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Caring voices needed: Rape Response volunteers give survivors support

POSTED: February 22, 2008 5:01 a.m.
GAINESVILLE — Deidra Randolph is a former licensed practical nurse. About eight years ago, she saw an advertisement for volunteer advocate training at Rape Response Inc. in Gainesville.

"I was no longer in the medical profession at the time ... and I just saw it as an opportunity to ... be that voice again for caring," Randolph said.

Since then, she has taken calls two nights a month for eight years, supporting rape survivors in some of their most difficult moments.

Last month, however, Randolph had to be on call for two weekends — a result of the advocacy center’s shortage of volunteers.

"We’re low," said Teri Strayhorn, executive director of Rape Response Inc.

The rape advocacy agency is holding volunteer training at the North Georgia Community Foundation on Saturday to alleviate the shortage in volunteers.

Volunteers take calls on evenings when Rape Response’s regular employees are off work.

Robin Lambert, Gainesville, chooses to spend two nights a month volunteering as a Rape Response advocate aside from her full-time job as a legal assistant and a mother.

"I don’t know; I think it’s just part of me," Lambert said. "I like to help people, and I’m not sure what brought me to (Rape Response). I guess I’m very strong about women’s rights and the law and so it kind of all went together."

When they take a call and there is a reported rape in their area, Randolph and Lambert arrive at the hospital and the side of the rape survivor within 20 minutes.

As Rape Response Inc. volunteers, Randolph and Lambert are charged with providing the women with information that might be helpful to them, telling what options they have and what treatment and services are available to them.

"That’s not stuff you just know," said Lambert.

Most importantly, however, the volunteer is the one person in the examining room whose job it is to believe the rape victim and accept what she says happened to her.

At a time when police investigators are asking questions, sexual assault nurses are scraping and collecting the evidence, the volunteers are only there for support.

"Everybody has a job, but no one’s there just to accept what she says and believe her except us," Strayhorn said.

Lambert and Randolph both say that their support and belief in the rape survivor is what makes the most impact.

"The women always seem to be grateful that somebody was there when it was scary," Lambert said.

The volunteer’s job, for the most part, ends at the hospital door. If volunteers want, they can get an update on the woman’s case at a later date.

"It’s an emotionally charged short period of time ... but then you can go home, and you know that it’s going to be carried on by somebody else," Strayhorn said.

But that does not mean it is easy for the women to let go of their experiences when they leave the hospital.

Since confidentiality agreements keep volunteers from sharing their emotional burdens with family members, Strayhorn says the work requires a good deal of inner strength.

Randolph and Lambert have their own ways of decompressing on the way from the hospital.

"I think what helps me is, usually on the drive back (from the hospital) just thinking of maybe the good points I was able to bring out, maybe something I may have said or maybe just a touch," Randolph said. "Just seeing that okay, my work is done and I feel some satisfaction that she’s going to be okay."

"I just talk out loud to myself in the car," Lambert said.

But there are other times when the volunteers provide support from their homes.

Many rape victims do not go to the hospital. Only 75 of 410 rape victims that Rape Response provided services to in 2007 went to the hospital to report the rape, Strayhorn said, and added that many women do not report rape because it involves someone they know or they do not want to feel embarrassed by telling someone what happened to them.

For the ones who do not go to the hospital, the volunteers provide a listening ear and assurance that the emotions a rape survivor may be experiencing, even years after the rape occurred, are perfectly normal.

"They just want to talk really," Lambert said. "Sometimes ... you just want someone to listen."

"It’s not something that can be fixed; we can’t fix it, nobody can fix it, it’s already happened," Lambert said. "We take it as part of our job to help guide (the survivor) to what would make them most comfortable."

The advocacy agency will hold its next training session at 9 a.m. Saturday at the North Georgia Community Center.

Applications can be found at www.raperesponse.com.



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