Natacha Rivera (MS/FM '18) always wanted a job where she could help her community. She just didn’t know what that would look like until she was an undergraduate at Florida International University, where she received her bachelor’s in anthropology and sociology.
While there, she worked with a victim empowerment group on campus which provided peer education to students about healthy relationships, the dangers of date-rape drug, sexual violence, hate crimes and stalking. She also volunteered with the Innocence Project for a year, helping to review the cases of individuals who believed they had been wrongly imprisoned. Ms. Rivera collaborated with a team of law students and interns and looked for any instances of investigative misconduct, exculpatory evidence, outdated forensic analysis, and any other errors that may have led to a false conviction.
It was her work with those two organizations that rooted Ms. Rivera’s interest in forensic medicine. Now, as a victim advocate with the Victim Services Center of Montgomery County, Inc., she uses her background in new and different ways.
“The forensic medicine program at PCOM is great because it provides some exposure to different areas of forensics,” said Ms. Rivera. “I ended up on the social advocacy side of that, and I think that my education provides a foundation of medico-legal understanding that I wouldn’t otherwise have. If I am accompanying a sexual assault victim to the hospital, I have a point of reference for what the doctors and nurses are evaluating.”
In her current role, Ms. Rivera works to provide free and supportive services to victims of violent (and other) crimes and get information on medical care needs, connect with free counseling, inform them of the criminal justice process and provide support if court proceedings take place. She also assists victims with victim’s compensation claims for reimbursement of medical/funeral expenses, etc. , and keeps them informed as their case works its way through the legal system.
“We can serve a victim/survivor of a crime even if a police report is not made. Through an empowerment model that person is given information of options and left for them to ultimately decide what to do moving forward.”
Ms. Rivera describes her workplace as a resource of support and information, providing anything they might need to help them through an incredibly traumatic and difficult time in their lives.
“My guiding principle has always centered on a pursuit to benefit the community.” she says. “Advocacy is a way for me to serve my community and to apply what I’ve learned to make a difference in someone else’s life.”