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Service-Learning project helps Blugold decide on career path

| Lucy Grogan-Ripp

In 2016 alone, 73 lives in Wisconsin were lost to domestic violence. Broken down, that’s an average of 6 deaths per month. These numbers are shocking, and the statistics only get worse when looked at globally. The global number of domestic violence related deaths in any given year totals more than the entire population of Sweden.

Put into perspective, the yearly loss of life due to domestic violence incidents is the equivalent of knocking Sweden completely off of a world map. An entire country, and that’s just in one year. If there’s anything that could make the reality of these statistics even more terrifying, it’s this: more than 85% of these victims are women and girls.

Despite how dismally colossal these numbers look, however, there is still hope for change. Change that may just lie within a certain Blugold.

Working to build hope and make an impact is UW-Eau Claire junior Rachael Brinker. Brinker, a criminal justice major, is completing her service-learning project through an internship at Bolton Refuge House (BRH) in Eau Claire.

Located in downtown Eau Claire, BRH is a non-profit organization focused on empowering survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Their official vision statement details their want for, “a world in which all persons have the right to safety, dignity, respect, and self-determination.” Through their many services ranging anywhere from support groups and legal advocacy to community education, BRH is a pioneer in forging a path forward for victims and survivors of abuse.

As the Victim Services Intern, Brinker says there is no such thing as a typical day in the office. While some days she is helping clients find housing or fill out restraining orders, other days she’s conducting entrance interviews, a process used to determine whether BRH has the correct resources to help a prospective client. Sometimes she takes on a more passive role, serving as emotional support and an open ear to any client who just needs someone to listen.

When asked what impact her internship has made in her life, Brinker noted that, for her, it’s a loaded question.

“I think that on a career level, I changed from wanting to work in victim-witness coordination to pursuing a law degree and working as a guardian ad litem, which is a person who works on behalf of kids in custody battles,” she admits. This change of heart came, Brinker says, after working with a children’s support group at BRH.

Her internship hasn’t just impacted her on a career level, however. The effects of her experience run much deeper than that. Before beginning the internship, she didn’t think it would change who she is as a person. Brinker has long prided herself on being someone who is fairly good at processing emotions, and never one to mix her work life with her personal life. As an intern at BRH, she began to learn that we don’t always know ourselves as well as we think.

“I have definitely had days where I hear things I didn't expect to, and wasn’t in the right mindset to hear,” Brinker noted. To cope with days like this, she’s had to take up yoga and meditation as a way to de-stress from the horror of what, for many clients at BRH, is a daily reality.

“I have also become much more realistic,” she admitted; “I knew domestic abuse, sexual assault, stalking and intimate partner violence went on, but it is so different hearing stories and seeing the data put into real life.”

Brinker isn’t the only one noticing these changes within herself, however; her friends have begun to pick up on it as well.

“A lot of my friends noticed that I have a different demeanor to me. Though I still crack jokes and have my sass level to me, I get very serious about things I would normally change the subject about because I was uncomfortable … now I want to dive into conversations that used to make me uncomfortable,” she said.

Some might argue that starting a dialogue about issues that make us uncomfortable is one of the first steps in making any kind of social change. If true, Brinker’s narrative is one we should all strive to emulate.

“I'm very grateful for these experiences I've had over the course of the [internship]. It may seem like a lot, but you fall into a routine as an advocate ... It's taught me a lot about myself and given me a sense of reality of resources we have in our community, as well as the prevalence of sexual assault and domestic violence.”

Knowing that Blugolds like Rachael Brinker will soon make up a majority of our nation’s workforce is a spark of light in the unforeseen future.

If you believe you or someone you know may be a victim of domestic or sexual violence, please call your local authorities or the national hotline at 1-(800)-799-7233.