To be safe, each victim needs responses and resources that address the violence, and match her life circumstances, culture, and plans. Many will also need a victim-defined advocate. One who will listen, explore relevant strategies, and work with each victim to implement the safety plan she’s chosen.
Some victims know what will help and how to get it. Others will need to talk through the violence and other risks, their needs, and the options available before each decides what will make things better. A meaningful referral may be all that some victims need to access assistance. Others will need the help of an advocate, particularly those who must use bureaucratic, inaccessible, or even hostile systems. Victims with disabilities, with language barriers, and who face bias or discrimination because of who they are will need culturally responsive advocacy.
Victims will get what they need from a variety of sources, including personal, domestic violence specific, community services, legal system, and other government programs.
Implications for victim-defined advocacy
Define safety broadly
Safety is freedom from the violence and control and the ability to provide for basic human needs. Victims are still in danger if the end of violence is the beginning of a life with no home, stable income, health care, food, or an education for their children. This means that safety plans must be comprehensive.
Determine what will enhance safety
Ask the victim about the violence, about her life, her culture, and what she thinks will enhance safety. Share information about domestic violence- specific and other relevant options and explain what you think will help. Talk about it and give her the opportunity to figure out what options she would like to pursue.
Always explore the possibility of life-threatening violence and serious risks to children. If this is a threat, more discussions and advocacy are necessary.
Help the victim pursue the options she’s chosen
Her priority may not be domestic violence, particularly if she is living in poverty.
Offer other options
Provide the victim with information about strategies that may make her and her children safer (reduces violence, increases financial stability) even if she chooses not to pursue them now.
Can’t do it all. Victims need our domestic violence specific assistance and our advocacy to get what they need from other systems and service providers.
Victim-defined systemic advocacy implications
Victims are in all systems and need a broad range of responses and resources to be safer. Among the systemic advocacy challenges are figuring out how to: Identify the spectrum of victim interests; Develop systemic expertise in multiple systems; Establish an advocacy presence in those systems; and Advocate for differing victim interests.
- Identify what victims need: Consider integrating information gathering about victim needs/interests into current advocacy. What information is already being gathered? What additional information could be collected that would not infringe on victim privacy or be overly burdensome to gather? How will the information be analyzed and shared? How will the perspectives of marginalized victims be gathered? (E.g. victims of color, immigrants, LBGT, those living in poverty, victims living with disabilities)
- Include a broad set of victim needs, interests, and issues in domestic violence policy analysis: Prioritize. When doing analysis be comprehensive. But to be effective, limited advocacy resources must be prioritized. Choose the systems and issues carefully by consider the level of impact for victims and likelihood of change/success.
- Advocate for victims who do not disclose or cannot prove domestic violence: Victims do not disclose the violence for safety and other compelling reasons, but still need help. How will those victims gain access to the system’s resources and responses? Victims may not be able to prove that they violence the experienced meet policy or practice standards. How will they get help?
- Collaborate with other advocacy organizations. Build new collaborations: We can’t do it all by ourselves. Who are likely allies? How can we support and inform their advocacy? Comprehensive solutions will require collaborations beyond other advocacy organizations. Who are the currently unknown or unlikely allies that are important to policies affecting victims?
- Include both domestic violence specific programs and those that are not: Help may come from domestic violence advocacy or from policies and programs designed specifically for victims. It may also come from non-domestic violence specific sources. Victims will benefit if these policies and programs are accessible to them and can respond effectively when issues of a partner’s violence or control affect that access.
- Consider immediate and longer terms needs of victims experiencing the effects of experiencing the violence: Are services, responses trauma-informed? What crisis intervention is available? Is counseling, intervention, or other options for healing available to victims? To children?
Understanding what victims in your community think
How: There is a wide range of ways to gather and analyze information. Do not let the process or time keep you from finding out what victims think. Just ask! Ask a specific question at intake, or during support groups, or as part of community outreach. You might also ask advocates and others who regularly work with victims what they are hearing. Gather information from as many victims as possible, those you regularly serve and those you don’t. Know who is missing from your data. Is it women of color, immigrants, victims living in poverty, LGBT victims or other marginalized group? Make an effort to find out what they think.
Then think and talk about what you’re hearing. Information used in this process should be generalized to protect victims’ safety and privacy. If resources are available conduct formal research, inquire about a broader range of issues, or track information over a longer term. Do what you can, but do something.
What to ask victims about getting what they need: Ask what is relevant to the priorities and context of your advocacy. Ask some open ended questions that will give you information about victims’ priorities. Do victims think that your advocacy will make life better for them and their children? What do they think you should do?
Sample questions to help you frame the ones you’ll ask: What options, resources, strategies would make life safer and better for them and their children? What do they need? What are the barriers to them getting what they need?
“The feeling that someone is there if & when I need them. It made my safety even more secure." - Survivor from Alabama, Meeting Survivors’ Needs through Non-Residential Domestic Violence Services & Supports: Results of a Multi-State Study by NRCDV (November 2011)