My name is Dawn Hawkins and I've been a volunteer with Tri-Valley Haven for over 15 years. I started as a volunteer for the Haven's 24 hour crisis line and for the past ten years I've been a Sexual Assault Advocate (SA). I have been inspired to help and support women for most of my life and this inspiration comes from my own experiences as a girl and young woman navigating my way through this world.
One of my early jobs, when I was 16 years old, was a sales clerk at a trendy girl's clothing store. The owner/manager was a middle aged man who made several sexual advances towards me and my work colleague, another young girl. I didn't have the capacity or knowledge on how to handle this situation and felt my only recourse was to quit my job, which is what I did.
Throughout my career I experienced different forms and levels of sexual harassment but the one experience which really impacted my life for many years was a date rape. When I was about 19 years old I went on a house boating trip with a group of 4 other girls about my age. We were meeting (and staying the weekend) with a group of guys, some of whom were married. Two of the girls I went with knew a couple of these guys so I thought it would be safe. When we arrived, we learned that there was really no space for the five of us and they had very little blankets or sleeping bags. We all drank a lot and were all quite intoxicated. When it was time to go to sleep, one of the guys offered to share his bed, he promised he wouldn't touch me and we would just sleep. I passed out in his bed and in the middle of the night I woke up with him on top of me, I pushed to try to get him off of me and I told him to stop. He didn't stop. The next day I was so upset and kept my distance from him. I just wanted off that boat but my friends were having a good time and they thought I was overreacting. I even felt from a couple of them that I deserved it and that I should just get over it. The shame and disappointment I felt in myself lasted the greater part of my life and it wasn't until my coursework with the Haven that I let go of that and finally realized I didn't deserve that and it wasn't my fault!! I suppose this is what drives me to continue doing the SA work for the Haven, I don't want anyone to ever carry that burden.
My work as an SA is at times difficult but also very rewarding and meaningful. When someone is sexually assaulted, the Haven is called by the local police department, an SA is sent out to the hospital or police station to be with the survivor. Our job as an SA is to be there solely for the survivor, to help her/him through the process, to answer questions and provide information but most importantly to listen. We are not there to judge or give advice, we are there to inform and understand. Most people do not know that it is a California law that all sexual assault survivors are to have a Sexual Assault Advocate assigned to them.
On one of my calls to Highlands Hospital, the sexual assault survivor was a young man who has been detained at Santa Rita jail. This was my first experience with a male survivor and at first it was very different, however the more we spoke the more I realized his sexual assault experience wasn't much different from that of a woman's experience. The experience reminded me to enter the hospital room or police station with a completely open and unbiased mind. Now I say I am inspired to help and support PEOPLE, especially survivors of sexual assault.