ST. GEORGE — Dove Center, a local nonprofit providing shelter, advocacy and counseling to survivors of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, will begin its bi-annual 40-hour training course for volunteer advocates and other interested community members on Jan. 23.
The training aims to equip participants with the knowledge, tools and understanding necessary to interact with survivors of abuse and trauma. An advocate’s goal is to ensure a survivor has access to the emotional and physical resources needed following an assault.
While community members are encouraged to attend – particularly anyone who may assist victims of domestic or sexual violence in an occupational, community or religious setting – the training is specifically tailored to certify members of Dove Center’s Hospital Advocate Response Team, a group of on-call volunteers who respond to the emergency room to offer immediate support to rape or sexual assault survivors during a forensic exam or police interview.
Being on-call for an ER visit can be daunting for a HART volunteer, but the training facilitates a greater understanding of trauma, common reactions to it and techniques to navigate the emotions and confusion that many victims experience.
“The training offered a valuable learning opportunity,” advocate Spring De Hart said. “It brought light to my own thinking patterns, assumptions and expectations that could hinder my ability to fully understand and advocate for survivors.”
Although a requirement for HART volunteers, Dove Center’s advocate training helps prepare volunteers for other roles within the agency as well.
In addition to the initial 40-hour training, HART volunteers meet monthly in order to debrief, receive ongoing training and stay up to date on best practices for trauma-informed advocacy. Elizabeth Bluhm, Dove Center’s rape victim advocate coordinator, leads the meetings and regularly reminds advocates about their real purpose when responding.
“An advocate’s prime responsibility is to really listen to and believe a rape victim,” Bluhm said. “In today’s society, we are bombarded by a rape culture that blames the victim while letting the perpetrator off the hook.”
Rape culture refers to a common societal belief that sexual aggression is normal, for example, the idea that men can’t control their sexual urges and women are to blame for provoking an assault.
“We are working to combat that faulty reasoning,” Bluhm said. “As advocates, we always begin by believing the victim of the crime.”
The training course begins Jan. 23. Classes are held Monday through Friday, from 4-8 p.m. for 10 sessions, concluding on Feb. 3. Space is limited, so register soon to reserve your place.
For information on other volunteer opportunities with Dove Center, click here.