A quiet presence, a hand held
OhioHealth supports survivors of sexual violence
It took Anna Thompson one shift volunteering for OhioHealth’s Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO) to realize how important the work is.
Anna started as a volunteer hospital advocate for the sexual assault prevention and intervention program in January 2014. Her first case: a 25-year-old woman who’d been raped by an ex-boyfriend. Anna met with the survivor in the hospital and stayed with her throughout the forensic medical exam.
“It had a huge impact on me,” says Anna. “When she left, the woman asked me for a hug. I knew then that my support really meant something to her.”
Today, Anna co-coordinates SARNCO’s Aftercare Advocacy service, providing follow-up support to survivors after they’ve been to the hospital or called a helpline. SARNCO operates the 24-Hour Rape Helpline for sexual violence survivors in Franklin County and the hospital advocacy program in which Anna was a part of, providing support to sexual violence survivors who show up at Columbus-area Emergency Departments. In addition, SARNCO has a sexual violence prevention educational program for schools, colleges and the community at large.
With funding from the Ohio Attorney General, OhioHealth recently launched the first statewide, 24/7 helpline for sexual violence survivors. The Ohio Sexual Violence Helpline is staffed by trained, contingent sexual assault survivor advocates who offer emotional support, crisis intervention and resource information. The helpline works in collaboration with local hotlines currently in operation elsewhere in the state and serves as the primary resource for residents living in counties without a local, 24-hour helpline.
“The people we serve often reach out for support immediately following a sexual assault,” says Heather Herron Murphy, manager, OhioHealth behavioral health outpatient services. “We want to empower survivors with information and options so they can make decisions about how best to move forward in their recovery process.”
SARNCO depends largely on volunteers. The program has eight paid coordinators, 16 paid staff advocates and about 100 volunteer advocates. Some, like Anna, volunteer out of personal interest and a passion for helping women. Others are survivors themselves. Some are students pursuing courses in counseling or social services.
Volunteers work at least three, eight-hour shifts a month and undergo 40 hours of training, which includes strategies for self-care to help volunteers withstand the emotional nature of the work.
Anna says her time with SARNCO has taught her that support for sexual assault survivors can take different forms.
“It’s important to approach them in an open way and support them however they need supported,” she says. “Sometimes that’s being quiet or leaving the room if preferred. Sometimes, it’s holding a hand. Every survivor is different.”
Visit ohiohealth.com/sexualassaultresponsenetwork for information on how to become a SARNCO volunteer.
If you or someone you know has experienced a sexual assault, call the SARNCO 24-Hour Sexual Assault Helpline at (614) 267.7020 or the Ohio Sexual Violence Helpline at (844) OHIO-HELP.