Agents of Change: Paulette Thomas

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Becoming an active member of the movement to end sexual trauma is one of the most rewarding things you can ever do. I would say just do it. Sexual trauma touches all of us — if not directly, we know someone who was touched by it. Be a part of change and help end the silence and the stigma behind not reporting.

– Paulette Thomas

 

1. What is your position at STAR?

I am a medical advocate for STAR. I provide support, resources, and advocacy for survivors of sexual assault before, during, and after the forensic exam at the hospital.

2. How did you come to work at STAR or in the field of sexual assault prevention/response?

In 2002, I was a victim of sexual assault. Going to the hospital alone was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do; the process was so overwhelming. I had thoughts of leaving and not going through with the process, but a hospital advocate from the Rape Crisis Center (now STAR) came, explained the process to me and was there every step of the way.

When I transitioned from victim to survivor with the help of the center’s counselors, the first thing I did was find out how I could give back by being a support for someone else going through the same thing. When I walked into the office to sign up, the first person I saw was the counselor that helped me in 2002. That was 2009 and I have no plans of stopping.

3. What do you find most rewarding about your work at STAR?

There is so much that I find rewarding, but the most rewarding thing is working directly with survivors — being there at the moment that they need someone the most and letting them know that even though they may have come to the hospital alone, they are not alone. It’s such a great feeling to be asked, “Did you come just for me?” It’s a great feeling knowing that I am making a difference in someone’s life, even if they never say a word but I see the look on their face when they realize that I’m not there to ask questions, I’m there to be supportive and listen if they want to talk or just sit quietly.

4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging, and how do you practice self-care?

Before I became an advocate, I had no idea how much sexual assault happens because only a small portion makes the news. It’s always a little difficult knowing the reason that there is a need for medical advocates. When I first started, I would get emotional and wanted to cry with everyone who cried, but I can honestly say that it never gets discouraging because I always want to help at the time of need. It can be a little overwhelming, though, if you don’t take some me-time.

I think about the survivors that I have helped and the parents of the survivors who are so grateful that someone was there to give support when they could not be there for whatever reason. STAR is so supportive and makes sure that we are taking care of ourselves and taking time off if needed. Working with STAR is so fulfilling and that alone motivates me and keep me going.

5. What are some ways you promote positive change in your community, outside of your work duties?

Change comes with education. I was at a community event at a college and STAR had an information table set up. Almost all of the young ladies passed by and said, “Oh I don’t need that because it will never happen to me.” I was one of those people who thought the same way before it happened to me. Since that day, I talk to young girls and let them know that it can happen to anyone and the majority of the time it is not a stranger — it’s someone you know.

Most of the time the survivor is told that no one will believe them and that prevents a lot of survivors from reporting. I let them know that they don’t have to be silent. For those who have gone through sexual assault and never got help, I encourage them to get counseling. It is also my goal is to teach men about boundaries and what sexual assault is because change starts with us. I believe that with education, sexual assault won’t be a prevalent as it is today.

6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of the movement to end sexual trauma?

Becoming an active member of the movement to end sexual trauma is one of the most rewarding things you can ever do. I would say just do it. Sexual trauma touches all of us — if not directly, we know someone who was touched by it. Be a part of change and help end the silence and the stigma behind not reporting. It only takes a desire to make a difference. You choose the days you want to volunteer, so it won’t interfere with your normal schedule. If you don’t think medical advocacy is for you, phone advocacy may be, or you can always make a donation. Everything helps and everyone can make a difference.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

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