Whitman student supports domestic violence victims

by Katrina Umbaugh, Whitman College class of 2018

When I first told my mom that I was going to court on Friday, there was a pause on the other end of the phone, I heard a deep exhale followed by, “what happened?” It took me a minute to realize how, “Mom, I’m going to court on Friday” must have sounded out of context.

As part of my internship with the YWCA, I help people fill out forms like Domestic Violence and Anti-Harassment Protection Orders and help answer any questions about the different types of services in the Walla Walla area. It also means that I go to court on Fridays to track whether or not these Protection Orders and other domestic orders are granted, which once I explained to my mother, bought the conversation back to a calm place.

YWCA Walla Walla serves as an emergency shelter for female victims of domestic violence and their children. The Advocates at the YWCA also do Advocacy Based Counseling, which is for anyone seeking guidance on abusive relationships or healing from a trauma involving sexual assault. I specifically intern for Hailey Powers, who as part of her job for the YWCA, is available 24/7 to students on the Whitman campus who may need help regarding sexual assault trauma from their past, sexual assault trauma that occurred recently, or abusive relationships.

Hailey and I have worked a lot this summer on ways to reach out to Whitman students during the school year. My goal is to let them know about her position so that they are able to use her as a resource or recommend her to a friend if it’s needed. So far we have met with students as part of Whitman’s Fly-In Program, discussed different types of programs students may be interested in, created a Facebook page and Instagram that will keep everyone up to date on everything from her office hours to events that she is putting on. While setting up these social media pages was important for this goal, Hailey has kept me busy with plenty of other tasks along the way.

We traveled to Vancouver, Wash., for the No More! Conference, which had seminars and trainings on sexual assault, domestic violence, and trafficking. Brenda Tracy, a gang rape survivor, gave the keynote speech for the conference, and I had the opportunity to talk with her briefly about the work she does and the lives she touches.

I participated in a 50-hour Core Training that taught me about the role of an advocate for sexual assault and domestic violence. It showed me that no matter how much training or reading you may do on a topic, there are always more stories to hear and new things to learn.

I have answered the YWCA’s crisis line, helping women who need shelter  to escape their abusers. I have worked in the shelter with the women and children and listened to their stories. Through these experiences, I have developed a better understanding of patterns of
abuse and the ways in which abusers operate.

One of the most difficult parts of this job is hearing stories about people in crises and feeling helpless, with knowing from my hours of training that abusers don’t change. I had the opportunity to sit with one of Hailey’s clients who was even younger than I  am. That was when it really sunk in that abuse can happen to anyone, at any age, anywhere. It took a few days to realize that while that may be the brutal truth, what it means is that there needs to be more education and opportunities for helping victims transform into survivors.

There has been no limit to the amount of experiences I have had working at the YWCA this summer. I haven’t felt like an intern, but someone who has valid ideas and beliefs that can inspire positive change. It has been a roller coaster of emotions; some days I get home and I am emotionally drained, but there’s something about doing advocacy work — having even the smallest potential to create change for one person — that makes the work worthwhile.

Experiences like Katrina’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Katrina’s story used with her permission and that of the Whitman College Student Engagement Center .