Everyone seems to know Reed Bohn, a cheerful Safe Harbor volunteer who has dedicated himself to anti-violence work throughout Richmond. Since he completed Safe Harbor’s training two years ago, he found a calling to join the Regional Hospital Accompaniment Response Team (R-HART) and serve as an advocate for emergency room patients who have experienced sexual or domestic violence. R-HART is a collaboration that pools together dozens of volunteers from several agencies, including Safe Harbor, but Reed has made a name for himself with his willingness to take on-call shifts and be available to those in need. He found time in his busy schedule to share with us what it’s like to support survivors on the front lines of violence, and how he became a legendary R-HART Volunteer Extraordinaire.
Q: Tell us about yourself. What do you do?
Reed: I wear a lot of different hats – I do all sorts of different things. I’m a barista, I work at Starbucks during the day. I also do therapeutic coaching with differently-abled kids and people who are in the system. So helping people is really my passion, specifically to anti-violence work.
What draws you to anti-violence work?
From a personal perspective, I’ve experienced a lot of violence in my life and I never really had resolution with that situation. So this was a way that I am able to feel a lot of closure and a sense of respect and understanding in a way that doesn’t always get to happen for a lot of people. I also feel like it’s very important to have male and masculine presence and energy and involvement in the anti-violence movement, because often, we always hear the same stories in essence…Violence takes place in all sorts of places with all sorts of people and I think it’s important to have those voices at the table, too. So that’s how I sort of stumbled upon it and then folks were like ‘Hey, Safe Harbor does this training, would you be interested in taking part in that so you can do more of these kinds of activities?’ And I said ‘You know, that sounds great.’ And I did.
What happened after you completed volunteer training?
I got into R-HART, which because of my schedule being kind of wonky, I’m able to do an overnight, whereas other traditional volunteer opportunities are 9-5 during the day, or a Saturday or Sunday, and I have other commitments during those times. But I also really value the individual interaction. It’s unfortunate that I have had some repeats [survivors he’s responded to at the hospital more than once], because it’s a situation where you most likely will not see that person ever again. To have that in-the-moment, very real connection with another person and be able to be a sense of support is just invaluable. There’s no other volunteer experience that matches that.
What’s it like to work an on-call shift for R-HART?
It’s hard because what makes it exciting in a positive light is that every situation is different. There is no standard call. The only thing I may know is that this person experienced violence and I may not have tons of details. And I’m always prepared to go out on a call, of course, when I’m on shift, but I may have none. I think the max I’ve ever done on one shift was three.
It all kind of ebbs and flows, I would say to expect the unexpected and go with your gut and just be there and be present in that moment. I think what’s nice and comforting is that you don’t have to be a trained counselor, you don’t have to be all these things, you can sit in silence with someone else, with a complete stranger, and have this unspeakable bond and connection and be able to leave that experience better for it, for both parties. It’s hard to describe these kinds of moments that you get to have with people.
How does this work impact you?
It’s not all sunshine and roses. I mean, there are calls that are really hard, but you have a support system around you. In my personal world I know a lot of people who are in the field in some way, shape or form and I can say ‘Hey, let’s process this together.’ Or, I can even go back to other volunteers at Safe Harbor and say ‘Hey, this was rough, I want to talk to you about it.’ Someone who gets it, who understands that these kinds of experiences are not the same as having an angry person at the call center, or what-have-you, these can be life-changing moments.
And it is really rewarding, it is a positive outcome for me because I leave feeling like I made a difference. Even if you’re never going to see that person again, most likely, and you know that in that moment, you did something that only you could do. You’re not the medical professional doing the exam, you’re not the law enforcement, you’re not another person who has all these other roles. You are strictly there for that survivor, and how often can you say that you’ve been in any kind of role – paid or unpaid – in your life and your own personal experiences, where you had someone who was there just for you, for as long as you needed them, until you dismissed them. It doesn’t happen.
How did the R-HART training prepare you for these emotional situations?
I feel like the training is probably one of the most in-depth experiences that I’ve had for a situation like that. I’ve been through all sorts of professional-level training and personal development pieces and all sorts of things on my own in other avenues. And I have to say it’s very comprehensive – they prepare you, as much as they can of course, for all sorts of situations. And even if I wasn’t going to do the R-HART experience, maybe if I wanted to work directly with survivors in a shelter situation, or do the court advocacy team, it really gives you a great primer…You can walk away and be a beginner or be an expert in this training and not feel like it’s too elementary or too advanced.
The trainers work hard to make sure everything is on your level and that you feel comfortable and ready to the best of your ability to make these things happen. I’ve been to courses that people have paid quite a bit of money for that don’t hold a candle to what happens here at Safe Harbor, to be honest with you. Because you can be anonymous and be like, ‘You know what, I feel comfortable enough going to support a survivor on an R-HART call, or working in a house directly with someone who may be doing transitional shelter,’ or whatever your niche ends up being.
