From victim to advocate: how Jan Harris gives back

If you call VSC’s 24-hour crisis hotline, it may be Jan Harris who answers.

“I’m here. I know how much it means to hear just that. I’m here for you,” she said.

Jan remembers the anger she felt after being the victim of a violent, terrifying crime in her home in 1993. When she reported the crime, a detective pulled out a phone book and gave her the number for Victim Services Center of Montgomery County, Inc (VSC).

For days she held onto the number. Eventually, feeling angry and lost, Jan called the VSC hotline. It’s was decision that has shaped her life. Calling VSC kicked off a journey of healing, advocacy, and of giving back.

“Had I not called Victim Services that day I don’t know where my life would be. I really don’t.”

“I do a lot of affirming. What happened wasn’t your fault. Who cares if you were wearing a short skirt? Or dancing? Or drinking that night? That doesn’t give someone the right to assault you and it’s not your fault.”
Jan Harris, VSC Volunteer

A VSC advocate supported Jan through court proceedings. She benefitted from both individual counseling and group counseling. VSC also helped her get Victim Compensation funds. Jan reckons she’s benefitted from every VSC service area.

Eventually, Jan felt strong enough to volunteer for VSC as a way of giving back to the organization that had helped her so much.

How she gives back

Twenty years after the crime, Jan felt ready to take hotline calls and volunteer for hospital accompaniments. When a hospital calls VSC requesting an accompaniment for a sexual assault victim, Jan gets there less than an hour, even in the middle of the night.

“I do a lot of affirming,” she said recently. “What happened wasn’t your fault. Who cares if you were wearing a short skirt? Or dancing? Or drinking that night? That doesn’t give someone the right to assault you and it’s not your fault.”

Jan has helped hundreds of victims of crime as a VSC volunteer.

Speaking out for others

Jan says that she learned during support group meetings how hard it can be for some survivors to speak out about what happened to them. “I learned that not everybody can speak up. So I have to speak for everybody,” she said.

So, in 1995, Governor Tom Ridge appointed her to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, where she served on the Victim Services Advisory Committee, and where she helped draft a juvenile victim’s bill of rights.

“Jan is a survivor who helped bring the devastating and traumatic crime of sexual violence out of the shadows into the forefront of the nation,” said Mary Onama, Executive Director of VSC, who has known her since 1998. “She together with former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge led the nation in highlighting the impact of sexual violence and enacting laws necessary to protect the rights of victims She exemplifies the resilience of a survivor and dedication to victim advocacy. We are grateful to have Jan as a VSC Volunteer and advocate for victims of crime.”

Her advice to victims

After every hotline call and hospital visit, Jan reminders herself that she’s part of the solution. “If someone can get to VSC it can change their life. You are not alone. You don’t have to do this by yourself. There are people who will stand by your side.”

She advises people to remember that the terrible feelings after victimization are part of the healing process. “You can learn to thrive.”

To learn more about volunteer opportunities at VSC, please visit our Volunteer page and let us know you're interested.

Our mission is to provide advocacy and counseling for all who have been affected by sexual violence and other crimes against the person and to promote sensitivity and awareness in the community through education. Founded in 1974 as Women Against Rape, we have been supporting survivors and their families for more than 40 years. Victim Services of Montgomery County, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Call our free, 24-hour hotline at 1-888-521-0983.


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