Believing People and Treating Them with Respect
(Editor’s note: This story deals with sexual assault. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer crisis response advocate for us in Spokane, please contact us at 509-747-8224.)
It’s not the right volunteer opportunity for everyone, but being a crisis response advocate for Lutheran Community Services Northwest in Spokane is a fit for Kelli Minister. She’s been volunteering since early 2013.
“I was appalled to learn that when people are sexually assaulted that they don’t have anybody there for them at the hospital,” Minister said.
As a volunteer, Minister covers our Spokane crisis line for four seven-hour shifts a month. She averages about two calls per month, where she helps sexual assault victims through the forensic exam process. She estimates that she’s handled 50 calls over four plus years.
Before entering the hospital, Minister prays and does deep breathing to calm herself. She visualizes how the visit will go. The situation is never as imagined, but the process brings her to the right frame of mind.
“I walk in and say, ‘My name is Kelli and I’m so sorry this happened to you. I believe you. I’m so proud of you for coming in today,’” Minister said. Her goal is to have clients say back to her that they are proud of themselves before leaving. She usually succeeds.
Clients are in extreme trauma, so Minister assesses the situation then works to have positive body language where she smiles with eyes wide open. Many people are alone. If they have family or a friend with them, Minister tries to keep everyone calm. If a person cries, she will hold her hand. She’s played cards, watched TV, colored or walked outside with them for a smoke break.
“I try to pour attention on them because they are hurting and tired,” Minister said. “If parents are there, they can make the situation worse so I play the good cop.”
When the time comes for the actual exam, she offers to leave the room. Clients ask her to stay 90 percent of the time. When the exam is finished, she has something for them to eat and drink, because they can’t do that prior to the exam. She doesn’t leave until clients are safe.
Most victims are women, but she has had three male clients. Rarely are victims assaulted by strangers, as it’s usually an acquaintance or somebody they met at a bar or bus station. About 60 percent have been assaulted before, even though the perpetrator is different.
“I want them to know that somebody cares and somebody believes them,” she said.
Minister became an advocacy volunteer through an internship for her degree program at Eastern Washington University, where she recently earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and children’s studies.
After volunteering for two months, she landed a full-time job with LCS Northwest as a therapeutic aid working with case managers. Her job focuses on children who have a history of sexual abuse, neglect or anger issues. She works to develop coping skills, social skills and boundaries with those children.
One of the important qualities of an advocacy volunteer is being comfortable talking about and dealing with sexual assault. Making the time is another key factor. Minister is a night owl and isn’t much for going out, so volunteering works for her.
“I feel good helping people,” she said. “I try to treat people the way I would want to be treated in a similar situation. Everybody deserves to be loved no matter their circumstances. People need to be believed and treated with respect.”