by Staff Sgt. Erica Picariello
30th Space Wing Public Affairs
6/16/2014 - VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- By
Imagine a courtroom filled with people awaiting a judge to declare a
verdict on a case. The accused not only testifies, but also provides the
judge with 100 glowing character references, yet the victim is allowed
to provide nothing but their own testimony.
Whose statement will be more impactful?
According to Vandenberg's Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, Donna
Rathbun, the Victims' Advocate program here is resolved to be just that -
a voice for those who feel powerless.
"Even though I try to make myself very approachable and available to
Team V for assistance, I realize that a victim may be more comfortable
confiding in someone they view as a peer," Rathbun said. "I use the
analogy of the courtroom scenario because that's often times how a
victim feels: 'Nobody understands what I'm going through and nobody
cares.' The VAs are just that - Airmen and Department of Defense
civilians of varying ranks who are trained in victimology and know what
resources can be provided to a victim. They are emissaries in individual
units who are the most likely to be the first non-official SARC
representative victims go to."
Not anyone can be a VA, there are exclusions and a screening process.
"Anyone in the military can be a VA except those on g-series orders,
chief master sergeants, Office Of Special Investigations personnel,
security forces, judge advocate personnel, chapel personnel, and medical
group personnel," Rathbun said. "The prospective VA must then submit
paperwork asking to be a VA that has been endorsed by their commander,
complete a background check and a 40-hour training session with the SAPR
office. After all of that has been accomplished, the prospective VA
must submit paperwork to become certified through the National
Organization for Victim Assistance and the DoD Sexual Assault Advocate
After those steps are completed, a VA is certified and can be matched with a victim to provide assistance.
"The Match-up is very important," Rathbun said. "I make sure to take the
whole-person concept into consideration and match a VA with a victim
who has similar experiences and interests."
Though the VA is certified to help, that doesn't mean they have to - they're still asked if they'd like to work with a victim.
"After I've identified the best matched VA for the victim, I call the VA
and give them a very non-specific review of the case and victim,"
Rathbun said. "Maybe the VA is in the middle of a college course or
getting ready to go on a family vacation and wouldn't have the time to
devote to someone who needs them outside of their home responsibilities.
We understand that and can come up with a game plan to make it work or I
can find a different VA."
Though the responsibilities can be heavy, most VAs find the job to be very gratifying.
"I am a VA for the sake of helping other Airmen," said Capt. Katie
Fabbri, a Vandenberg VA and the alternate SARC. "Since we're Airmen on
the installation, we're a familiar face that victims can turn to when
they need help. The VA is someone who isn't going to pass judgment on
the victim, who knows what resources are available to help and, most of
all, is a 'safe zone' for the victim."
Fabbri believes that creating a 'safe zone' can be the most important part of the VAs responsibilities.
"One of the biggest struggles for victims is that they don't have a
confidant during a time that they feel that the world is against them,"
Fabbri said. "The VA is a way for the victim to 'check the pulse' on how
others may perceive their issue. The VA can also provide answers and
resources to help that person move through the healing processes."
As an extension of the base SARC, the VAs are the first-line warriors to ensure the victims' voices are heard.
"Victims are people too and you're not just a victim," Fabbri said.
"Yes, this horrible thing happened to you, but it does not define you.
That's the balance a VA tries to create for a victim."
For more information on becoming a VA, call the Vandenberg SAPR office at 606-SARC (7272).