We’re proud to celebrate the people who serve and connect our incredible community. Each month, we interview a different member of Resilience to hear more about the work they’re doing to empower survivors and end sexual violence. This month, we’re shining a spotlight on Carolina Sánchez, a Supervisor of Advocacy Services at Resilience. Read our interview to hear from Carolina about Resilience’s Legal and Medical Advocacy services and what she’s most proud of in her eight years of working at Resilience.
Read our interview with Carolina below.
I was reflecting back to when I first found out about the position. My entire life I didn’t know that rape crisis centers existed and that there was such a thing as Legal and Medical Advocacy, that there were free counseling services available to survivors, or even what the options were for survivors of sexual violence. It wasn’t until I was in college and on that I started to learn more about some of the options that survivors have available to them.
I first learned about this position through somebody who was a volunteer at the time. Finding out about the Children’s Legal and Medical Advocate position and that it was bilingual and working with kids, working with families, was amazing. I immediately knew that this was such meaningful and impactful work, and I was eager to learn how to advocate for survivors and support them. It’s been quite the journey for the last eight years. It’s really important to me to be able to support people and help them in making informed decisions and accessing whatever it is that they feel would be beneficial to them. I accompany them through these very complicated processes or help navigate these very intimidating institutions. It can be a lot for folks, especially if they are undocumented or if they’re part of a vulnerable population. So to me, it is an honor to be able to show up for them, whether directly or through my work as a supervisor.
Our Advocates offer so many different services and play many roles. Can you tell me about Resilience’s advocacy services and what Legal Advocacy looks like vs. Medical Advocacy?
It sounds simple but there are so many options. When it comes to Legal Advocacy, it can go the civil route, and it could go the criminal route. The criminal route could be our Advocates accompanying a survivor to file a police report. They can accompany them to a detective interview or speak with the state’s attorney if their case makes it to criminal court, which unfortunately doesn’t happen often. Our Advocates can help them navigate those systems and obtain updates for them. The civil route includes petitioning for protective orders (restraining orders) to prevent any further harm from the abuser. We can help them fill out the petitions and prepare them for what’s going to happen when they go in front of the judge. We can go with them to all of the follow-up court dates to make sure that they’re understanding everything that’s happening and the reason why it’s happening. It could also be a situation where they’re interested in filing a civil suit against the individual who harmed them, or potentially an institution. We don’t see a whole lot of that, but we can certainly refer survivors to attorneys who may be able to assist them.
Other civil options include assisting survivors to break their lease early or change their locks if they’re concerned that the offender might try to cause further harm in their home. It could be helping them take protected time off from work so that they can go to therapy, go to court, or talk to their detective without fear of being fired, their hours changing, or any other repercussions. Our Advocates can also provide support with Title IX, whether that is accessing accommodations from their school, having their school investigate the incident, or potentially assisting the survivor transfer to another school.
When it comes to Medical Advocacy, we partner with 15 hospitals throughout the city of Chicago. When we get pages from our partner hospitals, we dispatch advocates (both staff and incredible Volunteer Advocates), who accompany the survivor throughout their visit, provide emotional support, inform them of their rights and options, etc. If they want to do an evidence collection kit (rape kit), we’ll walk them through that process and accompany them through it because it can be incredibly retraumatizing. If a survivor is interested in accessing pregnancy prevention medication or STI testing/medication, we assist them in that. If a survivor becomes pregnant as a result of their sexual assault, we offer information on their options and as always, follow their lead. If they’re interested in terminating, we can assist them in scheduling an appointment, going with them, and making sure that they have emotional support moving forward as well. Those are many examples of what that Legal and Medical Advocacy can look like.
There are so many different branches.
And laws are constantly changing. There are always new things coming up, so there is also a lot of continuing education that Advocates need to do to make sure that they know the most up-to-date information. For example, with crime victims compensation, the cap used to be $27,000 for the lifetime of a survivor. Right now it’s $45,000. Being aware of that and making sure that survivors know that is very important. Or with the evidence collection kits, when I first started, survivors only had two weeks to decide whether they wanted to test their evidence collection kit, to get it sent to the lab so that they would test it or not. If they didn’t release it during those two weeks, the kit would be destroyed. At one point they changed it to a 5-year holding period, which was amazing, and now it’s 10 years. So survivors have up to 10 years to decide whether they want their kit to be tested or not. To decide whether they want to report to law enforcement or not. Whether they want to engage in the criminal legal system or not. For child survivors or minor survivors, they have up until their 28th birthday. With child survivors, they don’t know what a kit is, what the point of it is, and how it could potentially be used. So allowing survivors the time to understand that and to really process and make that decision is huge.
You just celebrated your 8-year anniversary with Resilience. What is one memory or experience from your time here that you’re most proud of?
There are so many! But I will always be grateful for the team of Advocates I have worked alongside, especially those who started off as interns and were then hired as staff. It gives me great satisfaction to be able to help train newer Advocates and support them in their journey as they support survivors. It is an honor to witness the impact that their presence, knowledge, and determination has in the lives of the survivors we serve. The work we do can be incredibly difficult and draining (in every sense of the word!), but it is also deeply rewarding to know that our efforts help make the lives of survivors a little more manageable and that we are a small part of their journey to healing.
Over the past eight years at Resilience, what has surprised you most about this work? What is something that you know now that you didn’t 8 years ago?
The painful and difficult reality is that the vast majority of sexual assault cases will never be charged, will never make it to criminal court, and will never result in that offender spending a day in jail or prison. I think that is and continues to be one of the most challenging aspects of doing this work when that is the hope of so many of the survivors we serve. And while this isn’t news to anyone, the other thing that will never cease to surprise me is how incredibly resilient people can be!
What is something you or the Advocacy team are looking forward to this year?
I’m looking forward to being a full team again! With the pandemic, there’s been so much turnover, so I’m excited and looking forward to having a full team and getting us to a more stable place as a team so that we can better serve our communities.
What is one fun fact about you?
I love plants! I have so many of them. I haven’t counted recently, but I’m guessing it’s somewhere around 150 that I have throughout my apartment. They bring me so much joy, and it’s so nice to be surrounded by nature, especially since we work from home. I have my little jungle in here and it always reminds me that things will work out. Spring will come and we will continue to grow.