The story of Lyndsi Lambert is one that is all too familiar to advocates. A survivor presents to a hospital for a sexual assault forensic exam. After one of the most terrifying, disempowering and violating experiences one can endure, she continues to feel vulnerable and exposed while doctors and nurses collect evidence. As she attempts to recall and piece the trauma-scattered memories together, police interview her to learn the chronological facts of what happened, and tell her where to go next and what to expect. By her side, an advocate provides silent support during the procedures and questioning, as well as validation and comfort in the inevitable periods of waiting while these procedures are completed.
Lyndsi’s story, told in three installments in an expose by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, sheds light on what we witness at STAR everyday but which we are often unable to speak on.
In a given year, we at STAR work with over 300 survivors in Baton Rouge by providing hospital and criminal justice system accompaniment. We also engage in systems-level advocacy to support wide-scale, long-term positive change in systems that will hopefully make experiences like Lyndsi’s a relic of the past.
This is the work that we do, and we are making progress, but not quickly enough. Survivors continue to experience re-traumatization when they disclose their experiences to others—be it family members or friends, or those within the criminal justice system.
We continue to try and fit these human, real experiences into a prescribed law to seek justice. And it continues to fall woefully short of justice.
Many people look to STAR as a beacon in dark times. Yet the painful truth is that one agency cannot end rape. One agency cannot wholly alleviate survivors’ pain and frustration or ensure that they are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve as they weave throughout dozens of systems and social networks. One agency cannot ensure that offenders are held accountable for their crimes and traumatizing actions.
As survivors are re-traumatized, it compounds the vicarious trauma that those of us who do this work experience on an ongoing basis.
When sexual assault victim advocates speak, we speak as extensions of survivors, striving to make their experiences heard and understood in a society where support for survivors is not the norm. In a society that so often silences survivors through shaming, intimidation, and hostility, is it any surprise that advocates’ voices are also stifled, silenced, and lacking in power?
If our system of sexual assault response functioned the way it should, we would not need sexual assault victim advocates. Considering this, the responsibility for making experiences like Lyndsi’s a thing of the past lies with everyone, not just a select few. We have all responded in some way to sexual assault, whether as an official response worker or an individual commenting on a case or responding to someone’s disclosure.
To make stories like Lyndsi’s a thing of the past, everyone who responds to sexual assault must take responsibility for doing so in an informed and responsible way. We at STAR are here to support institutions, communities and individuals in accomplishing this.
If you would like to contact us to share your experience, ask a question, or merely give us your feedback, please click here to send us a message anonymously.