Providing a Safe Space for Domestic Violence Victims: Perspective from an Advocate
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Domestic Violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in a relationship that is used to gain or maintain power over a partner. It can include physical, sexual, mental, or emotional abuse. A victim needs a safe space to be believed and heard as they figure out what moving forward in or from that relationship looks like for them.
The first thing I think of when reflecting on this issues is… what support might I need if I were in a relationship where I’ve come to feel unsafe, put down, and/ or abused? Who would be safe to reach out to? How would I know I would be listened to, believed, and could I trust who I was sharing my feelings with? For many people, more than 2,000 survivors supported by Waypoint in the last year, that person is a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate.
To explain what it’s like to provide that support, who better to hear it from other than one of our Advocates? Lisa has been a Waypoint Domestic Violence Victim Advocate in the Black Hawk County area for the past 10+ years. Here are some of her answers to questions about working with victims of domestic violence and what her typical day looks like as an Advocate:
What are the most common/typical support needs for a domestic violence victim?
Helping a victim move forward from abuse is one of the most common things I support with. Each victim has different needs, which could include things such as housing, child care, transportation, safety planning due to stalking and harassment – this list could be very long.
What type of experiences may someone have that leads them to reach out for domestic violence services? How does this compare with what most community members may think people experience before they may reach out for services?
I feel most people instantly think of physical abuse when they hear “domestic violence.” Due to this, I think the general community often assumes we meet most people we work with in the hospital or through police calls, and that the individuals are usually very physically abused and need to be put into shelter or hide for their safety.
Often, a victim will call while experiencing verbal and emotional abuse. They are trying to figure out how to get out of that relationship, how to get the abuser out of their home, or how they can safely move out. Unfortunately this can be very challenging because victims cannot get a Civil No-Contact Order if they are not experiencing physical abuse or threats of physical abuse. We help brainstorm different options with them that might be helpful. A lot of times there is not a quick solution, and it can be very challenging for them to even be able to contact us due to the abuse.
What does a “typical” day and/or week look like for you?
There is never a typical day for an Advocate because everyone’s journey is different. Every week, I usually meet with several victims for individual counseling, and also accompany and support them with criminal hearings or trials, No-Contact Order hearings, and/or family court. In addition, I support them with talking to police officers, attorneys, landlords and employers. It is also very common to have a daily phone call or two from victims needing resources.
Every Thursday I answer all calls coming to our Resource and Support Line. On the second and fourth Monday of the month, I attend family treatment court. Every other Tuesday night, I lead our support group. I also attend the Interagency Buchanan County and a Black Hawk Community Partnerships for Protecting Children monthly meetings. And have other events and speaking engagements as they come up.
Do you have a guestimate for the average length of time spent supporting a victim? What has been some of the longest time spent supporting a victim?
If a victim calls and needs help navigating community resources or assistance with something such as gas for fleeing, it could just be that one time I support them. But typically I work with a victim for a period of eight months to a few years. A lot of times it is based on their needs to having to maneuver the criminal justice system or family law and the support they need with this. Or it is helping them with perpetrators' stalking and harassment for many years after they left, especially if the criminal case keeps being continued or they have children.
Some victims are involved with our support group and may stay involved for many years.
What sparked your fire for advocacy work?
When I took a “Violence in Intimate Relationships” class at UNI, I was able to identify that I had been in relationships with a couple different controlling/violent partners. I became a volunteer for a domestic violence agency and then took on the role of an AmeriCorps worker for two years at the same agency and did my internship there. It has been something I am very passionate about since I began doing it over 13 years ago.
What are some of the simplest things community members could do that would support domestic violence victims?
Often, it can just be listening to them, sitting with them in silence and believing them if they say they are being abused. Let them know you are concerned for their safety and remind them that they do not deserve to be hurt physically or in any other way. Do not victim blame - such as asking, “Why don’t you just leave?” or “Why don’t you just call the police?”. Do not give them ultimatums, such as “If you stay with him, do not call me anymore.” Let them know you are going to be a support to them whenever they feel ready to leave the relationship.
If you know someone who may be in a domestic violence situation, help is available 24/7 through our Domestic Violence Resource and Support Line, 800.208.0388. If you are interested in supporting our services through donations or volunteer service, you can connect with us.
Thoughts by… Jade Riley
Waypoint Volunteer & Community Outreach Coordinator
Waypoint Domestic Violence Advocate
Over the past five years, we have seen tremendous growth within our Housing Services and the number of individuals served has increased by more than 10,000 individuals. With this increase in services comes the need to clarify with our community what services we are providing, why some of them are changing, and how we are keeping these changes centered on Housing First practices.
In looking back over the number of individuals Waypoint served last fiscal year, I feel it’s time to look at what the year has meant for us as a whole.