Advocacy is hard work, and no true advocate goes into this field “for the money.” It is a heartbreaking, nerve-wracking, insomnia-inducing career choice. On the plus side, it is truly fulfilling, and regularly comes with very grateful clients. But I have yet to see the dyed-in-the-wool advocate who is paid what they are truly worth.
The work that we do is also life-saving, but it is NOT our jobs to save lives. Why is that distinction important? There will be losses–very heavy casualties–along the way: hundreds and thousands of mothers who lose custody, and their children who are shipped off to abusive parents because of indifferent and incompetent guardians-ad-litem, social workers, and courts.* Worst of all, the domestic violence-related homicides; when you work with a family whose perpetrator chooses death for them, it is an unimaginable horror (I have suffered through six homicides of victims with which I worked). But as an advocate, it is not up to us to “save” victims of domestic abuse. Indeed, we cannot–that task is for our clients alone.
How then, do we as advocates define “success”? This is how I know that my work is done well:
- Clients are heard, and feel validated: “Take your time; I’m listening. I care. This is not your fault.” No one wants to be a victim, and victims should not have to navigate suspicion or disbelief in seeking help. Therefore, clients deserve plenty of time to share their story, and have their disclosures reflected back in a manner that allows them to know: 1) “You are not alone,” 2) “You are not at fault,” and 3) “Thank you for your courage in seeking help; I hope I can meet your need.”
- Clients feel safer: “Safety is a PROCESS, not an event.” We need to prioritize the client’s safety needs, safety plan accordingly, and continue to do so on a regular and ongoing basis. We know that safety today may not mean safety tomorrow, because abusers change their tactics to sabotage a victim’s plans. We think of contingencies, and always have a “Plan Z” at the ready. We should model and communicate boundaries in working together, and check in on them as necessary.
- Clients feel more informed: “Information is POWER.” In listening and listing, we assess the client’s knowledge of local programs, and her ability to access them. We look for resources that will ACTUALLY meet her needs, and share any knowledge we have about how to best utilize those resources. We stay connected to community resources so our knowledge of them is current, accurate and beneficial. If there are concerns or limitations about programs or professionals, we communicate that, too; it is not helpful to victims of domestic violence to be given lists of numbers for people or programs that won’t actually help.
We also communicate the reality of the struggles they face; it does not help a victim to underestimate the battle ahead. We are honest with what we can achieve, and transparent with how we will utilize her disclosures–before we utilize them.
- Clients feel more supported: “Half the burden, double the joy.” It is crucial, to break the control that perpetrators have over victims, that victims get connected back to their communities (emotionally healthy and supportive families, friends and acquaintances). Plot and process with clients how to use school and faith communities, civic and special interest clubs, and even social media to reconnect and make new ties to sources of fellowship and friendship. Model how to be part of a connected community, and make referrals to local and online support groups to increase their connections to others who understand how to heal from abuse.
- Help eliminate, and DO NOT ADD, barriers to service access: “Look for a reason to say, ‘YES’.” I cannot say this enough–there are more barriers keeping a victim in bondage to an abuser than there is help to get her (and her children) out. It is our job as advocates to come alongside clients and work to eliminate ANY barriers to safety she faces; what’s more, we should not be adding our own barriers (lengthy application processes, overly strict rules, etc.). We cannot do it all for victims (neither should we try), but if we can plan for personal and program safety, we have available resources (time, money, etc.), and a victim identifies a need “beyond the usual scope,” we should look for a way to “say yes” (I always have, and have never regretted the choice to do so). Lastly, we should regularly critique our services to see how we can improve accessibility, especially for vulnerable populations.
This is the role of Justice Advocacy–not to save lives (although that is often a happy “side effect”)–but to educate, empower and encourage them. If you make these your goals when working with victim/ survivors of family violence, you can close the door on your work every day knowing you have done your best, for your clients and yourself. No amount of money can compensate for the satisfaction of Justice Advocacy done well.
©2018 Kathy Jones, DVSur5r
*NOTE: incompetent professionals are not to be confused with the competent professionals who have received sufficient training on domestic violence dynamics, and understand trauma-informed services, or how perpetrators counter-parent and negatively impact their children’s health and well-being–AND ACT ACCORDINGLY; it is DVSur5r’s opinion that VERY FEW professionals with which victims of domestic violence do business fall into the “competent” category.