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In a pilot program for the Navy, professional victim advocates trained volunteers at Naval Air Facility Atsugi last week to provide support to victims of domestic violence.

Atsugi’s Counseling and Advocacy Program supervisor, Rich Smith, says he saw the effectiveness of volunteer victim advocacy when he worked for the Marine Corps in Yuma, Ariz.

"The fact is [volunteers] meet the needs of those in crisis all over the place," he said. "Why not cultivate the volunteer spirit to help meet the needs of Navy families in crisis and help take care of our own?"

Currently, the responsibility to help victims falls to professionals at on-base family advocacy centers. The move to enlist volunteers acknowledges both the strain on those professionals and budgetary restraints for making new hires, Smith said.

He said the need for volunteers is especially crucial for overseas military families, who don’t have the off-base resources of their stateside counterparts. He said an evaluation of the program will be done in January, with a goal of spreading the program to other overseas naval installations.

The volunteers will be responsible for immediate crisis intervention, Smith said. They are learning to provide safety planning, emotional support, information and referral, and how to provide the victim with options and encourage him or her to decide on a course of actions.

"I want [the victim] to feel like they’re not alone … and that there’s light at the end of the tunnel," said Petty Officer 1st Class Lalia Gonzalez, who said she volunteered partly because of her personal experience with domestic violence.

"I think it would be a big mistake for us to try to say that we know the person who’s calling and how they’re feeling," she said. "However, what we do know is that they’re reaching out."

Smith said the volunteers also will help educate the community about the family advocacy program.

"Our hope is that more victims will be more willing to come forth and identify themselves and tap into our resources," Smith said.

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