How violence victim advocates deal with survivors’ trauma — and their own

For Melany Nelson with the Philly DA’s Office, serving co-homicide victims is more than a job

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Melany Nelson’s uncle was shot and killed in 2007.

“At the time, it didn’t register. It was just so unbelievable,” she said.

But now, even as the director of the Crisis Assistance, Response, and Engagement for Survivors (CARES) Unit in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, she’s never tried to present her story to gun violence victims’ family members.

“When I’m dealing with victims and when I’m dealing with co-homicide survivors, I treat everyone the same, whether it airs on the news or whether it does not,” she explained.

The CARES Unit is made up of peer crisis responders who are “there for survivors of every homicide in the city with the goal of limiting the effects of trauma for them,” the DA’s Office says.

It’s not a Monday-through-Friday, 9-to-5 job for Nelson.

“I welcome those calls on a Saturday. I welcome those calls on a Sunday. Fourth of July, Christmas, Thanksgiving — whenever they need me, I try to be there. Because you know what I think about?” she asked. “God forbid one day my family is in need, I want someone to treat me the way that I treat others. … So when I’m serving these victims, I give it my all.”

As a victim advocate, it’s hard for Nelson not to take that trauma home with her. That’s where therapy comes in.

“Therapy is extremely important,” she advised. “You have to unpack what happened. … They may never heal from what occurred, which is OK.

“Sometimes you need somebody to help you get through hour by hour. … A therapist will be able to speak to you, give you some type of plan to be able to get through hour by hour.”

Family connections can suffice, too.

“That family bond could be their therapy,” she added. “But you have to speak to someone. Do not keep it bottled up.”

KYW Newsradio crime and justice reporter Kristen Johanson and Nelson talk more about victim advocate services, gun violence trauma and mental health resources in the I’m Listening segment below: 

I’m Listening is Audacy’s annual mental health conversation. Listen to KYW Newsradio’s full 2022 I’m Listening special below, hosted by KYW Newsradio community impact reporter and Bridging Philly host Racquel Williams

Podcast Episode
Bridging Philly
I'm Listening: Talking about mental health saves lives
Listen Now
Now Playing
Now Playing