Fitness Is Therapy for Sexual Assault Victim Advocate

Faith, family, and fitness are the priorities that Jacinta Howell, 34, lives by. With being a CrossFit enthusiast, full-time mother and wife, and a sexual assault victim advocate at Moody Air Force Base, those priorities help her cope with the daily responsibilities of a full schedule.

Howell has lived in Valdosta, Georgia, for the last 25 years. She has been married to her husband, Kenneth, 35, for 7 ½ years and has three children: Kenneth, 6; Kannon, 4; and Kourson, 2

Howell, who has had a license in professional counseling for 10 years, was actively counseling individuals when she noticed that one of the common themes that would come up in therapy was trauma from a sexual assault.

“I noticed that when the trauma went unaddressed, it had a way of manifesting itself in a variety of maladaptive ways across multiple areas of their life,” she said. “When the position for a full-time victim advocate became open at Moody AFB, I was already working in my third year of employment at another office on the installation. I knew the position of a victim advocate would provide me the opportunity to assist people who have unfortunately experienced this type of trauma, which was a desire of mine, so I applied for the position.

Howell went on to explain what exactly a victim advocate does. She said that the recovery time can be a long process.

“As an advocate, it’s my job to provide victims with on-going support and connect them with agencies or individuals that can assist in facilitating their recovery,” Howell said. “The goal for any victim is recovery, and I truly believe that is possible. One of the things I remind victims of is that though their life will never be exactly the same, it doesn’t mean their life can’t be just as good or better, but it will take time and it will take effort to get there.”

Howell admitted that this line of work does have a significant emotional impact on her.

“It makes me more empathetic towards people in general, realizing everyone has a story,” she said. “I feel extremely privileged and honored to be in a position where individuals willingly come to me for help regarding very sensitive matters.”

Between church activities, advocacy work, making time for family, and fitness, Howell definitely has a lot on her plate, but she finds that all these responsibilities offer a good challenge to stay on task and active.
Howell, who usually tries to go to the gym five to six days a week, likes to joke that it is her therapy. It may only be partially true, but she firmly believes that she cannot be expected to care for others through her advocacy work if she does not do the same for herself.

As far as Howell’s fitness regimen goes, she nearly does it all with running, weight lifting, CrossFit, circuit training, and yoga. After three children, she said it significantly helped with her pregnancy weight too.

“Following the birth of our third child, I was over 200 pounds, which is the heaviest I had ever been,” she said. “In addition to that, I had a high blood pressure scare, which was never an issue for me before. There I was, in my early 30s on high blood pressure medication. I knew I had to do something for my health and to be able to be around a long time for my family. Almost three years later, I’m down 60 pounds and reduced my BMI to a healthy range.”

Howell’s husband shares the same passion for fitness. Although their routine is different because of their different body types, they still find time to spend together.

“We recently participated in the Run 4 Missions 4-miler sponsored by the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at VSU and both won in our age groups,” she said. “I think with any fitness journey you undertake, family and friend support is vital.

“From a therapist perspective, exercise is beneficial for releasing those ‘feel good’ endorphins in your brain,” she said. “From a Biblical perspective, we’re instructed to care for the bodily temple God has given us. As a mom, a healthy lifestyle allows me to keep up with three little ones that are full of energy almost all the time. And as an advocate, it allows me to be at my best in order to give my best.”

How to Help Sexual Assault Victims

  1. Listen. The best thing to do is to communicate without offering any judgement.
  2. Have their back. If the survivor wants to seek medical attention or wants to report, offer to be by their side through the process.
  3. Offer support. While understanding that in the end it is their decision, encourage them to seek support. Share resources that can offer help.
  4. Be patient. Avoid pressuring them to do any activities they may not feel ready for. There is no exact timing for recovery.
  5. Encourage self care. This is important after a trauma.

How to Navigate the Media as a Sexual Assault Survivor

Movies and TV Shows

Remember that you are in control. If you are watching something that has a scene you find uncomfortable, it’s okay to leave the room or turn it off.

Pay attention to the warnings. Before a show or movie starts, look at the warnings before it starts. They often tell you if a theme of sexual violence is in it.

It’s not the entire story. The healing process doesn’t always make for entertaining content. Movies and TV shows will often leave that part out of the story.

News Media:

Again, you are in control. You do not have to read anything you don’t want to. You don’t owe anything to others who are familiar with the stories either.

Watch out for fake news. Often the news outlets have to find something to grab the reader’s attention, so scenarios could be dramatized.

People will react. It can be painful to read what others think about a sexual assault case. The best thing to do is to talk about it with someone you trust.

Social Media:

You decide who you follow. If you come across an account that makes you uncomfortable, then unfollow them.

Share with care. Often survivors will share their stories on social media. It gives them a voice to help move forward. However, it can bring up unexpected feelings. You are not obligated to share anything you don’t wish to share.

Not everyone uses social media for good. There are people out there who use technology as a weapon against others, whether it’s by bullying or sharing information about you that you did not wish to make public.

Written by: Alex Dunn | Photography by: Eric Vinson

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