Volunteer Voice: Katie Heins

It’s 1 a.m.

I’m working on homework in the library.

Or maybe I’m eating dinner, and suddenly my phone rings.

Even after months of volunteering with Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, I still jump almost comically at the noise. Although I don’t know always know what is on other end of the phone, I know that I am about to have the opportunity to help a survivor of sexual assault; I am ready.

I’m Katie, and I am a student at the University of South Carolina majoring in International Studies and Spanish. Between classes, being a member of a service sorority, and academic research I find myself pretty busy, but if I ever have free time I love to spend it in coffee shops or relaxing on the Horseshoe at USC.

As a college student, I am aware of the statistics about sexual assault on college campuses, but last Fall I really started to think more about survivors in my community, and how the rhetoric of our political officials and media affect them. I decided to volunteer with STSM because I wanted someone to know that they are never alone, and that they have someone who supports and believes them.

As an advocate, I answer hotline calls on our 24-hour crisis hotline, and provide hospital accompaniment to anyone at an emergency room in the Columbia area who has been sexually assaulted.

During a hotline call, I might help someone in crisis create a safety plan, answer questions about STSM’s services, or just listen to someone who needs to talk.  At the hospital, I stay with the survivor from start to finish as they talk to doctors, law enforcement, and forensic nurses about what happened to them. I also provide resources for counseling or advocacy once the survivor leaves the hospital, emotional support during the exam, and little things during the hospital visit like snacks, new clothes, or a blanket.

I have had people tell me that they’re worried I’ll think the world is a terrible place after seeing this trauma over and over, but I don’t see it that way. Sexual assault is real, and its present in our community is real, but there are brave and determined people fighting it every day. Many of those individuals determined to end sexual violence in our community work at STSM, and they want to empower others to join the fight. So if you want to have an impact on survivors, your community, and without a doubt yourself, I highly encourage you to volunteer.

This is sometimes an emotionally draining role, but whenever I stop and process my work, I have an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. I am grateful to live in a community where organizations like STSM are working to combat sexual violence. I am grateful of the survivors for their bravery in reaching out and seeking help after what happened to them. And I am grateful for the opportunity to be there for survivors in a time of crisis.

I know that many of the survivors I meet will have a difficult path ahead, but I have hope for every single one of them. And I have hope for a future free of sexual violence, which is why I continue to volunteer with STSM for as long as I need to.