Also you gain skill sets that are totally applicable to your personal life. So whether you’re having trouble with your own interpersonal communication with your partner or your family, or friends, you are able to recognize those and use the paraphrasing and active listening and reflective listening, etc. Or even just being able to recognize your own perspective and viewpoint, what’s going on in your world. How often do we get all these other messages that you really didn’t think about until right now? I know violence is a big piece right now with football, campus issues and locally we’ve had our own spotlights or highlights on these things, but once it fades into the background and it’s not an awareness month, people really start thinking when you’re doing these things as a volunteer: ‘There’s really a lot more going on than I thought about.’
What’s it like to work with the hospital staff?
Overall, the forensic team is really very supportive. They’re understanding, they want your presence and sometimes they may not get an approval before they call you, because they feel like your role is that important…If you feel like you’re advocating on behalf of the patient and they need something while they’re there, they’re really accommodating. They really value you because you’re able to do something that they can’t. Because honestly, medically, while they’re going though the exam or going through interview questions or taking a medical history, whatever their role is and their medical piece is, they’re not able to provide that kind of emotional support or advocate in other ways, because of the scope of their role.
So they can’t tell you, ‘It would be a really great idea for you to get in touch and do these things,’ and they can’t necessarily describe the experience of what it’s like to interact with the agency that they may be home to. And they have to make sure they stick to their professional guidelines too, to make sure that they’re being clear…You’re able to give [the survivor] a little more personal perspective and humanize this for them and help them understand their role because often, there is miscommunication between all parties as everything is going down, because you’re in the middle of a crisis. So you’re able to clarify and help everybody stay calm and zen about what is really an intense situation.
What’s your advice to someone who’s interested in joining R-HART?
I would definitely say give it a shot. I know it seems really scary, especially to do individual level work, people are like ‘I’m not qualified’ or ‘I don’t have this experience,’ or ‘I’m worried about what that looks like for me.’ You can always try something and say ‘You know what, maybe this wasn’t the right fit.’ But you don’t know until you try, and then to have that experience, it may just be one of the best and most rewarding pieces that you end up doing, that you would have never known about. And I really feel like if that’s your passion and that’s how you really want to be able to see and have those moments, it’s great. Because some people are big thinkers and they like to see the organizational picture from the sky view and see those pieces change. And those can be slower. But when you’re talking about individual level work and being with somebody in those moments, you get to see change and moments happen right then, on a level that doesn’t happen when you’re looking at organization and structure and those bigger pieces.
What do you think the ER experience would be like for a survivor without the support of an advocate?
It’s terrifying, it’s lonely, it’s scary – there are all sorts of reasons why people don’t engage in the system, why they don’t go to hospitals, why they don’t call law enforcement. And I would say the majority of the calls I’ve been on, that person doesn’t have a supportive person with them, they don’t have a family member or friend or neighbor or whomever. They’re alone. It’s literally them, and the medical staff, and if there’s law enforcement, the law enforcement may or may not be present. And so they are already in a situation of being isolated, and engaging in this process can be further isolating. And then they don’t have any sort of emotional support. Even just the physical presence of another person who’s there for them, really does a lot. You’re able to humanize and make this real when often people have a tendency to disconnect and just check out – ‘I’m doing this, I’m going through this paperwork, I’m going through this process.’ This person can help you stay grounded and keep this together and help you link up to something that you might want to do in the future or give you those resources…
Something I struggle with for a lot of different groups is that they don’t feel like they’re represented. I know because my own identification with community – if you don’t see someone like you in a role, or someone like you involved, you’re like, ‘If I needed to use this resource or if I needed to do these things, there’s no one there who would understand me.’ And I will tell you, I have never ever – I don’t even know how many calls I’ve been on at this point –I’ve never had anyone turn me away. No one’s ever told me no. The gender thing – everyone was like ‘Well, you’re a guy, it’s very probable that this person has experienced violence at the hand of another man, and you’re going to go in and this is going to be triggering and problematic’ – no, not necessarily. We made a point in class where someone was like, ‘You could very easily remind them of that best friend from high school who was terrible to them and they don’t like that person, and that’s why you were dismissed.’
But honestly, if you come in and you present yourself as who you are, and why you’re there, even if they’re not ready to have those kinds of moments with you, they’ll be like, ‘Thanks but no thanks.’ You can leave info with them and you’re good to go and you know you’ve done your part because when they’re ready, they’ll open up that folder and they’ll reach out to Safe Harbor or whomever and take that next step. But it’s just like quitting smoking or any kind of addictive piece…because that first time might not be the time that this happens. It might be time number seven that we have dialed the phone and called and someone picked up and we were ready to share our story. You don’t know. You’re there in case you are that lucky number seven.