SHERIDAN — Cassidy Drew spends a lot of time in 4th Judicial District courtrooms. No, she’s not standing in front of a judge fighting for a client’s right to a fair trial. Nor does she represent the side of law enforcement, testifying to the facts of a case. Instead, Drew takes a backseat in the courtroom but a front-row seat to victim advocacy.
Drew is the volunteer coordinator and victim advocate for the Advocacy and Resource Center in Sheridan. Before moving to Sheridan, Drew grew up near Chicago and was a victim of violence herself. Because of her experience and desire to help others move past traumatic events, Drew stepped into roles of victim advocacy in South Dakota, living with the gender-based victims they were serving. Drew, a “white, privileged person” entering the world of victims on an American Indian reservation in South Dakota opened her eyes to what her future would hold.
“It was the combination of being a victim and then having an experience that allowed me to work with people who had been victims sealed the deal in terms of wanting to do advocacy work,” Drew said.
The way ARC staff approaches advocacy work brings hope and healing to advocates by not forcing them into anything. As a victim advocate, Drew allows victims to share their stories without an obligation to report to law enforcement or take any action if the victim so chooses. If the victim asks for help, Drew jumps in and explains the judicial process, walking the victim through contact with law enforcement, county attorneys and court-ordered restraints or other needs. The work is strenuous, emotional and tough. Outside of good self-care, the work motivates Drew to help craft a brighter future for victims in Sheridan.
“Advocacy is the one place within the justice system and not where the choices that a victim has can be completely survivor-driven,” Drew said. “I’m there to provide options, information, resources and the people that we classify as victims but are really survivors, they get to make the next choice in their life. They get to decide what their path to healing is. They get to decide what they want to do moving forward with their life.
“There’s just a lot of opportunity there for victims, and watching the process of victims move into survivorhood and be able to use their voice and have a life free of violence and choose healing however it comes for them is just really striking and beautiful. It is.”
Many jobs begin at 8 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. For Drew, her job of victim advocacy extends beyond normal hours by choice. While she does have obligatory nights and weekends where she must be on call, she also looks at the world with the eyes of an advocate. Drew constantly reminds herself and others that healing and restoration after violence is totally possible, but rarely does it happen neatly within a work day.
To sustain a manageable level of mental health, Drew ensures she routinely engages in self-care, including the essentials of a good night’s rest, eating well, spending time outside of the office and an occasional binge on Netflix.
Overcoming trauma herself and helping others is a natural part of Drew’s young life as Sheridan’s representative for those learning how to use their voices for personal change.