The National Organization for Victim Assistance is preparing to launch the Youth Advocacy Corps pilot program in partnership with five colleges, including the University of New Mexico.
The Youth Advocacy Corps program intends to aid marginalized youth in victim advocacy by providing student fellows with training, mentorship and a paid field placement in a local victim service organization, according to NOVA.
On Monday, April 24, the University hosted a town hall where the program was introduced and panelists shared their experiences as sexual violence survivors. Abrianna Morales, a panelist and UNM student, is a NOVA youth program manager and looks forward to the impact the upcoming program will have.
“The great thing about this program is it gives people an entrance or an opportunity to enter victim advocacy,” Morales said. “A lot of times victim advocates spill into the field without having intended to be a victim (advocate). It's fascinating to fall into.”
The activities for the three-year pilot include: assessing the needs within the victim services field, developing, launching and evaluating a pilot program shaped by the marginalized community survivors, and establishing a national model.
The criteria for students selected to be brought into the program is still in development, but it’s intended to launch in spring 2023 and run until summer 2025, Morales said.
“The goal is to ensure that advocates represent the communities that they come from and that, victims feel represented by service providers who look like (they) had similar experiences (and) understand victimization … we selected institutions that are minority-serving,” Morales said.
Kaylyn Ahn, another panelist and student at Northwestern University, said the program was “a breakthrough within the advocacy realm.”
“We (panelists) just talked about how important it was to us as like survivors who hold multiple marginalized identities, like me being a queer woman of color who was also low income and how important it was to have victim advocates that understood where we were coming from,” Ahn said.
Ahn helped draft House Bill 5441 for the Sex Offenses Article of the Code in the state of Illinois. It now states that no matter if you were voluntarily intoxicated or the perpetrator gave you the intoxicating substance, your sexual assault case still counts as sexual assault.
Before the bill was passed into law in 2021, a legal loophole allowed that if the victim was voluntarily intoxicated, it could technically be argued in court that their sexual assault case wasn't covered by the law. Ahn said when she reported her case, the police officer told her to “not let it happen again and move on.”
“I think the biggest takeaway is that when we are talking about sexual violence or domestic violence, we need to highlight how the systems of the police, the assistance of victim advocates or even the hospital has shut out people of color and low-income people for so long,” Ahn said.
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Annya Loya is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annyaloya