By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
Stories are so powerful. Stories have the power to educate and inform. Stories have the power to evoke emotional reactions and make people think. Stories have the power to help people heal.
This month at See the Triumph, we’re focusing on the importance of the stories of survivors of intimate partner violence. There is a Native American proverb that says, “It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story.” The overarching story we always want to tell through See the Triumph is that people can overcome past abuse and the stigma that surrounds it. However, we know that within this larger story, there are countless individual stories of abuse and triumph, and each of these individual stories is unique, meaningful, and important.
If you are a survivor of abuse, or if you have otherwise been touched by abuse (e.g., a close friend or family member experienced abuse), your story matters. Your story holds power. Of course, it’s so helpful to understand the general dynamics of abuse, such as the cycle of violence and the power and control tactics used by abusers. However, beyond these general dynamics, every person who has ever experienced an unsafe, abusive relationship has a rich, individual story to tell that is uniquely their own.
Maya Angelou once said, “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.” At See the Triumph, we believe in the importance of survivors having opportunities to tell their stories. This may be publicly, privately, and/or simply finding ways to tell your story to yourself in new ways, such as through journaling. We have three main messages to convey during our series this month, “Every Survivor Has A Story.” Those messages are:
First, every survivor has a unique, important story to tell.
Second, survivors should be supported in sharing their stories, whether publicly or privately.
And third, we can all learn a lot from the stories that survivors share with us.
Throughout August, we’ll be sharing some of the many stories we’ve heard from the participants in our research, all of whom had been in past abusive relationships but were out of any abusive relationships for at least two years. Their stories show how diverse people’s experiences with abuse can be.
We’re also planning some other special features, including posts by some of our contributors on how they’ve benefited from sharing their stories with others, as well as some suggestions for telling your own story.
We look forward to hearing your thoughts throughout this month, and beyond, on the power that survivors’ stories hold for unlocking the stigma surrounding intimate partner violence!
By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
To wrap up our month-long series on Everyday Advocacy, today’s focus is on developing the skills and characteristics needed to become an advocate or continue to become more effective in this role over time. Survivors in our research have shared several valuable ideas about what it takes to do this sort of advocacy work well, and we wanted to share some of those insights with you today.
Advocacy means different things to different people, so one of the first steps is to think about what that role may look like for you. Consider the following questions:
Some people want to do advocacy work, but they don’t know how to go about it. For example, one participant in our research said, “I do not see myself as an advocate but I think I could be and I would be interested in how to become one.” Another said, “I don’t know if I have the skills.” If that sounds like you, consider if you might begin by joining efforts with others, such as your local domestic violence agency or another advocacy group you support in your community or online. Many organizations value the energy and skills that volunteers bring, and they may offer training and volunteer opportunities to help you develop your skills and confidence so that you could take on other types of advocacy effortsin the future.
Survivors in our research shared some of the knowledge and skills they thought were helpful to them in their own advocacy efforts, and the following quotes provide examples of these:
It also can be helpful to have realistic expectations about how advocacy efforts may be received. For example, one participant had this to say about her advocacy work:
Becoming an advocate may be a life-long process, and there will likely be times when you feel more or less motivated to engage in advocacy work. Along with the excitement and satisfaction that can come with progress, advocacy work can be wrought with frustration, stress, and even anger. Keeping a long-range perspective and staying focused on the importance of the end goal to end abuse can help buffer you against the frustrations that may arise.
One participant in our research said the following about advocacy: “I believe that I was destined to do this work.” Advocacy efforts can be a really meaningful way for people to take negative experiences and emotions and channel them to create positive changes in the world around them.
Whether big or small, everyday advocacy efforts will remain needed until intimate partner violence and the stigma that surrounds it no longer exist.
By Karen Bean, See the Triumph Contributor
According to the Polaris Project (http://www.polarisproject.org/) North Carolina is 10th in the nation in Human Trafficking. This is based on the number of calls received by the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888). Arguably, this is only one measure but, as human trafficking is largely an invisible problem which is not tracked extensively, the issue could be much larger and determining which state has the largest volume of trafficking is irrelevant.
The personal stories of trafficking survivors that live in the Charlotte area, where I live, are testament to the horrific and heartbreaking reality of human trafficking. Their willingness to share their experiences and to advocate for change are truly inspiring. I am co-chair for a group that is trying to understand how widespread human sex trafficking is in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area and what we can do to eradicate the problem.
Our group is passionate about gathering information and advocating for a solution. We have talked with police departments, judges, district attorneys, and shelter administrators in addition to reading and attending workshops to increase our knowledge. However, our process has had its ups and downs.
Human trafficking is such a huge issue nationally and globally. How can we possibly make a difference? We seem to be running in place and I fear that our group is feeling disheartened. In spite of this, I remain hopeful. North Carolina has passed legislation in the past few years that has established a fairly strong legal framework for handling traffickers.
Our study group has decided to narrow our focus to actions that could have tangible results locally. One example is advocating for education and awareness of human trafficking for children and their parents. The typical age of girls lured into trafficking is 13, and often the first connection with a trafficker is though the Internet. Informing young children of how trafficking occurs and what to do if they or their friends are faced with a trafficking situation is a small but important step. Then we’ll go from there.
Advocacy reminds me of an a cappella choir. Even without instruments the voices make a beautiful sound. And with each added voice the sound becomes more powerful and even more beautiful. Add your voice on issues that matter to you. Collectively, we can make a difference!
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.