April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and Tiffany Armes, Southeast Missouri Family Violence Council’s Sexual Assault Victims Advocate, is looking for volunteers for their hospital advocacy program.
Armes started the program in February after tossing the idea around. Armes’ first thought was the program would not be needed in this area, but she decided it could help spread the word about sexual assault.
According to the Missouri Coalition Against Sexual Assault, someone is raped every six hours in the state, 77 percent of the victims know their attackers. One-third to two-thirds of these victims are under the age of 15.
Armes noticed most metropolitan sexual assault organizations had an advocacy program.
“Almost every other program I’ve seen has the (advocacy) program,” Armes said.
There are five volunteers from the program, available 24-hours a day, seven days a week to help assist sexual assault victims in the council’s five-county area.
“Granted, we don’t go on a lot of calls, but it’s great to build a pool,” Armes said.
Part of the reason the advocates aren’t asked to assist a victim at a local hospital, is because the hospitals or police departments don’t notify the council when a rape or sexual assault occurs, according to Armes.
“It’d be great, in the five-county area, if we can get all the (police) departments to call us, that’s our goal,” Armes said. “It’s a big problem county wide. I’m sure it happens and we’re not learning about it.”
Armes said the most familiar instances of sexual assault are acquaintance rape and date rape. Acquaintance rape is committed by someone the victim knows and date rape can be perpetrated by drugging a victim.
The problem with date rape is the victim is usually unable to remember exactly what happened, and there is a fine line between consensual sex and rape. Armes said there is testing which can help determine if an individual was raped, but evidence of the assault leaves the body very quickly. Many victims don’t seek medical help until it is too late.
In this area, acquaintance rape occurs most often, which is why the training a hospital advocate receives focuses a great deal on acquaintance rape, as well as date rape.
The training, 20 hours altogether, consists of going over the legal aspects of confidentiality, different types of rape, and an understanding of the testing victims will undergo.
“We try and remind them their main job is just to listen,” said Armes.
A large portion of a volunteer’s time is used in dealing with the victim’s family, which the training covers as well.
Armes uses a volunteer trying to help a father, whose young daughter was sexually assaulted, to understand his anger can be a problem for the victim because it scares the victim and doesn’t encourage them to talk about their experience.
The volunteer aspect of the hospital advocacy program works by having a call list, with all volunteers’ names on it. If the crisis hotline receives a call, the volunteer at the top of the list is called first, working down the list until someone is available. After a volunteer fields a call, their name goes to the bottom of the list.
To volunteer, or for more information, call Tiffany Armes at 573-358-3919, or 24 hours at 573-358-4461.