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.