Today's guest blog comes from some really powerful advocates for supporting survivors of abuse, the team at Surviving Abuse. We are thankful to them for the work they are doing, and for sharing their story here!
All of the admins at Surviving Abuse are survivors. We all know what it's like to be abused, most of us by long-term partners or spouses. We have also experienced abuse growing up in several cases. We know what it's like to feel alone with the abuse. We know what a relief it is the first time you hear someone else say they've been there too. And we feel no one deserves to suffer, but more than that, no one deserves to feel like they are the only one to have that experience. I have lost count of the messages we've received from people saying that our page has given them hope. And the ones saying that our posts helped them gather the courage to leave their abuser. Every time we get one of those messages, we celebrate, because we know that we have made a difference. Yes, we have a large number of people following our page, but it has never been about the numbers for any of us. The only reason the number matters is because that is how many people we have the potential to reach with our message.
I have said on many occasions that I love what I do, I hate only that it is necessary. However, for as long as it is necessary, I will continue to do it with love. And I feel confident in saying that the other admins feel the same way.
For those who wish to become warriors in this fight against abuse, some things you can do are support the shelters in your area. They are all almost always in need of pretty much everything, because most of the time the people coming into shelter left with only the clothes on their backs. So things like hygiene items, clothing, and paper goods are in high demand.
Some shelters are able to accommodate pets in addition to people, which is a wonderful thing, as many people are afraid to leave their abuser because they don't want to leave their pets behind. Those shelters often need pet food and other pet supplies. Contact the shelters in your area, and find out what their specific needs are.
Learn what the laws are in your city and state or country. Many of them are inadequate, especially with how much technology has advanced. Cyber stalking is not considered a crime in most states, and as such, is not grounds for a restraining order or an order of protection. Yet, it is a major source of fear, and is often a precursor to an act of violence.
If someone comes to you and says they are being abused, believe them and don't blame them. Help them research what their options are, as many times abusers will monitor usage of the internet and phones. If you are able to, offer them a safe place to stay in case of an emergency. Support them in any way you are capable and comfortable doing.
And if you should see or hear someone being abused, do something or say something. If you are not comfortable getting directly involved (which is completely understandable), call the police. Do *something*. We cannot afford to have the attitude of "It's not my business." Until everyone believes that abuse IS their business, true changes will not take place.
Surviving Abuse is a team of sixteen admins, all of whom contribute to the page as we are able. Most of us are involved in more than one abuse oriented page and/or project. At least two of us are going to school in order to get licenses and degrees that will allow us to work with survivors and victims as actual jobs that will pay us. Surviving Abuse and all the other pages we are passionate about are volunteer projects that we do for one very simple reason. We care.
By Quasona Cobb, See the Triumph Contributor
When I first left my abusive ex-boyfriend I was unsure of how I would pick up the pieces and move forward in life towards a direction of peace and happiness. The relationship ended with at an extreme level of violence and my colleagues knew about it, neighbors, friends and extended family were all aware of what I was going through. I was fortunate to have the support of my loved ones. My best friend participated in a discussion with Glamour Magazine who at the time was working on a piece discussing the deadly secrets of relationship abuse. Myself and about to ten other women stories were featured on one of the most popular magazines in the nation.
It was not until the more recent years I truly considered myself an intimate partner violence advocate. After taping the dating violence segment with Katie Couric for her daytime talk show, “Katie”, I looked around and realized that I was the only surviving participant on the show. My face was on every television that tuned in and my personal business was made public. I had to choose between unnecessary feelings of shame and a long road to triumph. I knew my advocacy work was more than appearances and sharing my story with media outlets. I needed to go out and educate other young adults, social workers, my family and friends about one of the most deadly social ills.
Community awareness and prevention has been my focus point for my advocacy work. One day I sent out nearly 50 letters to local and national organizations to figure out how to participate in outlets that allow my to share my experience. I have participated workshops, discussion panels, and symposiums hosted by various New York City agencies, such as the Children's Aid Society Family Wellness Program, the Administration for Children's Services, and the Department of Youth and Community Development.
