevent sexual assault and support those who have been victims.

Victim advocates provide essential support to victims of sexual assault. They provide information on available options and resources to assist victims in making informed decisions about their cases. Most importantly, they are a friend and a voice of comfort to someone in a time a need.

Staff Sgt. Ashley Thompson, 436th Medical Operations Squadron NCO-in-charge of physical therapy, has been a victim advocate for nearly nine years.

"We are like a diary, you can tell us everything, how you feel and your deepest emotions," said Thompson. "We are solely there for your support. "

Advocates are active duty military personnel and Department of Defense civilian employees selected by the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator after being screened for high ethical standards of conduct. Other requirements to become a victim advocate include submitting an application, undergoing background checks, completion of a 40-hour training course, obtaining a DoD sexual assault advocate certification and monthly continuing education to maintain their certification.

Every advocate has their own reason for volunteering. Some have been a victim themselves, while others just want to help others in their time of need.

"I just like helping people," said Thompson. "People come to me and tell me very personal stuff anyways, so why not get trained on how to better help people when they do come to me with those situations."

Staff Sgt. Nicole Dudley, 436th Logistics Readiness Squadron unit training manager, has been an advocate for three years.
"I volunteered because it happened to me when I was a teenager," said Dudley. "Being on the opposite end of the spectrum and being able to help people the way I was helped when I went through it is beneficial. It helps me to help them."

Advocates are on call on 24/7 and each one carries the hotline phone for seven days at a time. It doesn't matter when the call comes in, the victim becomes their top priority. They provide continuous support until the victim feels the support is no longer needed. This can include accompanying them during investigative interviews, forensic medical examinations and court proceedings.

Dudley highly recommends becoming a VA, but she says you have to be able to remain unbiased and be a good listener.

"You can't formulate opinions about the person or the situation," said Dudley. "You have to just listen. We are here to help those who need help."

When there are fewer victim advocates on base, they are responsible for taking calls more often.

Linda Furgason, 436th Airlift Wing SARC, said they currently have six active advocates on base. Due to permanent changes of station, deployments, temporary duty assignments and other commitments, they don't have as many advocates right now as she would like. There is always a need for people to volunteer. Ideally, she would like to have between 12 and 15 advocates.

Sexual assault doesn't just happen to women. At Dover, in one out of 10 sexual assaults, the victim is male. Furgason says it's important to have males serve as victim advocates as well.

"Advocates take the initial call," said Furgason. "Their role is to be a first responder. If it's a male victim, I might have to call a male advocate in to accompany them."

The next VA training class is scheduled for September. If you are interested in becoming a victim advocate or would like more information, contact the SAPR office at 302-677-4357.