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Rape response volunteers advocate and provide support for sexual assault survivors
Heather Hollimon and others help women and men through difficult process
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Heather Hollimon, above, talks about volunteering at Rape Response in Gainesville. Hollimon, below center, is joined by Rape Response Executive Director Jeanne Buffington, left, and Volunteer Coordinator Gale Adams. Rape Response serves as a system of advocacy and support for sexual assault survivors in North Georgia. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Jam Open Mic Night

What: Recite a poem, perform a song or sign up for karaoke

When: 6-8 p.m. April 14

Where: 615 Oak St., Gainesville

More info: To sign up, email Angel at support@raperesponse.com

 

Rape Response

Crisis lines: 770-503-7273, 800-721-1999 (toll free) or 770-503-7208 (hearing impaired)

Website: www.raperesponse.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/raperesponseinc

 

To become a Rape Response volunteer

  • Fill out application at raperesponse.com, which lists the volunteer roles. A staffer will contact the applicant to see if he or she is a good fit for the role.
  • Complete 20 hours of training and undergo a background check. Volunteer training sessions are held twice each year, usually in February and October.
  • Commit to two consecutive weeknights in a row or one weekend each month.


When Heather Hollimon works two back-to-back nights for Rape Response, she is focused on one thing: Knowing everyone in the six counties the organization serves is safe.

Hollimon is a volunteer advocate for the Gainesville-based nonprofit that advocates and provides support to female and male survivors of sexual assault who are ages 13 and older in Dawson, Forsyth, Habersham, Hall, Lumpkin and White counties.

Hollimon’s duties require her to be on call two consecutive weeknights or one weekend each month to answer phone calls from sexual assault survivors as well as their friends and family members. Sometimes she just listens to a caller. Other times, she goes to the hospital with them.

“The night you’re on call you’re so tense, because you’re hoping everybody was safe that night,” she said. “Nobody does it and thinks, ‘Oh, I’ll just go about my life.’ That is your focus. And you think, I am ready.”

Hollimon has volunteered with Rape Response for 12 years total, but she took a break after 10 to raise her small children.

The satisfaction she felt by helping others led her to return two years ago. But, it was not the only reason.

Her children — an 18-year-old daughter, 13-year-old stepdaughter and 14-year-old son — inspired her to continue her volunteer work.

She said she knew if anything bad happened to them, they’d be taken care of.

“It kind of restores your faith in humanity that when bad things happen there are so many people in the community that care,” she said. “It’s very nice to be a part of that caring community.”

Hollimon’s profession has prepared her to handle the unique situations with which she deals.

An associate professor of political science at Brenau University, Hollimon teaches gender studies, which deals with the unpleasant topics of assaults or abductions.

“You’re telling students about all these negative things that have happened in the world that they just haven’t really thought about,” she said.

Hollimon explained her volunteer work offsets the negative elements of the world she teaches with positive ones.

“So much of what I study and what I do is the more academic-y, unhappy side,” she said. “This is, at least in some small way, that at least for one individual person, something is better.”

That something better she offers starts with a phone call.

Once a person calls the crisis line at 770-503-7273, Rape Response volunteer advocates step in and hold a survivor’s hand as long as he or she wants, Rape Response Executive Director Jeanne Buffington said.

Rape Response representatives can meet survivors at the hospital for forensic exams and be present for law enforcement interviews and court dates.

If a survivor doesn’t want to prosecute but is worried about sexually transmitted infections, survivors may get tested at area health departments with Rape Response referring the patient and paying for it later. Results are given only to the survivor.

“If you go to the hospital, then the hospital will take care of your medical needs. If you go to the police, they will take care of immediate security needs and possible future legal issues,” Hollimon said. “But nobody is the one. If Rape Response didn’t exist, there’s nobody to say, OK these people need to do this, these people need to do this. You may need this.”

After the initial process is complete, Rape Response continues its work by offering free, confidential services including a wholistic approach to sexual assault survival. It also helps connect the survivor to the appropriate sources since many people are unaware of the aftermath effects on survivor, Buffington said.

Rape Response also has a trauma-focused therapist for counseling and a bilingual advocate.

“It’s so important we exist because (sexual assault) happens way more than any of us would like to believe,” said Gale Adams, Rape Response direct services coordinator and volunteer coordinator. “For college-aged students, it’s 1 in 5 women. For adult women, it’s 1 in 6. For men it’s 1 in 33.”

And Rape Response helps to ensure those survivors have someone in their corner at all times with their volunteers, like Heather Hollimon.

“It’s a privilege and opportunity to walk through that with an individual,” Buffington said. “To not be judgmental, because every survivor blames their self ... So to be that person on the front end who truly accepts them, who tries to educate them and make sure they have the resources that they need so that they can heal and move forward in life.”

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