Who Are You Talking To?
Get to know your Victim Advocates
Boatswain Mate Seaman Sabrina Parsons-Hang has kept a lot of secrets. At 28, she is the youngest of eight children, and one of the oldest in her department. People tell her things, they ask for her advice, and most importantly, they trust her. They see right past the stripes on her sleeve to the kind dark eyes and the smile of someone who understands more than her rank would ever let on.
Maybe it's because her father retired from the Navy and she trusts the institution. Maybe it's because her brother served honorably as a religious specialist until his death when a typhoon hit his base in Okinawa Japan. Maybe it's because her sister was raped multiple times, and left out by a lake, cold and alone. Or maybe it's because she went to college and earned several degrees before finally convincing her mom it was safe for another one of her children to join the Navy.
Whatever the reason, people feel comfortable opening up to her. But Parsons-Hang didn't come here to talk about herself; as a victim advocate for the Navy, her job is to find out how she can help others.
"My responsibilities as a VA are to listen to the victim," said Parsons-Hang. "Never blame, never judge. I'm there solely to listen and advise people of their options. Reporting, getting medical treatment, seeking legal advice. Whatever they need or want. If they need me to go with them to medical, I go - no question. My goal is to make sure no one ever feels the way my sister felt that night - alone."
To become a victim advocate, the first thing Parsons-Hang had to do was submit a special request chit to her chain of command. From there, her ship required her to participate in an interview with her command's program coordinator. Next she did a phone interview with the base Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC). If the commanding officer and the installation SARC feel like you have what it takes, you will be scheduled for a 40-hour training course to certify as a victim advocate. It is there that you learn the ins and outs of the program and are given the tools to really serve the victims.
This process may differ from command to command, but strong vetting is crucial everywhere.
"I think the questions they ask are a good way for them to see if you are serious about it and if you can handle it," said Parsons-Hang. "The questions might be different from base to base but for me; I was asked why I wanted to become a VA, what attributes I have that would make me a good VA, why would people come to me over someone of a higher rank, what is the difference between restricted and unrestricted reporting and a few others."
The questions are also designed to make sure you can remain professional when a situation arises.
"We are all human, so we all get emotional," said Parsons-Hang. "However, you have to relieve yourself as a person's VA if their story hits you too hard or hits too close to home. You have to be able to sympathize but not be too emotional."
Sympathizing is something Parsons-Hang can do. As a junior member in deck department, she knows what it is like to sometimes feel lost in the crowd. But in this case, she feels like her rank helps.
"Junior sailors aren't always willing to talk to seniors," said Parsons-Hang. "They aren't intimidated by my rank, and they feel like they will be heard. But because of my age, higher ranking Sailors feel comfortable speaking to me too. I have proven myself loyal and trustworthy. Not just as a VA, but as a Sailor in general. I think it helps that I am dedicated to qualifications and doing my job."
Parsons-Hang is an advocate, not just for victims but for all Sailors.
WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE A VA
Chief Cryptologic Technician Networks Melinda Lee has witnessed what sexual assault does to person. She has seen it steal purpose from a victim, driving them to a lonely place. She could not stand by and do nothing. She wanted to advocate.
Lee went through the questions, scenarios and training. But nothing could really prepare her.
"There is no academic lecture that made me ready to be a victim advocate," said Lee. "No two situations are alike. This isn't a scenario, these are real people. If they need me to attend appointments with them, I do it. When someone is hurting emotionally and physiologically there is no bandage for it. There are no ointments or antibiotics that can be prescribed to take away the pain. When I am dealing with these situations I have to ensure that I don't project my emotions on the victim. I have to really harness my emotions regardless of the situation. I have to make sure I am strong for the victim."
NOT JUST ANOTHER COLLATERAL DUTY
When Personnel Specialist 1st Class Shariff Burgos checked into her command, her leadership asked if she would be interested in becoming a VA and command point of contact. After attending the training she realized this was not an ordinary collateral duty. It is far more personal.
"I personally know victims and this gives me a stronger drive to continue intervening on a victim's behalf," said Burgos. "When I watch sexual assault training videos or read an article, I reflect on my friends whom have had attempts of sexual assault made on them and those who have been assaulted. I think of them and know it can happen to anyone and no one ever deserves to be sexually assaulted."
Her advice for any person thinking of becoming a SAPR Victim Advocate would be to understand that you will have to put the victim first - ensure it is their needs that are met. Master emotions and views and give the victim all the information needed to make an informed decision.
A HEART WITH EARS
Master at Arms 3rd Class Lizette Rosario knows that victims of sexual assault are in need. They need guidance and support.
"We need to be as supportive as we can," said Rosario. "I feel like I am making a positive impact. The scenarios we are trained to respond to are so horrible. If there is even a slight chance that I can bring a positive light to the victims through my support, I would love the opportunity to do so."
Rosario stresses that the Navy is getting better at helping victims by continuing to listen.
"A Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Coordinator in South Korea once told me that we advocates should be a heart with ears. That is the perfect way to describe our job. We need more hearts with ears in our military."
How to become a Victim Advocate for Sailors and Marines
To become a Victim Advocate speak to your chain of command, Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, or a Victim Advocate. To learn about their responsibilities please review SECNAV Instruction 1752.4B enclosure (6). If you do not meet the current requirements, do not get discouraged. Seek other ways in which you can support the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program in special events such as Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAPM), bystander training, and peer mentoring programs. Every Sailor and Marine has a great opportunity to be a part of ensuring sexual assault is eliminated from our Navy and Marine Corps.