Last year I created an awareness video and photography project, Domestic Violence Unmasked for October 2013 National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic Violence Unmasked is an experiential project on community awareness of domestic violence. The project focuses on the myths & social stigmas surrounding domestic violence, victim blaming, prevention, and resources for domestic violence victims, and survivor solidarity.
For Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, February 2014, I hosted an awareness event and fundraiser for Break the Cycle. Break the Cycle is our national teen dating violence prevention and intervention agency. The event was held at Dyckman Bar, was attended by colleagues, friends, family, and members of the Washington Heights community. I am currently in the process of planning an awareness event for this upcoming National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October 2014. The event will highlight different areas of relationship abuse, family and health impact, as well as young adult dating violence.
Surviving and publicly speaking out about my experience with relationship abuse has been the hardest thing that I have ever done. One thing that I learned about my journey is that healing from this type of drama will take as long as your mind your body and your spirit allow and you have to give yourself time to heal. The healing process for everyone is different.
When I have moments of uncertainty I am reminded to be courageous by my favorite quote from the late Maya Angelou, “As soon as the healing takes place, go out and heal somebody else.”
By Allison Crowe, See the Triumph co-founder
When Christine and I started the See the Triumph project, we knew we wanted to share the stories we’d heard from survivors in our research. We had interviewed a small number of women and were touched by the poignant experiences, messages to other survivors, horror stories of abuse, and ways the women we met had managed to overcome abusive relationships. This was about three years ago, but I remember our phone call after we’d completed the interviews– both of us seemed to know we wanted to do something more than the traditional, scholarly writing about the research, but how exactly this would look we really didn’t know!
One of our first ideas was to create a website to reach a broader audience. We had quotes from the interviews that might work well displayed with pictures and images. Now, we had to make sure that both of our institutional review boards (IRBs) would approve of sharing our research in this way. As the project grew, so did out knowledge of social media, and tools that are available for sharing information and reaching a broader audience. Honestly, when we started, Christine and I did not know much about social media tools, blogging, pledges and petitions, and how to be advocates of a project like this.
Each See the Triumph milestone has been a learning experience, but along the way, one of my biggest take-away’s has been proudly adding the identity of advocate to my role as a university professor. And I have to say, it has been one of the most rewarding identities to claim. I remember learning about the role of advocacy during my master’s program in counseling and feeling intimated about how to advocate, what this would look like in practice, and finding time for this in addition to the other responsibilities of a professional counselor. Today, I want to share some of my own small lessons learned about advocacy through the See the Triumph project. My hope is that by reading some of these, you might think about them as they apply to your own passions and identities as advocates:
1. Own your strengths. When we started this project, Christine and I knew how to do research and write for publication. We used these strengths to develop material that later we edited and transformed so that it could be used in a different way on social media. We did not lose sight of what we already knew how to do, and used these skills as a starting point. So, for those of you thinking of beginning a project, campaign, or advocacy endeavor, consider what you naturally do well, and start there!
2. Acknowledge your weaknesses. Early on, Christine and I had the great pleasure of meeting with Andrew Willis, Executive Director and Founder of the Stop Abuse Campaign. Boy, did he help us learn the ropes for building a website, starting a Facebook page, and a growing a Causes following. He was patient, honest, and helped us understand the differences between academic writing and writing as an advocate for change.
3. Collaborate. An early lesson Christine and I learned is that we couldn’t do this alone. We needed guest bloggers, students, and volunteers to help us with anything and everything on the project. For anyone wanting to advocate for an issue, give voice for those who need strength, or fight for social justice issues, there really is strength in numbers! Find others out there who are doing similar work and see if they might be willing to work with you in small or large ways.
4. Find people you work well with. I have found that my most successful projects have been those where my style of working matched those working styles of the people I was collaborating with. Now, this is not to say that different ways of working can be productive on an advocacy project, but for me, a valuable take-away from the See the Triumph project has been that as co-founders, Christine and I work well together and have similar approaches. When you begin a large advocacy endeavor, chances are you’ll be spending a decent amount of time on it, so for me this has been a very important aspect of the project and a large part of our success.
