Being there for the victims of trauma

(From left) Siti Nadhirah Azmi, 24, Yeo Si Ning, 27, Jeremy Lim, 29, and Charmaine Lee Siew Ling, 24, are part of a group of volunteers who are trained to help victims of violent crimes and sexual offences.
(From left) Siti Nadhirah Azmi, 24, Yeo Si Ning, 27, Jeremy Lim, 29, and Charmaine Lee Siew Ling, 24, are part of a group of volunteers who are trained to help victims of violent crimes and sexual offences.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Volunteers with police's Victim Care Cadre programme provide support, listening ear

When her close friend from secondary school killed himself three years ago, Ms Charmaine Lee Siew Ling, 25, had to learn how to cope emotionally with the loss.

Ms Lee, then a psychology undergraduate at the National University of Singapore, suspected it was exam stress that caused her friend to kill himself just as his adult life was starting.

When she reflected on how she could have helped him, she "became interested in reaching out to people who are struggling to cope".

His death pushed her to volunteer with the police's Victim Care Cadre (VCC) programme, which supports trauma victims, mostly of sexual offences, as part of police investigations. This was before she started work at the Home Team Behavioural Sciences Centre as a psychologist.

Ms Lee joined the VCC programme in January last year, and is one of 72 trained volunteers providing emotional and informational support to victims. Recruitment started in 2014 with 13 people.

Applicants have to be Singaporeans or permanent residents aged 21 or above, who are studying or have graduated from psychology, counselling or social work degree courses and have the aptitude to care for victims, a police spokesman said.

These volunteers go through a selection process which includes psychometric tests, interviews, and up to a week of training in topics such as knowledge of court processes, counselling techniques and suicide risk awareness.

SOMEONE TO TURN TO

Sitting beside the victims lets them know that they have someone to turn to. There is still emotional support. It's just not very overt.

MR JEREMY LIM, 29, a VCC volunteer, on working with men experiencing rape trauma.

They can help out in an open police case at any time, based on victims' needs.

A pair of volunteers can meet victims at police stations and at the courts, and watch out for their emotional well-being.

Victims can also ask the volunteers for information about processes, advice on how to cope with trauma and resources available to them.

Educational therapist Siti Nadhirah Azmi, 25, who has taken on six cases since she started volunteering two years ago, has learnt how to "be there for someone".

In her most recent case, she was a listening ear to a woman who fought her attacker, who assaulted her in broad daylight.

Ms Lee said: "The first thing is to build a safe space."

To do that, volunteers have to be aware of their own judgment and suspend them, she added. "It's about sensitivity and about having multiple perspectives."

Another volunteer, research assistant Yeo Si Ning, 27, has taken six cases over the past three years.

In the cases she took, victims were concerned about what happens after the attack.

Ms Yeo said: "They ask, what will people say? What will my family think of me?"

Men, too, are not spared from rape trauma. Mr Jeremy Lim, 29, a case manager at the Institute of Mental Health, has worked with two victims over the past three years.

"Sitting beside the victims lets them know that they have someone to turn to. There is still emotional support. It's just not very overt," said Mr Lim.

The volunteers hope to address the stigma and other issues on the reporting of rape. They also hope to raise awareness on the importance of mental well-being.

Mr Lim said: "There is a false belief that we can protect ourselves just because we are men, we went through national service; but you never know, right?"

Ms Lee wishes she could have gone back to the start of the relationship with her friend, who had difficulties coping with his studies.

She said: "I would be his listening ear and let him know that he can share without being judged."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 25, 2018, with the headline 'Being there for the victims of trauma'. Print Edition | Subscribe