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Volunteering as a victim advocate

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Angela Tuckett
  • 405 Air Expeditionary Group victim advocate
When I joined the Air Force in 1996 at the age of 20, I shared the dream that most who enlist have; I wanted to get my education and see the world. I had planned on getting out at my four-year mark as many of us do, but as the years flew by I realized that I was yet to accomplish any of my short term goals, so I decided to reenlist for another four years.

Shortly after I reenlisted, I received orders out of Alaska and I was headed to Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. It was my last choice of where I wanted to go, but it was the assignment that changed my life.

Seven months after arriving at Mountain Home, Sept. 11 happened and I received my first deployment orders to Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia. I was scared to death!

Before I left I had to complete a slew of pre-deployment appointments, including a sexual assault awareness briefing. In that briefing I specifically remember seeing a PowerPoint slide that depicted the number of sexual assaults both stateside and at deployed locations. I remember thinking to myself, "Why--when you are at your weakest point, so far from home and at the very moment when you are relying on your brothers and sister in arms--would someone do that?

The entire time I was deployed I thought of getting out of the Air Force to become a counselor of sorts to be able to work with victims. I thought so much about it that when I arrived back to Mountain Home I was told of a program within the Air Force that offers assistance to victims: the victim advocate program.

Shortly thereafter, I moved to Langley AFB, Va., where I was put in touch with Bernadette Hardy, the base sexual assault response coordinator. She taught me everything I know about how to be a victim advocate.

I realized I could do two things at once; I was able to serve my country and serve as a victim advocate. Often the victim advocate will be the very first person that a victim of sexual assault will come in contact with. To me that is the most crucial part of the reporting process because that person will make the decision right then and there if they can trust you enough to tell you what happened or if they will hang up the phone. Making that first phone call is half the battle for a victim but it's a very important step because a victim does not want to be judged or criticized and often may not even want to report a sexual assault or rape.

It is always challenging when working with a victim. There are always barriers that need to come down in the most delicate of ways, and building trust is a process not a given.

I absolutely love being a victim advocate. I love just knowing that I have helped just one more person through a difficult time and enabled them to regain their footing in life again. I love knowing that I have helped educate just one more person and given them the tools or situational awareness that could help prevent a sexual assault or rape.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but I personally believe that every day is a new day to bring awareness to this sensitive topic. The phrase "Hurts one...Affects all" is 100 percent accurate. Nobody is immune; men and women, boys and girls can become victims, and it's up to all of us to raise awareness and provide education on prevention.