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!