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Ready to Respond: Thoughts of Sexual Assault Response Team volunteers

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The volunteers on the Sexual Assault Response Team are simply amazing.  These volunteers allow the services of the Sexual Assault Response Team to be available 24hours a day, 365 days a year.  SART volunteers carry a pager on their shifts and if paged attend at the hospital and/or police station to provide immediate support and information to recent survivors of sexualized violence.

SART volunteers go through an intensive 3 months training to ensure the survivors are met with a compassionate, supportive and knowledgeable response as well as given the opportunity to make informed decisions of what works best for them. We are currently recruiting new volunteers to join the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART).

We recently sat down to have a candid conversation with two of our SART volunteers, Paula and Anat, to hear their perspectives on what it means to be a SART volunteer.

How long have you been on the SART team for?

Paula: Since December 2013.

Anat: Since May 2013.

What has your experience been like as a SART volunteer?

Paula: It has been a good experience.  There was that anticipation of having your first call and it is a relief to get that over with.  Overall, it feels great to be in an empowering role where you are giving back control to someone.

It is not stress free though; it can be hard at times.  Being in this role really highlights that level of violence that is out there.  But you can also see, first-hand, the support you are giving.  And is it great to work with other community members as well as learn purposeful and practical skills.

Anat: For the most part it has been a good experience.  It can be shocking to hear the level of violence that happens and it can be hard realizing the life-long struggles and barriers people face.  Even though a lot is outside of your control, it forces you to have faith in peoples’ ability to be resilient and make the right choices for themselves.  It also makes a huge difference having so much support from the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre (VSAC) and to know that your well-being is very important to them. Also, even when there are really difficult situations during a SART we are very clear on what our role is (thanks to the training) and so I always know what my priorities are during the SART and this makes it a lot easier to make those difficult decisions.

What was SART training like for you?

Paula: I loved my SART training.  It was supportive, challenging and educational.  The skills I learnt in training, I can use anywhere.  I really enjoyed it, but it can be intensive, as well as take a lot of time, and it is a heavy subject.  The training provided a clear sense of what my role was and that helped to create safety for me.

Anat: I loved it too!  It was a really supportive place and I liked doing it as a group.  The skills I learnt were so valuable and the training changed my way of thinking.  There was a lot of information to learn.

What have you learned from being a SART volunteer?

Paula: Active listening. Boundaries. Useful life skills.  An increased knowledge of sexualized violence in the community; it is really eye-opening to know the reality of it and how there are higher levels of sexualized violence in certain communities.

Anat: My role as a supporter and what that means.  The training changed my perspective on what it means to be a supporter.  It is really about respecting someone’s choices and not trying to “save” them.

What makes SART a unique volunteer experience?

Paula: It definitely is a unique volunteer experience.  You work as part of a team [with the Forensic Nurse Examiner and the police if the survivor chooses].  It is very hands-on and you have the chance to execute your training.  I feel privileged to be in this role; you really feel a sense of trust from the agency [Victoria Sexual Assault Centre].  It is never boring.

Anat:  You work on-call, so you never know when you are going to get called out.  You are dealing with immediate trauma, but you have the opportunity to make an immediate difference with someone.  You work in partnership with the police and the hospital, but you are really on our own with the survivor as the sole representative of VSAC.  You are in a position where you are trusted to make quick decisions and use your own critical thinking.

What is it like to work on-call and have over night shifts?

Paula: It is definitely a commitment and can have an impact on your life and family, so it is important to plan.  I remember the first night I was on call, I couldn’t sleep, but now I can.  You discover that you have a light switch inside you and you can turn it on, no matter the time of day or night.  When you are paged down to the hospital, you are ready to go.

Anat: It requires more planning than it sounds like it might.  I make sure that I have food on me when I am on-call because you never know how long you could be called out for.

It can be a lonely position at times, but you can check in with staff.

How would someone know if they were ready to be a SART volunteer?

Paula: I think that the training will answer that for you.  I think you would have to be ready to acknowledge that sexualized violence happens a lot and once you know this information, you can’t un-know it.   I think it is important to have good self-care and balance in your life.  I think it depends on where you are at in your life.

Anat: I’m not sure if you can know.  I think you have to be really moved and care about this issue.  It can be intimidating, but the more skills you learn to take on this role, the less scary it becomes.  It can be really exciting when you realize you can actually do this type of work.  I also think it is important to ask yourself, “Are you ready to learn about the terrible things that can happen in your city?”, because it can affect you subconsciously.

Would you recommend this volunteer position?

Paula: It is very fulfilling work, but it is not easy.  I would recommend it if you are ready for a challenge and ready to create change in your community.

Anat: I remember I wasn’t sure if I was right for this position, but you surprise yourself.  If you are interested in social justice and want to help and connect with the real world, then this is a fantastic opportunity.

If you are interested in volunteering with SART, please email Lindsay at volunteers@vsac.ca.