SOS Sexual Violence Services in need of volunteers

SOS Sexual Violence Services are in need of volunteers to train and stand as advocates.

Anika Besst, Reporter

Current volunteer shortages at the Ramsey County SOS Sexual Violence Services are creating challenges for advocates of sexual violence survivors. 

Hamline University and SOS Sexual Violence Services have had a long-standing volunteer relationship serving the Ramsey community. SOS volunteers support, empower and listen to survivors in their time of need. 

Volunteers make it possible for a crisis hotline to be open overnights and weekends. They also stand in on medical forensic evidentiary exams to advocate for and support survivors in the process of completing evidence kits or filing police reports.

“Survivors of sexual violence deserve to have someone advocating for them,” said Jane Moye-Rowley, volunteer coordinator of SOS Sexual Violence Services of St. Paul Ramsey County Public Health

SOS is one of the first places Hamline University reaches out to when students report and are in need of sexual violence services. 

Like all organizations, volunteering is cyclical. However, SOS is currently facing challenges in obtaining volunteers. In years past, volunteer numbers have ranged from 60-70 people. Presently, they have only about 30 on-call when 50-60 are needed to run the program effectively. 

Moye-Rowley suggests one factor that may discourage volunteers from even starting is the 40 hours of training required before becoming an advocate. 

Bernadette Hayden, Hamline alum and a current volunteer of SOS, agrees the 40 hours is deterring but stressed the significance of putting in this time.

“I cannot emphasize how important this training can be, not only for advocacy but for any career you may choose,” Hayden said.

There are courses offered in the spring by professor Kristin Mapel Bloomberg, who is an SOS trained crisis counselor and victim advocate. These classes cover both the SOS training and carry a LEAP credit to make getting connected to SOS easier. 

During the spring of 2018, Hayden took Dr. Bloomberg’s “Transforming a Rape Culture” course which put her in touch with SOS.

“This class really opened my eyes to the hard realities of gender-based violence in this country and ignited a passion to create change,” Hayden said.

As for active volunteers, one reason some leave may be burnout, an unfortunate reality in this line of volunteer work as the subject material and support can be emotionally draining. 

I think this has a lot to do with so many advocates, including myself at times, zealously advocating for survivors, but then sometimes neglecting their own self-care needs,” Hayden said.

She comments that for this reason, it has been very hard to retain volunteers. 

“You must learn how to take care of yourself before you can truly support survivors,” Hayden said.

Moye-Rowley suggested the time commitment as a barrier. 

“Many folks can’t fit volunteering in their schedules; I think it’s difficult to find “work/life balance,” period, even if you’re not volunteering,” Moye-Rowley said. “I think many people want to support rape victims, but can’t commit to an unpaid position… as an advocate.” 

The lack of volunteers creates a snowball effect denying 24/7 access to this organization. Rape kits and police reports are being done in the evening or on weekends where there often is not an advocate present to provide support and knowledge. SOS staff can fill this void, but in doing so, they are taken out of the office during the day. 

“They can never have too many volunteers,” said Jen England, faculty director of the Women’s Resource Center and an SOS advocate. “Please think about it. It is really meaningful for the survivors to have someone there.”