Ava Stokes understands more than most the difficulties of going through the court system as a survivor of a violent crime, and now she's using her experience to help others going through the same thing.
Stokes was a freshman at Georgetown College in 2018 when a man walked into her campus apartment and raped her. In July, her testimony helped convict the man accused in the attack. As she dealt with the aftermath of what happened, Stokes decided that she wanted to pursue a career in victim advocacy to help others who have to overcome that kind of trauma.
She recently took a big step toward her goal by becoming an intern with the Victim Witness Services Program at the commonwealth's attorney's office in Richmond, Va.
"It's very weird," Stokes said. "I like it because it's what I've been wanting to do, but a part of me is like, I was literally in your shoes a few weeks ago for three years."
Stokes is still new to the role, but she's already helping to walk survivors of domestic violence and other crimes through how the court system works.
"They need somebody that they can vent to that is on their side and I can relate to that fully," Stokes said.
Her own experience has helped her give victims the support they need.
"I've had quite a few victims ask me, you know, have you ever gone through something like this, like, I feel like I have no one to talk to about it, and you know I let them know that I've had my own trauma experience," Stokes said.
What she's been through also helps her notice when someone's in need of help.
"I'm able to tell when someone is really struggling," Stokes said. "By their body language, by the way that they're, they're fearful to talk about some things."
In December, Stokes will be back in a Scott County courtroom one more time for the formal sentencing of the man convicted of raping her.
While Stokes says she may never fully heal from what happened, she said her role helping victims has gotten her closer.
"In a weird way it takes my mind off of, you know, what I'm having to go through in my head," Stokes said. "Underneath all the layers, it's like helping me heal a little bit knowing that what I’ve gone through, and what I'm still currently going through, will help somebody feel like they're not alone, which is the whole reason that I'm doing this."
Stokes is studying criminal justice with minors in psychology and sociology. Being an intern in victim advocacy has helped her realize that she’s good at the work, and that it feels natural to her.
"I want to be that leader that survivors can look up to and who can see that, you know, you don't have to struggle all day every day, you do have happy moments, you do have good days," Stokes said.