5. Have fun! Chances are, if you are advocating for a topic, population, or issue that needs advocating for, it is a serious and perhaps upsetting/unfair topic that can feel draining for all those involved. Serious issues that feel like uphill battles can lead to burn out, exhaustion, or feelings of defeat. At See the Triumph we have found ways to promote stories of triumph, uplifting messages, and manage to have some fun along the way, even if it’s just for our own sanity. So, as much as being an advocate demands seriousness and commitment to the issue, it also requires that you take time off, detach for a while, and return feeling refreshed and renewed.
These are five simple reflections from my own journey with See the Triumph. My hope is that they might help those of you along the way in your paths towards advocacy. Thanks for reading, and as always, thanks for supporting our work!
By Sonya Desai, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
Adult Victim Advocate, Victim Services Division, Family Service of the Piedmont
Every morning when I wake up, I give thanks for one more day to help someone through a difficult situation. I understand that I have been given an opportunity to be an advocate for those in a domestic violence situation. On some days this requires me to spend the day with a survivor in order to help her obtain a restraining order, assist in finding a safe place for her and her children to live, or develop an extensive safety plan relevant to her situation. On other days advocacy for a client may not require such a hands on approach. Rather, it may be telling a survivor that I am proud of her for coming forward and asking for help. Advocacy looks different for every situation.
As a professional, I am required to have boundaries and ethics when helping a survivor. In saying this, if you are a friend, co-worker, or family member of a survivor, you also should be aware of what you say and do in your role of advocacy. It is a natural tendency to want to help others, but it is also important to remember that the survivor may not be ready for help. We have to allow the survivor to move at her own pace. Give her the time to think and express her emotions. People have different priorities and plans than what we may have. It is important to understand domestic violence and that the survivor knows her abuser better than anyone else. After all, she has survived to this point. We must have faith that she knows what the best plan is for her and her children. Be supportive in what the survivor wants, not what you think the survivor wants.
Ask questions that give the survivor an opportunity to decide what she needs. Here are few examples of questions that are appropriate to ask.
1. How can I help with keeping you safe?
2. What are specific things that I can do to help make things easier for you?
3. How can I support you through this?
We want to give the survivor her control back when asking questions. For a long time she was being controlled by her abuser, so this is an opportunity for her to be empowered.
When speaking with the survivor make sure that you do not promise things that you cannot fulfill. For example, do not tell the survivor that you will attend every court date with her if you likely will not be able to. Court can be a lengthy process which may require time off from work or rearranging your schedule. A better solution is to assist the survivor in finding the local domestic violence agency where an advocate can accompany the survivor to court. Then if you are able to attend some of the court dates, you will become an extra support to her.
When supporting a survivor, please remember that she may change her mind and go back to her abuser. It is important to not express disapproval, as this may push her away from you. You may be the only one that she trusts to tell her story to. When you criticize her, you are telling her that she is not doing it the way that you would do it.
Obviously, if you are reading this blog, your intentions are good in that you want to help someone in need. There will be times when there are no answers to questions or you may not know what to say. It is all right to not have anything to say. Sometimes the best solution is to be still, and listen to her.
The truth of the matter is that the worst thing you can do for a survivor is nothing. In saying this, helping can be the simplicity of your presence. Knowing that she has you, may be all that she needs.
Sonya Desai began working as the adult victim advocate on a joint grant with Family Service of the Piedmont and the Greensboro Police Department in April of 2007. In this position, she assists victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. This assistance involves safety planning, court accompaniment, supportive counseling during and after interviews with Greensboro Police Department detectives, and linking victims to area resources. Desai also assists in answering phone calls to the local 24/7 crisis line. She is an active member of Guilford County’s Sexual Assault Response Team. Desai’s work is not limited to victims. She is a co-facilitator for the Domestic Violence Intervention Program in High Point. This is a jail alternative program designed for men who are convicted of domestic violence related charges.
