By Sara Forcella, See the Triumph Contributor
Being an advocate can hold so many different meanings to different individuals. It can be easy to get caught up in trying to have one definition of what it means to be an intimate partner violence advocate , but the truth of the matter is that there is no one definition of an IPV advocate. One advocate's work may look completely different than another but, this does not mean that one is correct and one is incorrect. Or even that one’s work is good and the other’s isn’t . The most important piece of advocacy work, is that you are doing something; that you are speaking up, supporting a cause, or donating your time to help others. As we’ve discussed previously at See The Triumph, IPV affects everybody; therefore, anybody can become an advocate.
Here are a few tips that can help you better become an effective advocate.
Hone in on your area of passion: One of the most important things about being an advocate is being passionate about your cause. You have to truly believe in what you are working towards! Before you decide to become an advocate ask yourself what am I passionate about-- do I want to work with victims of partner abuse? Do I want to work towards changing policies regarding IPV in the work place? Remember,donating a ton of money to help support a cause is not always as effective as using your passion and voice to rally behind a cause and create change. Also, being passionate about a cause does not always mean that it has to have affected you directly. In this case, you don’t have to have been in an abusive relationship to be a great advocate; you just need to have compassion, do some research and attempt to understand what IPV is and how it affects others. Survivors and service providers of IPV need these kinds of allies! The more folks that rally around a cause, the more likely that their voices will be heard.
Educate yourself about the cause: While having passion is key to being a successful advocate, it’s also important to be educated about your cause. For instance, it’s critical for IPV advocates to understand what IPV is, it’s dynamics, and how it affects both victims and other members of our communities. Education does not have to be formal, it can be simply doing research of your own. You can also get a better understanding of the ‘Power and Control Wheel’ or develop an understanding of where local shelters are located and how folks can access them. Reach out to the resources offered in your community. Many times women’s shelters offer different kinds of trainings for those wanting to learn more about IPV advocacy.There are also webinars that offer trainings from the comfort of your own home (many of these are free). One of the best ways to learn about IPV is to listen to those who have been affected by it. Some organizations offer spaces where community members and victims can share their stories .Remember, while education does not have to be formal, you do need to understand what and who you’re advocating for!
Volunteer your time: Local shelters and domestic violence organizations are almost always looking for unpaid help. Typically there are many different roles that advocates can take in these types of positions--sometimes you may find yourself working directly with victims in positions such as working at a safe home or working the crisis hotline, other times you may simply be helping out with things that need to be done around the shelter or organization. Don’t worry, you won’t be thrown into any kinds of these positions, it’s normal for most organizations to provide training for all of their volunteers. If working at a shelter is not something that sounds applicable to your lifestyle then look into other ways you can help. Donate food to local shelters, start a clothing drive or contact your local shelter and ask what they are most in need of. Any time that you give out of your busy schedule is better than nothing.
Band together with other advocates: One voice can certainly make change occur , but imagine the amount of change that a hundred voices could ignite. The really great thing about advocacy is that you are never alone. Research what other groups in your community are doing, and see if you can join their work. Most groups are always looking for more folks to join their cause.
Speak Up and Out: Sharing your knowledge with others is a critical aspect of advocacy work. You’ve taken the time to do research, you’ve spoken with others, now it’s time to get that information out to the public and make change happen. Create an advocacy blog, put a purple ribbon bumper sticker on your car , write a letter to your local congressperson regarding issues you have with our local DV laws or policies ,or attend a rally. Just get the word out! If somebody says something that you don’t agree with about IPV, tell them what they are saying is false and that it is perpetuating the stigma. As an advocate it is our duty to stop the myths and end the stigma related to IPV. Share your message with your family; educate others about the cause--maybe they will even decide to take action too! As mentioned before, it’s important to know the basic facts and how you will answer questions if they are asked. Don’t be afraid to tell somebody the truth if you don’t know the answer to a question--it’s better to say that then to provide the wrong information.
Be Patient: In this day and age, we tend to expect immediate gratification; if we put in the hard work we want to see it pay off right away. However,many times this is not the way that advocacy work works. It takes a lot of work in order to change the way that a society views someting. And it takes even longer to change the myths and stigmas .Remember, just because you don’t see a change right away, it doesn't mean that it isn’t happening. Don’t give up and don’t get discouraged!
