STEVEN KALAS: Victim advocates play important role for those in need

After seeing the headline in the Sunday, June 24, 2012, Las Vegas Review-Journal, "Clap your hands for advocates, who stand by us in our shame," I became very excited since that is exactly what The Rape Crisis Center provides. However, you can imagine my disappointment when not only did you not mention victim advocates, you stated: "There is one experience of advocacy – offered or received – reigning supreme above all other meanings of the word: advocacy offered or received in the wake of moral failure. We have ‘ made a mistake,’ we say. But putting the wrong time on your calendar and missing a meeting is a mistake. A moral failure is when we behave badly."

Steven, our No. 1 priority as advocates that help victims that have been raped or sexually abused is to tell them specifically "It’s not your fault" … "You didn’t make a mistake" because that is the first thought that normally crosses their mind. By reading your article, I became concerned because someone who has sought out a victim advocate because they’ve been raped or abused could very easily interpret (your column) in the wrong way. Victims don’t come forward because many are afraid that they won’t be believed or simply because they felt if they hadn’t behaved or acted in some way, they wouldn’t have gotten raped. Victim advocates are a special group of people because they don’t judge, they remain objective, and most of all, they listen.

I do hope in the future that you decide to add this very important correction to your column. Remember, these are individuals who give up family time, days off and even holidays (rape doesn’t pay attention to any of that) to either go to the hospital or take a phone call.

Thank you, and if you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. And as a "recovering" Catholic, I have faith that you will do the right thing, and you are more than welcome to come for a tour. – Hannah Brook, executive director, The Rape Crisis Center

You make me remember my graduate school ethics professor, Dr. Joseph Allen. One day he lectured on "rights." He was making the point that there are very few absolute rights. Meaning that, under certain special circumstances, it was ethical and right to ask an individual to surrender a civil or human right in service to the greater good of the whole.

A student asked, "Can you give me an example of an absolute individual right?" Dr. Allen pursed his lips, thinking deeply. He then said, thoughtfully, "Offhand, I can’t imagine a circumstance in which a woman should ever have to give up her right not to be raped."

To this day I don’t know if his palpable irony was deliberate. I just remember the sober, powerful silence that fell over us.

While not a "correction," I am eager to offer an important clarification. In the column you mention, I listed examples of advocacy: a lawyer (defender/prosecutor), a therapist, a friend, a parent, a spouse. Having read your letter, what I regret not including is the example of a "victim of crime" advocate. You, your staff and volunteers are, of course, exactly this kind of advocate, for all the reasons you mention. Las Vegas is lucky to have you.

It is my last example of advocacy over which you stumbled. The reason I can’t "correct" it is I meant quite literally what I said. Sometimes we are called to advocate for people in the aftermath of moral failure. (Being raped is not a moral failure.) We come not to deny or cover up the failure, nor necessarily to interfere with legal or interpersonal justice. We come to stand for the dignity of guilty human beings. Since you brought up your Catholic background, let’s put it in the language of the Scripture: "And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father …" (I John 2:1).

I think of Tim Robbins’ 1995 film "Dead Man Walking." A chaplain nun is called to provide pastoral care to a death row prisoner, condemned to die for rape and murder. In the nun’s care, the condemned man ultimately confesses his crime. The nun waits with him in his final hours. She witnesses his execution. She attends his funeral. To the grave, she is his advocate, though members of her congregation criticize her, shame and condemn her. The victims’ surviving families feel betrayed by her.

After seeing the film, I preached a sermon in which I said that, were I ever to refuse such a ministry because I was afraid for my reputation … well, that I would no longer be worthy of the office of priest.

I have been an advocate for innocents. I have been an advocate for sinners. I’m intimately familiar with both because both realities echo in the history of my own choices and life experience.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of "Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing" (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 227-4165 or

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