An advocate’s playlist

David Bowie died last week. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I started thinking of all the people who have listened to Bowie with me during hard times and good times. I know his legacy is unfortunately more complicated than I’d like, but today I’m focusing on how his music made me feel. David Bowie has been a huge part of the soundtrack of my life and because of that, he’s been a huge part of my domestic violence advocacy work too.

I remember that David Bowie’s music made me and the survivors of abuse I was working with in West Lafayette, Indiana feel good about ourselves―that we should be accepted just as we were and that we could dance while we were at it. I remember being a burnt-out shelter worker in Boulder, Colorado and the album Low was a salve to my soul. And more recently, I remember having an all-out sing-along dance party to Ashes to Ashes after a particularly hard week facing what felt like insurmountable obstacles to getting women the resources they need to be able to leave an abusive partner.

There have been other artists on my playlist too. Artists who make my soul come alive with funk, make my hips move with music, and make my heart regain hope and wonder. Here is my playlist this week as I celebrate life, meaningful work, and the fact that I was lucky enough to be alive on this planet at the same time as so many other greats.

spotify:user:wscadv:playlist:5gDW9dCujCiBX257t21lNK

The question can make all the difference

Just imagine you are sitting in your doctor’s office waiting for the doctor and chatting with the medical assistant. Maybe it’s your yearly physical or maybe this is your first visit and you just want antibiotics for a relentless chest cold. All of a sudden she starts running through this list of questions:

  • Have you ever been emotionally or physically abused by your partner or someone important to you?
  • Within the last year, have you been hit, slapped, kicked or otherwise physically hurt by someone? If YES, who? Husband, Ex-Husband, Boyfriend, Stranger, Other? Total number of times?
  • Since you’ve been pregnant, have you been slapped, kicked or otherwise physically hurt by someone? If YES, who? Husband, Ex-Husband, Boyfriend, Stranger, Other? Total number of times?

I would probably answer “no” to all of these questions even if I was experiencing abuse. It is so alienating to boil down the complexities of any relationship to these questions. And besides after I answer these questions, reproductive-coersion-flyerwhat happens? Where does this information go? Will you look at me differently? Judge me and my partner? Do you have any help to offer if I take a risk and tell you anything?

Current healthcare research shows that both finding the right way to ask and connecting a patient to resources is the two-step golden ticket for effective support.

Offering support starts with showing you have some idea about what living in a coercive and abusive relationship might feel like. Futures Without Violence offers a Safety Card with these questions:

Ask yourself: Are you in a healthy relationship?

  • Is my partner willing to communicate openly when there are problems?
  • Does my partner give me space to spend time with other people?
  • Is my partner kind and supportive?

If you answered YES to these questions, it is likely that you are in a healthy relationship. Studies show that this kind of relationship leads to better physical and mental health, longer life, and better outcomes for your children.

Ask yourself: Are you in an unhealthy relationship?

  • Does my partner shame me or humiliate me in front of others or in private?
  • Does my partner control where I go, who I talk to, and how I spend money?
  • Has my partner hurt or threatened me, or forced me to have sex?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, your health and safety may be in danger.

Their information also includes national hotline resources and where to get advocacy services.

I may still hesitate to answer these questions, but I know that the person in front of me is ready to have a deeper conversation and has some resources. Screening for, asking about, or listening for abuse in a relationship is not an end in itself. Providing support and connection is what survivors tell us they want.

If healthcare professionals really want to help, they have to take the time to learn the right questions and get comfortable connecting their patients to advocacy services. Consider helping by taking a stack of Safety Cards (they’re free) to your next doctor’s appointment.

Domestic violence and the Housing First model

This was originally posted on the National Alliance to End Homelessness blog.

I’ve been working on Domestic Violence Housing First for a couple of years now. But I also have a lot of experience working with immigrants. In general, I’ve found that trying to address the needs of immigrant survivors by just tweaking a mainstream system isn’t enough. One of my favorite things about Domestic Violence Housing First is that the flexibility of the housing first model allows individually tailored services that encompass a person’s culture as well as their unique needs and situation.

For example, one of the pillars of our work in Domestic Violence Housing First has been tailored, mobile advocacy. This approach involves an advocate visiting a survivor’s home rather than requiring the survivor to visit an advocate’s office. So we were caught off-guard when an advocate from a provider serving immigrants told us that her version of tailored, mobile advocacy sometimes meant inviting survivors to her office. Initially, that didn’t make sense to me.

Turns out, one immigrant she works with prefers to meet at her office, and with Domestic Violence Housing First money, the advocate can cover her transportation costs to get there.

This advocate shared that in that the immigrant survivor’s culture, it would be considered rude for the survivor not to provide food or drinks for a meeting at her home. When survivors are focused on retaining their housing, the cost of being hospitable can cause pressure and stress. So the advocate focused on making her office hospitable and their meetings comfortable. This was a great reminder to me of how important it is not to get locked into any one way of doing things. We are practicing a philosophy in which we learn to cater to the individual needs of survivors.

Survivors tell me that the tailored services that advocates provide has allowed them to regain a sense of dignity,  while advocates report that the flexibility of this model has empowered them to listen to survivors and offer support that meets the needs of the person in front of them.