By Claire Cappetta, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
I grew up in Yorkshire, England. My childhood through to my thirties were spent there in the countryside known more these days for Bronte sisters, the wild, windy, unforgiving moors of Wuthering Heights, furniture created by Thomas Chippendale and more recently the acclaimed DCI Banks television series and Happy Valley, a story woven by Sally Wainwright of rape and kidnapping.
Ten years ago when I met my husband, the relationship was fresh. He asked me about my past, my teenage years. I would sit and looked back at him blank. I wasn't ignoring him him, I was just simply... blank. Inside my mind would crash like a computer. I would sit and wait for it to re-boot. It was frustrating for both of us. Why am I telling you this? Because this was my first step to understanding and recovery from all I had been through. I was there to “rescue” him from his violent circumstances.
He had been threatened, beaten, mentally, emotionally and physically abused in his past relationship of twenty five years. I believed I was strong, a warrior who could help this man. My defenses were up, my battle dress a little worn from wear and tear as I traveled three thousand miles on my mission as I thought I had in fact already “rescued” myself from an abusive past.
Over time though, I discovered I have PTSD from having an abused childhood, being raped at fifteen, a domestic violent marriage, a stalker. I understand this while I was busy surviving but I was left with all the effects of PTSD, including memory loss. This memory loss prompted my husband to gently push me to write, to try and recover my past. It was painful and traumatic but two books later, a third in the works to complete the trilogy, I now call myself a warrior against abuse.
I had felt so incredibly alone through those years, thinking it was just simply me. Telling myself, my mother was right I was a terribly bad person who deserved nothing but the bad things in life. I never want anyone to feel like that. Again my husband smiled gently at me, asking what if my writing could help some one else not to feel so alone. It ignited something in me, a small flame of passion ignited, flickering into life . It started a slow steady burn with the question of what could I do?
Remembering a quote from Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, “If you think you're too small to make a difference try going to bed with a mosquito!”
My everyday advocacy may be something small.... A shared picture, news story or quote on Facebook or Twitter, a book written through tears and laughter thinking it may make difference to someone, somewhere, a phone call or email to new found friends and colleagues within the advocating community to organize a new event, meeting... something! I am driven to trying to spread the word. If climbing into my bed at the end of the day, knowing I haven't done anything towards spreading awareness, there's a feeling I have not only let myself down but other people too.
I've found I can swing from “Uplifting butterflies and rainbows” to “Exposing the hard, downtrodden, tear jerking, cruel, twisted truth”. Words have now become new my battle dress to empower and inspire or create pure, cleansing tears of realization and truths. I'm not trained as a counselor, psychologist, therapist. I know my limits so far as to what I can do therefore I write, I blog and come up with some wonderful crazy ideas to raise awareness and funds for those who can actually put those funds to good use. I'm just me, who experienced too many situations no-one should have to experience and if they do, know they are not alone. I'm simply trying to wave a banner each day, starting to roll a snowball.
Recently I have offered my help with a newly formed national awareness platform at a university in raising awareness. I was delighted when it was accepted. This will be an amazing new adventure, one I'm looking forward to with all my heart, working with the Professors and the Metropolitan Police in the UK!
Someone once asked me “How do you climb a mountain? One small step at a time!” Which is true but you see, I understand the metaphor, it spins in my mind... What if I were to climb a mountain? Or, what if one day I were to skydive? What if I could do fun things to raise funds for awareness? This is how my mind turns on a daily basis to advocate for abuse and violence.
So my question to you is: “So how do you feel jumping out of a perfectly good plane? Are you with me?”
Claire is the author of A Broken Ring ~ A journey of Empowerment and Stalking Liberty ~ Are you safe?..., (Parts One and Two of the Ride to Liberty Trilogy). Born and raised in Yorkshire, England, she recently retired from the financial world to concentrate on writing her personal journey through relationships, child abuse, rape, domestic violence, through to healing and empowerment. Although at times heartbreaking it shows healing is possible. The story is heartwarming and inspiring. She now lives in New York with her husband and step-daughter, while her two grown children live in England.