Being an advocate against domestic violence requires a certain kind of courage, knowledge, and experience. I believe it also requires INDEPENDENCE! That is if we want to support survivors in the best way possible.
But why? Let’s visit some history to learn more.
The battered women's movement began as a civil rights cry from the women across this country demanding that the violence against them stop. The women marching weren’t divided by an invisible line where advocates were on one side and clients were on the other. They were fellow sisters raising their voices and protesting for men to be held accountable for the violence they were inflicting upon them.
Slowly but surely the Violence Against Women’s Act was introduced into the senate on January 21st, 1993 (my 10th birthday) and then passed in September of 1994. It was a representation of HOPE at the time and still is for many today. But as you may know, it was also a marriage with the federal government that women in the movement didn’t want to consent to but felt they had to, for the sake of financial support and criminal accountability that is. And we all know anytime we lie in bed with the federal government we also bound our hands and our mouths with RED TAPE. Pushing us right back into the silence we fought so hard to escape from. Part of that red tape are the guidelines and criteria that hinder our ability to best serve those in need. Maybe you’re asking – how?
Well for one, when things aren’t working right within the system that funds the very programs that exist to serve those in need, it makes it almost IMPOSSIBLE to speak up without also facing the threat of losing funding or even your job. Can you picture a legal court advocate reporting the DA for not doing their job correctly? Or what about a hotline advocate questioning the policies for acceptance into a shelter? Yeah, that wouldn’t go over too well.
I became an advocate just one year after almost being murdered by my first husband. But I wasn’t “super official”. I didn’t have an advocate certificate. What I did have was the real-life experience of facing domestic violence and going through literally EVERY facet of the system afterward. I understood what it was like to have a criminal case happening and what the process of going to trial was. I knew what it was like to need shelter and be turned away. I learned what it was like to deal with Child Protective Services despite being a “non-offending” parent. I was actively participating in the Address Confidentiality Program so he couldn’t find me. I signed up for welfare in every form because I couldn’t work due to my injuries and I filed for disability. I had legal aid helping me with my divorce. I applied for Victim’s Compensation and was denied because I applied after the 1-year deadline despite having catastrophic injuries. I was the expert without ever attending training.
Eventually, I became a certified advocate by taking the CORE training through my local shelter. But… to be honest, that didn’t teach me much of anything because I had lived it first hand and began advocating one-on-one for other women just two years after surviving being set on fire. It was also missing what myself and many others have shared is the most important piece for true connection and radical healing. Self-disclosure. Or what I refer to as the “you are not alone phenomenon.” I often found myself operating very differently than traditionally trained advocates. I wasn’t confined by any politics, organizational policies, or bureaucracies. One example of this was my ability to engage with the women I served as a friend and fellow survivor sister instead of handling them like a “client.” I mean when did we become clients anyway? And don’t even get me started on the whole system calling us and labeling us victims. Please stop. For real. Nobody has the right to label us a victim, be it a legal language requirement or not. We are survivors. Those of us who made it out alive that is.
This is why we need independent advocates that are not bound by red tape. Advocates that can do what our partner Nadeya over at Right to Protect did. What did she do exactly? Uh, how about she emailed the DA, Attorney General, Department of Justice, and many more to question why they weren’t pursuing charges against a man who strangled his significant other to the point of her losing consciousness, which by the way is a felony in that state. And they had videos and pictures to prove it. What do you think happened next? Yeah, you guessed it. They brought him up on charges.
Or how about last month when I resorted to FB LIVE to make a public plea to get a survivor sister enrolled in the Address Confidentiality or Safe at Home Program? Every organization we called said they didn’t provide that service even though it was listed on their website and they were getting funding for it. Yet, nobody would help her. And it was a serious case. She had been stabbed more times than I can recall and he was sending physical mail to her house from prison and was about to get out on early release. We had to get her off the grid and we had to do it fast. We finally got her connected after threatening to call the mayor and the governor.
Please don’t mistake my tone for anger, it’s passion. Please don’t think I’m saying all systems and all advocates are failing survivors. They’re not. What I am saying is that survivors need the support of someone prepared to go to battle for them no matter what. We need someone who understands the complete picture of what they may need and should have access to rather than understanding only one or a few programs. We need a lead advocate to ensure everyone else is doing what they’re legally and ethically supposed to do. We need a new style of advocacy that handles them like a human and not a client. Someone who can and will genuinely connect with us. We need someone that will not only demand accountability for those who abused us but also for those who are supposed to walk alongside us.
After all, domestic violence is and will always be — a matter of life and death.
We’re building programs at NDVC that will remain independent and we need your support. Wanna help us create our residential restoration program to help women and children escape abuse? Donate today!
Love and Light,