March 28, 2005 – In the two weeks between Christmas and Jan. 10 of this year, Virgin Islands Victims Advocates, or VIVA, was called 24 times.
"The holidays are busier than any other time," says Cynthia Farmer, volunteer coordinator. "Human Services office is closed, and that's when we are needed. Weekends, holidays and Carnival, whenever people are partying our numbers go up."
Normally the agency receives about 10 to 15 calls a month handled by 11 victims' advocates on a rotating schedule. They take calls from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. on weekdays, and all day on weekends and holidays.
"I ultimately would like 30 victims' advocates. One person per day per month," says Farmer, who has held her volunteer position since 2002. "Volunteering helping victims can be very stressful. If we had a pool of 30 volunteers we always know we would have coverage."
There are two people on call each night. Farmer goes with new advocates for their first three or four calls. "I'll watch and step in if need be," she says. Calls to VIVA volunteers usually come from the police department, doctors, nurses, or the clients themselves.
"We can be there from 15 minutes to seven hours, but two to three hours is the norm. Advocates will help clients with receiving proper medical treatment, help them with checking out of the hospital, and find shelter if they need it in a safe house or hotel," she says.
This week VIVA is preparing to train a new crop of volunteers in a 13-week program. This will be the fifth class VIVA has offered. Topics will cover domestic violence, child sexual assault, role of law enforcement, victim's rights, and medical aspects of sexual assault. Throughout the 13 weeks, police officers, lawyers and doctors will make presentations on their area of expertise.
New classes have been added dealing with homicide and other violent crimes. "We realized we weren't tuned into that area when we were called to the hospital to be with a mother whose child had been shot. We're also including violence and the tourists. Our industry on St. Thomas is strictly tourist based. We've added that to be part of the crisis intervention."
The introductory class will consist of filling out a lot of paperwork; each applicant is given a thorough background check. "We begin the first class explaining what domestic violence is."
Farmer expects about 25 people to show up at the beginning of the session. However, by graduation, that number dwindles to less than half. "They realize the subject matter is sensitive. It takes a special person to commit to helping someone through the darkest night of their life." She estimates less than 10 volunteers will make it through the 13 weeks.
"A person has to be dedicated, flexible. Calls can come in at 2 a.m. It has to be a person that won't let this weigh heavy on their hearts. They have to be able to let it go," says Farmer.
Once they make it through the training there are other things advocates can do, such as volunteer at the emergency shelter, or attend court hearings with victims. They also make community presentations about sexual assault or domestic violence.
"I would like anyone that's a victim here on St. Thomas and St. John to realize they don't have to go through their dark days alone," says Farmer. "There are people in community who really care for them and will be there no matter what. If it's your third time in the hospital for domestic violence, we will treat you like a sister or brother with 100 percent of services available."
The next training class is scheduled from 5:45 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, at the Family Resource Center Counseling Center located on Bunker Hill.
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