Sydney Miller: Attending the National Sexual Violence Conference

Part of the Cleveland County SART team (Left to Right, Bliss Brown- Prevention Education Advocate, Brynn Simmons- Law Enforcement Advocate, Sydney Miller- Sexual Violence Advocate, Amber Scroggins- Coordinator of Forensic Exams and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, Courtney Foster- Assistant Director of WRC and Coordinator of Rape Crisis Services, Kathy Fahl- Director of Gender and Equality Center at OU, and Ron Collett- Sex Crimes Detective for Norman Police).

My name is Sydney Miller, and I am currently a full-time second year graduate student at the Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work. For the last four years, I have worked for the Women’s Resource Center (WRC), a community domestic violence shelter and sexual violence crisis intervention non-profit, in Norman. I work primarily as the senior sexual violence advocate at the Rape Crisis Center within the WRC. My work consists of starting the violence prevention education program for middle and high schools within the Cleveland County school districts in 2014, responding to 24/7 crisis calls in Cleveland and McClain County, providing court and law enforcement advocacy, supervising 15 volunteer advocates, and educating the community on the issue of sexual violence in Oklahoma. I have served on our community Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) for the last two years of my career; this team consists of detectives from both counties, forensic nurses, ADAs, advocates, OU Gender and Equality Center, and other professionals who work together to prevent and help victims of sexual violence. My passion to help prevent gender-based violence and help those who have been victimized has directed me to receiving my MSW, so I can continue growing as a social worker, and to hopefully become an LCSW working in international gender-based violence crises. For self-care, I enjoy painting and drawing, travelling, practicing yoga, and hiking and camping.

In August-September 2016, the Cleveland County SART team was awarded a scholarship to go to the National Sexual Assault Conference in Washington D.C. The scholarship was provided by a nonprofit in Chicago, Alliance of Local Services (ALSO), and was given to only 25 individuals throughout the United States. This conference consisted of almost 100 workshops over a 3 day period. The workshops included different tracks for different professions collaborating to end sexual violence. This included advocacy tracks, counseling tracks, legal tracks, law enforcement tracks, medical tracks, and more. Due to the scholarship, we had the privilege of having required networking dinners throughout the conference. Networking with multiple professions throughout the country was in itself a huge learning experience about what other programs are doing to help fight this issue. I also had the privilege of listening to inspiring speakers, such as a survivor from the movie Spotlight, and more. Lastly, the scholarship required us to create an action-plan as a SART team and to implement it within two months after the conference. Our objectives were to implement case review into monthly community SART meetings, incorporate best-practice bystander education into existing educational programs, and train campus-based medical providers on screening for gender-based violence.

During the workshop, I focused on more of the counseling track to prepare for a new set of skills once I graduate. On the first day, I took a course on using Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT) skills in crisis situations. My practicum at NorthCare children’s outpatient services provided thorough training on DBT and DBT groups, and I was excited to learn how to utilize such a successful therapy model and the skills created in DBT and how to use them during a crisis situation, specifically for someone who has experienced sexual trauma. I also took a workshop on helping homeless survivors of sexual violence in rural areas. I had the privilege of working with FORGE’s executive director on transgender sexual health, learning about disclosure, exposure, and consent. Some of the most useful workshops I took that have really changed the way I do my work was the workshops on utilizing art therapy, narrative therapy, and dance therapy for staff and clients. As a supervisor of advocates and volunteers, I took a workshop on secondary trauma for paid and volunteer staff, and this was particularly useful for understanding what volunteers need in order to thrive and continue in this field. The two most impactful workshops was an interactive class on creating an intersectional movement and learning an emerging evidence-based trauma processing yoga therapy group. I now have the responsibility of ensuring we are providing an intersectional understanding of gender-based violence of all races, ethnicities, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. 

The WRC is also now applying for a grant to certify me as a yoga instructor, so when I graduate, we can begin implementing a holistic model of recovery with yoga, art, movement, and writing therapy that has evidence-based results as well as our current follow-up model. This conference has added a significant amount to my education as a MSW student, and as an advocate for social change for gender-based violence. I look forward to the changes I can make for Norman and for survivors of such violence.

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