Domestic violence survivors are the experts on their lives and their safety. Does that strike you as an odd thing to say? We think of the person doing harm as the one who doesn’t respect the survivor by continually undermining her decisions and questioning her judgement. But sometimes it’s hard for survivors to get respect from anyone, even the people whose job it is to help them.
Survivors are constantly weighing their actions and anticipating the reaction of the person causing them harm. They know what has worked in the past and what will work now to keep the violence and coercion to a minimum. No matter how messy or complicated it looks, survivors know what they need to protect their bodies and increase their safety and autonomy. Survivors don’t need outside experts to tell them how to survive. All we have to do is ask the survivor what she needs, then listen and follow instructions.
A few weeks ago, our final fatality review report pointed out that most people victims turned to for help did not refer them to a domestic violence advocate.
We know that advocacy saves lives.
We also know that domestic violence programs cannot keep up with the demand for services.
And we know that people turn to family and friends long before they seek help from professionals.
As Traci said earlier, we’re all counting on YOU.
If that makes you nervous – never fear. I just finished teaching at our 3-day Advocacy for Rookies training. It was heartening to learn that many of the attendees have no intention of getting a job as an advocate. They came to the training because they know that anyone can be a critical, life-saving source of support. Here’s how:
1. LISTEN. Really listen. What is she saying she needs? What does she think will help? (Note: Hear what she is really saying, not what you think she should be saying. For many people, the goal is to end the abuse, not necessarily to end the relationship.)
2. LEARN. Do a little research on her behalf. Call your local domestic violence program and find out what they offer. And there’s tons of great info online. You can read up on legal and economic options. Get the scoop on housing and employment issues. See what the laws and policy manuals say.
3. LOOK AHEAD. Talk with her about long-term plans for coping with the abuse. Help her think through the pros and cons of different options and anticipate how the abuser might react. That’s called safety planning.
4. LEVERAGE. Give her whatever help you can: a ride somewhere, free babysitting, some cash. And use your influence to let the abuser know that controlling and violent behavior is unacceptable.
5. LOVE. Have compassion. See the victim’s (and abuser’s) full humanness. Be patient and humble – this stuff is complicated. We are all responsible for each other. Love is the antidote.