News Staff Writer
A UNC Asheville student who works with Our VOICE, one of Asheville’s sexual assault victim support centers, said she started a solo initiative which provides additional support to victims of sexual assault.
Nicole Madle, a junior health and wellness major, works with the organization as an advocate for sexual assault victims in the hospital.
“At Our VOICE, an advocate is on call about once a month, and when you’re on call you have to be available to go to the hospital for 24 hours,” said Madle. “We usually go in groups of two, but I’ve done solo trips before, too. When a victim comes into the hospital, the hospital calls Our VOICE and Our VOICE calls whoever is on call.”
According to Madle, the advocacy position at Our VOICE is mostly comprised of people who have been victims in the past. The position requires three weeks of training, which can be tough for those applicants.
“Training consists of a bunch of role playing, which can be difficult because you have to play the victim and about 80 percent of the advocates were victims first,” Madle said. “If it happens to you, you want to stop it from happening to other people.”
Madle said that the advocate core at Our VOICE could benefit from more gender diversity.
“We only have like four advocates who identify as male,” Madle said. “It’s great that we have them because a lot of men get raped, which most people don’t realize. So we always need to have male advocates.”
Madle said once at the hospital, the role of the advocate is to represent the victim in his or her time of difficulty. This representation begins with comforting the victims to the best of the advocate’s ability throughout the difficult treatment process.
“It’s always hard to know what to say. What can you say in that situation?” Madle said. “The rape kit, the gathering of evidence and interview process by the hospital with the victim, takes about three hours. They ask a lot of questions, which are very personal and they do it over and over to make sure the story is consistent.”
Madle said one of the most important roles of the advocate is to ensure treatment of the victim is respectful from hospital staff.
“You’re there to make sure there isn’t any judgement or things said like ‘Oh that’s not actually rape’ while taking the victim’s story,” Madle said. “This role becomes especially important with transgender individuals because comments like ‘It says on your chart male but you’re dressed like a female’ aren’t things victims should be subject to in those moments.”
Besides occasionally correcting disrespectful treatment, Madle said advocates are there primarily to comfort the victim.
“The best thing we can do is listen and just be there for them,” Madle said. “The average time I’m with a victim is about three hours but I’ve been there for six and a half before.”
In her experience, Madle said as an advocate, it is hard to see the difference one is making during the actual time at the hospital.
“When you’re there, it doesn’t really feel like you’ve helped,” Madle said. “But there’s a lot of instances of letters coming to Our VOICE from victims later on saying things like ‘Thank you so much, my advocate was amazing.’”
After spending time as an advocate, Madle came up with new support measures for the advocacy program. One of these was to add clothing to the hospital bags which Our VOICE was already assembling for victims.
“I did a clothing drive my sophomore year and that developed into not just collecting clothes but all of the items which go in the bags,” said Madle. “Then I came up with the idea for students to make cards for the victims to go into the bags too.”
Madle said it was not difficult to find a need of victims which required filling. Our VOICE already made hospital bags for advocates to take to victims so she just asked them what their needs were for those and they gave her plenty of things she could do. By just asking, Madle found an opportunity to provide additional care to victims and took the initiative to do her best to fill it.
“When victims get to the hospital, they have to turn in their clothes as part of the evidence in the rape kit,” Madle said. “So we try to provide them with comfortable clothes so that they don’t have to walk out in a hospital gown.”
Keishea Boyd, assistant Title IX officer at UNC Asheville, said Madle sets a great example for the community standard students should strive to uphold.
“Nikki represents our student population, which understands that in order to have a strong community, we have to make sure all of our members are strengthened and encouraged,” Boyd said. “We have a wonderful student population that understands that any injustice of any kind not only affects that person but affects the whole community.”
Madle said as a university, UNCA’s students and faculty are on the right track but there is still work to be done toward bettering the attitude some students have toward the issue.
“As a campus community, it’s clear we are trying to be better about it and recognizing rape as a serious issue,” Madle said. “But it seems like people are either really aware or not at all.”
Madle said one reaction to an exhibit she and others set up her sophomore year to bring awareness to the issue marked the mentality some students have regarding sexual violence.
“We had flags out representing victims for sexual awareness month, and someone defaced the entire thing and drew penises everywhere,” Madle said. “This is partly why this is happening. The kind of people who think it’s a joke. That kind of behavior is rape culture, just like saying ‘She asked for it.’”
Caroline Crowley, a senior sociology and psychology student, said there is a lack of education regarding rape for most people.
“People don’t really know what rape is or have this very heavy idea of it, that it’s like a stranger coming out of a bush, when in reality the attacker is much more often an acquaintance,” Crowley said. “Sometimes UNCA can feel like a bubble and so students like Nikki are so important because her branching out into the community brings light to the issue in the community which reflects its presence here.”