Local Heros: Kim Birdsong
Monterey Rape Crisis Center
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Kim Birdsong had seen the fliers. The Monterey Rape Crisis Center needed volunteer advocates. It seemed straightforward enough: Become a certified sexual assault counselor through the center’s intensive 40-plus-hour course, commit to a weekly six-hour shift, and answer phone calls at home from people who call the hotline. Thirty other volunteers at the center do it regularly. It’s demanding and emotionally taxing, but that’s how it goes in the world of rape crisis centers nationwide: Take a deep breath and be a rock of support and a listener for someone in crisis who needs you, or get off the crisis line.
Birdsong took it a step further and joined the center’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART)— specially trained nurses and advocates who accompany a sexual assault survivor to the hospital for a six-plus-hour SART exam.
“By the time they get to the hospital, survivors are in the throes of trauma, and they need a safe place to land,” Birdsong says. “It takes so much courage for them just to be there. My role is just to be whatever support I can be and to offer whatever comfort I can: to believe them from the onset and to reinforce their experience and their emotional reality.”
Between the crisis line and her SART work, Birdsong is on call roughly 250 hours every month. In just the past six months, Birdsong has been out to the hospital with sexual assault survivors a staggering six times. It’s sobering even to MRCC’s veteran executive director, Clare Mounteer. “Kim’s absolutely phenomenal,” Mounteer says. “What she’s doing with survivors on a regular basis is mind-boggling.”
Birdsong has absolute respect for the role of the advocate and holds her duties in high regard. “When I’m there, I’m all about the survivor. I bring her a change of clothes, a toothbrush, and I arm her with information about what’s going to happen during the exam and why,” Birdsong says. “When a woman is assaulted, her power has been taken away from her. One of the best ways to begin to heal is to let her know she’s in control and has the right to say no to any part of the exam. I just feel like if a survivor is supported at the outset, the chance of healing and moving on and not having it be the defining thing in her life increases exponentially.”
Birdsong’s work— and, sadly, sexual assault— touches nearly every segment of society. She has accompanied a 4-year-old child through an exam, and held the hand of a single mother.
Still, Birdsong seems unfazed by her own heroism, and instead insists it’s her way to find sanity in a vortex of hate that silently perforates an entire civilization. “The objectification of women and the damage that’s done on that level is so prevalent and so insidious that I get pretty overwhelmed looking at that bigger picture,” she says. “I thought I could help by going directly to the source, so I did. And it is just extraordinarily rewarding to me to be supportive of humanity— of women.”