A couple of weeks ago, I got to spend time with advocates from across Washington to talk about how we approach our work with survivors. I was reminded of two things: advocates are doing incredible work; and that work is as unique as the person sitting across from them. We call it survivor-centered advocacy. What does that mean?
listening deeply to survivors about what is most important to them;
On March 22nd my home flooded. Suddenly I lost my safe haven and my life became a ball of chaos and stress.
It was hard for me to focus at work, I was constantly on the phone with the insurance company, I forgot to pay my credit card bill twice, and I broke down crying about a dozen times. This was my experience despite having a loving partner by my side, a flexible job, and friends and family to offer their support. Which made me think about how much harder it is for those who don’t have support or resources.
Like this story of a survivor who was forced to choose between her housing and violence. Her abuser isolated her from friends, family, and social networks. She left with literally $4 in her pocket. She had nowhere to turn and wound up in shelter. She’s not the only one; domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women and children.
The survivors I’ve worked with tell me that folks tend to jump to problem-solving without taking the time to acknowledge how stress and trauma is impacting their lives. It is often the case that survivors are given lists of places to go and people to call, asked to identify goals, and then to “follow through” on them. I don’t know about you, but I would’ve been annoyed if someone told me to go to a support group to deal with my house flooding when I didn’t know where I was going to be sleeping that night. When we take more time to sit and listen we discover that survivors have the best solutions for their problems and that they are experts in their own lives, just like you are an expert in your life and I’m an expert in mine.
Yeah! This is the new wave of our collective work.
This feels like a time of many changes, a time of re-thinking old ways and imagining new ways, and a time of expanding―even as budgets and resources shrink. It’s hard, it’s hectic, it’s complicated…and it’s time.
I like to think of us―as a movement, as a community, as a country―as moving towards Universal Domestic Violence Care, a spectrum of services and supports to help people end abusive dynamics and create healthy, nurturing, equitable relationships.
In our healthcare system, we have emergency rooms―and those will always be necessary, because emergencies will always happen. But, we also have community clinics, and primary care providers, and specialists. We have places and services for people dealing with a short-term problem and also for those who are managing serious and chronic conditions. All these pieces are needed to help people be healthy and well.
We know that victims of abuse need emergency shelter and legal protections. But we know they also need more. We are steadily expanding the types of help available for survivors, their children, and for abusers. Just like with healthcare, we have recognized that prevention and early detection are a better approach than waiting until things become a crisis.