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 Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
On Tuesday, I shared a post packed with examples of “big-time” advocacy efforts that people can take to create social changes to end intimate partner violence and the stigma surrounding it. These larger-scale advocacy efforts are so important for taking on the major social forces that fan the flames of abuse in our culture and communities.
But smaller-scale advocacy efforts are just as valuable, and even though they may be viewed as “smaller” than more major advocacy efforts, they can deliver huge impacts and are an important part of the overall picture of the types of advocacy needed to really end abuse.
One of the simplest things that anyone can do to advocate for survivors is simply to listen to their stories when they come to you. Several of the participants in our research mentioned this as a way they view themselves as advocates. For example, one participant said, “I will be there when someone needs me.” Another said, “I simply try to be there for friends/acquaintances who are in abusive relationships.” Given what we know about how isolated survivors can become through the abuse, just think how powerful being there and listening can be.
Beyond listening to survivors’ stories, survivors especially can advocate for others by sharing their own experiences in one-on-one conversations to help other survivors know that they aren’t alone. A number of survivors in our research studies viewed this role as a form of advocacy, including the following:
In my post on “big-time” advocacy, I shared how some people advocate by starting social media campaigns or running Facebook pages. However, social media offers people opportunities for raising awareness about intimate partner violence through less-intensive actions, too. For example, a research participant said, “I share posts, articles, etc on facebook and twitter and pinterest.”
Our theme for the series this month is “Everyday Advocacy.” We want to emphasize the everyday. Some people will truly feel called and motivated to take on large-scale advocacy efforts, and these efforts are sorely needed. But even those advocacy actions that may seem “small” can have a huge impact!
You may provide a listening ear to someone who is experiencing abuse, which could help start the process for them to leave the relationship and change the course of their lives forever. You could share your own experiences with abusive or unhealthy relationships--or overcoming any challenge you’ve faced in your life--and let someone know they’re not alone, and that there is hope. You could share a piece of information with someone in your social media network that helps them recognize an abusive relationship in their own and start to take action to get safe. Small actions can have big results!
I invite you to take some time today to think about one small thing you could do in the next 24 hours to do some form of advocacy toward ending intimate partner violence. You never know what kind of difference you could make!
By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
All this month, we’re focusing on things that every person--including survivors--can do to advocate to end intimate partner violence and the stigma that surrounds it. This includes advocacy efforts to support survivors and hold offenders accountable.
Advocacy efforts can be “big” or “small,” although even actions that may seem small can have a huge impact. In another post later this week, I’ll share some ideas for smaller-scale advocacy efforts. But today, I hope to inspire you by sharing some big-time advocacy actions that survivors and others have taken to make changes happen in their communities and society.
Recently, Ali Safran’s story was featured on the Huffington Post. As a survivor of sexual assault, Ali launched Surviving in Numbers to help tell the story of survivors of sexual assault. You can learn more about Surviving in Numbers in the following YouTube video:
We also heard similar stories from survivors who participated in our research who became powerful advocates to help others. For example, several survivors shared that they became speakers to educate others in their community about intimate partner violence:
Advocacy efforts also may take the form of working with organizations to ensure that they are best meeting the needs of survivors. As one example, a participant in our research said, “I have assisted law enforcement in writing policies for effective law enforcement response to domestic violence, testify as an expert witness in civil and criminal cases.”
For those who are interested in learning how to become an advocate, many local domestic violence agencies offer formal advocacy trainings, such as this one in Lebanon, PA. These classes can be very valuable, as one participant in our research said, “I am taking classes to become an advocate. I want to help change the system that is so broken. A system where child molesters keep custody. I want to help other women.” A good place to start in seeing if a program like this exists in your community is by connecting with your state domestic violence coalition (You can find a list through the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).
When it comes to advocacy, don’t be afraid to dream big! Intimate partner violence is such a major problem in society that we need people to advocate for creative solutions that will promote real changes toward ending abuse. For example, one survivor in our research shared her dream with us:
We hope that these examples of big-time, everyday advocacy will inspire you to consider how you might start or become part of advocacy efforts to promote change in your own communities and beyond! Working together, we can all do more to end the violence and the stigma that surrounds it, support survivors, and hold offenders accountable.
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!