For Sexual Assault Survivors the First Step to Healing is Support
In its infancy the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center with its limited staff managed hotline calls while board members and volunteers responded to area hospitals to serve community members who experienced family violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. As the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center grew and hired more staff the need to offer Advocacy Training to its staff was necessary to keep up with the demands of the community. This allowed the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center to officially launch the HEARTeam Program in 1985.
The Hospital Emergency Advocate Response Team or HEARTeam of the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center (HCWC) provides 24-hour crisis response to survivors of family violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and child abuse at a hospital located in Hays or Caldwell County. The role of the HEARTeam Advocate is to provide emotional support, information, and assistance after one or more of these incidents.
A HEARTeam Advocate will respond to a hospital at the request of a law enforcement officer or when a survivor presents themselves at an area hospital for treatment of physical violence, sexual assault, or both. When a HEARTeam Advocate responds to a hospital, one of their responsibilities is to determine if a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner or SANE is available at the dispatched hospital to collect medical evidence.
Every staff member of HCWC spends time with victims during hospital calls, including those who are hired to do accounting or assist with fundraising. It does not take a direct service professional or a counselor to make a good advocate. Good advocates are people willing to show up. They aren’t there to fix anything or answer every question. The advocate sits with survivors, provides basic information about HCWC services, listens to as much or as little as they want to share, and offer the support of being a person who believes them.
Advocates are the first step in the healing process and truly make a difference. Evidence shows that when survivors have advocates, they experience less distress during the hospital visit and receive medical services at a higher rate.
The HEARTeam Coordinator will follow up with the survivor after each call to connect with them for continued care through the many services which are offered at HCWC. The goal of HCWC and the HEARTeam Program is to help during the recovery and healing process through compassion, patience, and acceptance.
HCWC staff member Rachel Mayorga describes the impact of the experience by saying,
“Being a HEARTeam advocate can be challenging, but the reward you get from knowing you were able to support someone in an extremely difficult situation is a great one. As an advocate, I get an immense feeling of fulfillment by being able to tell a survivor that not only do you believe them, but there’s a whole team of people behind you who also believe them and are here for them.”
If you or a loved one are in a crisis, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room and request the hospital to contact a HEARTeam Advocate at (512) 396-HELP.
Jennifer Ygnacio-Moreno, is the Advocacy and Resource Program Director and is new to HCWC. She has 11 years in the field of domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual assault, and strangulation. Jennifer will oversee the Legal Advocates, HEARTeam Advocate, Resource Advocate, Transitional Housing Bilingual Advocate, and the day-to-day operations of Marla's Place.