A bright light needed in victims’ darkest hours

United Family Services’ volunteers visited Union County’s Carolinas Medical Center 41 times for people in need of Rape Crisis Companions last year.  It’s a number the group badly wants to see decrease. But what they need to increase is the amount of people willing to volunteer their time to others who are facing tragedy.

With only 13 volunteers who rotate 12-hour on-call shifts each month, Ashley Lantz, the Union County Victim Services coordinator, needs more people willing to help answer calls from people in trouble. Rape Crisis Companions not only visit local hospitals to comfort people and help them in their time of need, but they also work on the 24-hour hotline providing support for anyone on the other line.

The services provided by United Family Services are much needed and always appreciated by those being helped, Lantz said. But with victim numbers at such a level, move help is needed.

“With most victims, a day or two after our volunteers go to the hospital we will call them and ask them about their experience,” Lantz said. “Ninety-three percent of the people who we helped last year said they appreciated having the companion at the hospital.”

United Family Services created the companion program in attempt to give those who experience sexual assault someone who is there for them through all of the examinations, surgeries and questionings.  They work with anyone – man, woman or children. When a male victim would like another male for support, Lantz has a male companion available.

“When a victim shows up at the hospital for sexual assault, there are a lot of people there working to find who did it, medical needs and other things. But there isn’t anyone there for moral support,” Lantz said.  That’s where the Rape Crisis Companion comes into play.

Before working the hotline or making visits to the hospital, all companions go through 30 hours of training that includes learning about different situations that can take place at the hospital, role playing and receiving feedback from peers and instructors, learning how to support someone who has experienced sexual assault and how to take care of themselves in the stressful situations they will experience.

“I felt prepared from the training that they provide, but it was still a nerve wracking experience,” said Madison Walters, who has volunteers as a Rape Crisis Companion since January 2011. “Here was someone who had been through this traumatic experience.  Was I going to be enough?”

Walters began her work with United Family Services through an internship and decided to stay as a volunteer.  She now works eight to 10 shifts that last about 12 hours a month.

Rape Crisis Companions are there to give victims support whether it be sitting and listening, providing resources, acting as an in-between at the hospital to find out information, providing information about medical and legal protocol and being available through the hotline to guide victims with anything they may need.  Companions are required to fill out a report on every victim they assist.

Classes for those interested in becoming a volunteer will take place Sept. 13, 15, 20, 22, 27 and 29.  Thursday classes will last from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and Saturday classes from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Trainees are required to attend all sessions.

For more information, or to register, contact Carol Roth at croth@ufsclt.org or 704-367-2799.

Analyzing the problem

According to statistics provided by Union County’s Victim Services staff regarding 192 incidents of rape in the county, the majority of acts were committed against people younger than 18. Ages 0 to 17 accounted for 166 of the cases, with the highest percentage, or 55 cases, involving children 10 to 14 years old.

The majority of the victims in the 192 cases were white – 123 cases – and the crimes mostly occurred against females – 156 cases involving females and 36 involving males. Seventy-four of the incidents happened in zip code 28110, which includes Monroe; 22 in 28112, which includes part of Monroe and south to the state line; 16 in 28079, which includes Indian Trail; and 14 in 28173, which includes Waxhaw and parts of Weddington and Wesley Chapel.

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