Meet Jessica Matthews, Whitman's Victim Advocate
By Afrika Brown
Education and advocacy are two principles Jessica Matthews upholds as Whitman's new Sexual Assault Victim's Advocate (SAVA). Hailey Powers was Whitman's first SAVA, holding the position for two years prior to Matthews assuming the role.
As an advocate, Matthews is dedicated to assisting survivors of all forms of sexual misconduct, including sexual assault, attempted assault or sexual harassment. She is available to students, staff and faculty. It is her job to believe survivors and assist them in whatever it is that they need. Every interaction is survivor driven, meaning that the victim (or survivor, depending on the term they prefer) decides what they want to do, when and how.
An advocate is there to explain their options, support them and help navigate the systems in place to assist victims. This includes accompanying them to the hospital if they wish, staying with them as a rape kit test is performed, connecting them with counseling if that is something they feel they would benefit from, or helping them through the process of filing a police report or a report with the college, if they choose to do so.
"Basically, the definition of an advocate is to help with whatever a survivor needs at the time, going from high-priority items to helping with more long-term things," Matthews said.
Because the SAVA is employed by the YWCA, Matthews is not a mandatory reporter under Title IX.
"One thing that's unique about me is that this position is confidential and privileged, meaning that I don't have to report to anyone, aside from extreme circumstances where someone tells me that they are planning to harm themselves or someone else. Aside from that, I never have to report anything to the college or to anyone else," Matthews said.
Well before Matthews became Whitman's SAVA, her interests in social justice for marginalized populations had already shaped her career trajectory.
She earned a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and education from Colorado College, and earned her master's degree in public health at Oregon State University. While in college, Matthews helped to organize "Take Back the Night" events and worked as a peer health graduate assistant at the student health center on campus.
In 2012, Matthews traveled to Malawi as a member of the Peace Corps to organize a men's prison program centering on HIV and violence prevention.
"It was an overall health and wellness program with a focus on violence prevention, HIV prevention, and HIV treatment and care," Matthews said. "We had a natural medicine gardening component of the project as well."
Upon returning to the States in 2014, Matthews settled in Seattle, where she worked at the Firland Northwest Tuberculosis Center at Harborview Medical Center. The administrative duties Matthews performed during her four years at Harborview were a stark contrast to the mostly hands-on work she completed in Malawi.
"I felt like all of that really helped prepare me for this position," Matthews said.
In the summer of 2018, Matthews joined the YWCA Walla Walla and replaced Hailey Powers as Whitman's SAVA. Since then, she has worked closely with Associate Dean of Students and Title IX Administrator Juli Dunn, and focused her efforts on ensuring that students, faculty and staff are aware that the SAVA is a resource for the Whitman community.
Matthews spends approximately 20 hours per week focusing on Whitman campus work, which includes outreach and events, as well as meeting one-on-one with clients. Appointments can be made to meet with Matthews in her office in Hunter 406 generally Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., though she is willing to meet with students in the evenings and the weekends if that is more convenient for them. She can be contacted by phone at 509-526-3032 or by email.
Please note that the YWCA always has an advocate available 24/7 through the crisis line: 509-529-9922. All advocates at the YWCA are trained in both sexual assault and domestic/intimate partner violence crisis response.