Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Community Hero 2009

Community hero, 2009: Theresa Backman, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center volunteer offers help for survivors of sexual assault

from the Plain Dealer, December 31, 2009
by Rachel Dissell
To most of the people she helps, Theresa Backman is invisible.

She's a calm voice at the end of a phone line, patiently listening as sexual assault survivors seek help for what is largely an invisible problem.

For more than four years, Backman has answered the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center's 24-hour hot line faithfully during her shifts, never knowing what she would encounter.

Sometimes it's a panicked woman who has been raped and wants to know where to go and what to do.

Other times it's a person who has never revealed their trauma before but is now in search of healing.

Backman doesn't judge. She doesn't question. Her first duty is to believe.

"She just tries to do what she can to help the caller in that moment," said Wendy Hanna, director of 24-hour programs for the center.

"It's not always clear immediately what someone needs. Theresa is deliberate in what she says and does a lot of listening so she can help."

Backman, 38, a nurse who lives in West Park with her two dogs, is uniquely suited for her volunteer position.

She is a trained sexual assault nurse examiner and also has experience working with patients who have post-traumatic stress disorder. She is currently working on a doctorate in nursing practice at Case Western Reserve University.

"I think it is just part of who I am, reaching out to people in pain," Backman said.
She works as a psychiatric nurse practitioner in an outpatient facility, treating patients with mental illnesses including PTSD, anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. She is also a captain in the Army Reserve.

She gained experience in taking crisis calls while she was a nursing student at Ohio State University.

In her spare time she volunteered for a Columbus-area suicide hot line.

"I learned to be direct and be helpful," she said.

Most of the people Backman aids will never meet her.

And she's not likely to ever find out what happened to them.

But in her 20 hours a month that she answers the hot line, she gets the satisfaction of being a voice that can start or even bolster the healing process.

"My hope is that the caller knows that the person on the other end of the phone cares about them, even though we have never met," Backman said.

"I am here to help them in their journey but they are the ones that do the work, and the work is not easy if they want to get better.

"I believe that people can recover, and I try to convey that message of hope to them."

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