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Publish Date: 10/24/2005

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Victim advocates Bob, left, and Eleanor Davies often respond with emergency personnel to incidents that may traumatize the people invovled. Times-Call/Lewis Geyer

Emotional response
Victim advocates say their work is difficult but rewarding


LONGMONT — Sometimes it is tough for Eleanor and Bob Davies to understand how they have helped someone.

Bob Davies has concluded that sometimes just being there — sitting with someone who has suffered through the death of a loved one, a car accident, a fire or other trauma — means everything to that traumatized person.

Eleanor and Bob Davies serve as victim advocates in Boulder County. The Longmont couple was introduced to the program through their daughters, who are also both advocates.

“It is a great program, but the emotional side of it, I didn’t know how I would do in those situations,” Bob Davies said.

It turns out that he does just fine.

Cheryl Christensen, who coordinates advocates for Longmont Victim Services, said the countywide program has about 60 advocates, and she estimates that 90 percent are women.

She also said the program could use more help.

Twenty program advocates work in outreach, while the rest are on-scene advocates who work on-call shifts and respond to scenes whenever a police officer believes an advocate may help.

“The training can be difficult,” Christensen said. “It can be emotionally bristly.”

Advocates are trained to assist victims of trauma in any way. That could mean simply sitting next to that person as police and medical personnel work, or it could be as complex as helping victims arrange for funeral services and shipping the bodies of loved ones to other countries.

The advocates carry bags to aid them on scene. Bob Davies last week emptied his to show the diversity of the tools his volunteer job might require. He pulled out an accordion folder of pamphlets to give to victims; a book of resources that includes numbers for social services, nonprofits, crime-scene cleanup groups and every other imaginable resource; crayons for kids; a Teddy bear; even a quilt.

He said he sometimes sees his role as a practical one, helping victims take those immediate first steps after a trauma.

In his two and a half years as an on-scene advocate, Bob Davies has never responded to a sexual assault. He worries about how a victim might react to a male advocate in that situation.

Eleanor Davies said sexual assaults and domestic violence cases are the toughest for her to handle.

Her ability to speak Spanish also comes in handy. She once traveled to Rifle to help when several Hispanic men were killed and the families needed help with legal issues.

All kinds of cases can wear on advocates, Eleanor Davies said. She recalls one case in which a woman who had just suffered the loss of her son lashed out.

“I mean, the lady just screamed at us,” she said. “She just felt like all of these people were intrusive and blew a gasket and told us all to leave.”

Eleanor Davies didn’t leave, and the woman ended up using the advocate services.

On-scene victim advocates work on-call shifts days, nights and weekends. When volunteers are accepted, they are expected to make at least a one-year commitment to the program. That means when they are paged to a scene, they must immediately respond.

“We have had volunteers who have done it for 17 or 18 years,” Christensen said.

Turnover is common, though. Advocates may move, have conflicts with jobs or other responsibilities, or simply burn out under the pressure of the intense and emotionally draining work. Twice monthly, the advocates attend support meetings.

“They are kind of like debriefings,” Bob Davies said. “You see a lot of tragedy.”

Both recommend the program to anyone who feels they can handle the schedule and the work.

“I think it is a great opportunity that everyone should do once in their lifetime,” Eleanor Davies said.

Leigh Ann Sutton, an on-scene coordinator who is making a switch to outreach, said it is a major emotional commitment, but it is worth it.

“Everything that we do is very different,” Sutton said. “It can be an unattended death, a car accident, a drowning, a suicide.”

Christensen said the program takes applications for a once-a-year training. Along with being able to work on-call and having a nonjudgmental attitude, the program requires “genuine concern and empathy for victims of crime and survivors of sudden or violent deaths, regardless of the circumstances.”

Applicants who are accepted to the program go through 40 to 45 hours of training, which covers crisis counseling, victimology, legal procedures, law enforcement topics, resources information and a ride-along with a police officer. Applicants also are subject to a background check, including employment and character checks.

Application information can be found at www.co.boulder.co.us/sheriff/employment/employment.htm#Employment.

Christensen can be reached at Longmont Victim Services at 303-615-8855.

Pierrette J. Shields can be reached at 303-684-5273, or by e-mail at pshields@times-call.com.

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