Domestic Violence Advocate Shares Her Wisdom
Sometimes you meet someone and you know that there is something special about them. That is how I felt about Kathy over 10 years ago when she interviewed me for a domestic violence advocacy position. Kathy was my supervisor, but really my mentor when I worked for the Victim Assistance Program in New Hampshire. I was placed at a domestic violence crisis center. During that year and a few after, I had the pleasure of working along side Kathy and learning more about domestic violence than I would anywhere else. She has taught me so much. I use the information today with clients, but also to educating those around me. Since October is domestic violence awareness month, I asked Kathy if she would share some thoughts about domestic violence with my readers and use this as an opportunity to continue to bring awareness to this ongoing issue in our world. But first, lets learn about Kathy.
Kathy: I am a survivor of teen dating violence, sexual assault, stalking and domestic violence who has healed from the mess to make it my message. I was an advocate for a local crisis center for 17 years, but recently had the opportunity to go out on my own to be the kind of advocate that meets victims where they are at–an “outside the box” advocate. Instead of dictating what services I will provide (and how and where), I work with victim/survivors of intimate partner violence to prioritize their needs, and find ways to meet those needs in a manner that prioritizes safety, with enough flexibility to increase access to service. I am particularly focused on providing support services to victims/survivors of faith, whose moral crisis issues have not been sufficiently addressed through regular crisis center services. Lastly, I am committed to systems change advocacy, working with institutions (religious, legal, educational, etc.) to help them more appropriately respond to families living domestic violence. I want to use processes I have developed (forensic advocacy, cycle mapping and victimization studies) to increase systems education when victims identify that they are struggling to be heard.
Me: Kathy what would you add to the domestic violence definition:
Kathy: I find most definitions (well used and established ones) to be much too passive in describing domestic violence. My favorite (one I adapted from the Alternatives to Domestic Aggression program in Washtenaw County, Ann Arbor, MI) is this:
A perpetrator of domestic abuse is one who uses Premeditated, Repetitive, Intentional and Conscious acts of coercion, control and violence, Knowing the victim’s vulnerabilities and trauma triggers, to establish and maintain dominance over their intimate partner (and the parties’ children). The acts can include any or all of the following: luring and grooming, exploiting (male) status, emotional abuse, economic control, deprivation and isolation, monitoring and stalking, legal harassment, medical neglect, spiritual conflict, sexual coercion and force, and/or physical assault.
Me: What do you want people to know about DV:
Kathy: Abusers don’t come with green pock-marked skin and fangs. I wish they did; they would be much easier to identify. Perpetrators are far more likely to be identified as “nice guys” by their communities; victims are more likely to be identified as “troublesome,” “crazy,” or “non-compliant.” We need to start recognizing potential abusers by their attitudes and actions, rather than putting the burden and risk on victims to identify them for us. Abuse starts with a person’s (usually a man’s) belief system, taught and reinforced by our society, that it is acceptable to dominate and oppress someone with whom you have an intimate relationship.
Me: What are some warning signs?
Kathy: No need to recreate perfection! Lydia Walker, domestic violence victim advocate and trainer extraordinaire, has created the best list I’ve ever seen to identify “red flags” of a Battering Personality, and it can be accessed here: http://wonforum.blogspot.com/2011/03/signs-of-battering-personality-by-lydia.html.
Me: How can someone help a friend?
Kathy: It is not anyone’s job to save a victim of domestic violence; the choice must be the victim’s as to whether or not, how or when s/he will leave. There are three simple things that ANYONE can do–no matter what their profession, or who they are to the potential victim–to help someone they suspect is being victimized by an abuser:
- Help the victim feel SAFER.Let the individual know that you have seen some things that make you feel concerned about their safety. If you have resources that you feel comfortable offering, let that victim know (an extra bed if s/he needs to stay the night? $20 gas money to get to shelter? A watchful eye to call for help when s/he might need it?) It’s definitely OK to set boundaries around the help you are willing to give–you should NEVER directly confront an abusive person, or put yourself in harm’s way–but let the victim know you are willing to talk about ways to safety plan, if and when s/he’s ready.
- Help the victim feel MORE INFORMED. Often, the victim doesn’t know there are resources for help, or s/he feels limited by a lack of resources. Help her memorize the National Domestic Violence Hotline number (800.799.7233) [SAFE] or TTY 800-787.3224, which will connect her to a local domestic violence crisis program when she feels it is time to get help. Let her know that these programs are CONFIDENTIAL and FREE, and that trained advocates are available to listen to her story, help prioritize her needs, and then help find information and referrals to help meet her needs. Whatever she’s asking about, give her OPTIONS to make decisions for herself.
- Help the victim feel MORE SUPPORTED. Be that non-judgmental, listening ear. Let the victim know you care about what happens to her and her family. Do not condone or excuse the abusive partner’s behaviors, but also do not speak disrespectfully of that person. The victim may tell you something you believe to be untrue–do not confront her. Instead of thinking “she’s lying to me,” REFRAME. Instead, think, “she doesn’t know if she can trust me with the truth, yet.” Demonstrate your trustworthiness by asking her what she wants you to do with any information she has shared with you, and then honor her requests. If you are a mandated reporter for disclosures of child abuse, etc., tell her so.
Me: Kathy, can you share about your faith-based approach to advocacy and why it is important to you:
Kathy: As a survivor of the Christian faith, I can identify many critical instances when I was searching for the guidance and support of my faith, as well as the fellowship of people who shared my beliefs, in order to extricate myself safely from my abuser. Often, I felt utterly desolate, believing I had to choose between my faith in God or life. Sadly, it was not until I was safely out and well on my way to healing that I began to find faith resources that were supportive of my decision to leave. As an advocate, I was equally frustrated that I was allowed to ask service-users what their financial, legal, housing or safety needs were, but was not permitted by policy to ask about their spiritual needs. If a person of faith does not have faith concerns adequately addressed, they often decide to stay with their abuser, or reject their faith. Studies have shown that faith can be a big component of healing from trauma. We need to allow victims that vital resource, and help find ways to remove their barriers, if they identify that faith is a significant factor in their decision-making.
Me: Kathy, I find that I have a few things that I often say to clients. What is one thing you find yourself saying to survivors?
Kathy: Too many to list!
- It is completely natural that you still have feelings for the person who is abusing you. You worked hard to build a life together with him/her; you may have children together. It is not reasonable to think that you could turn your feelings on and off, nor should you want to be that type of person. Your feelings make you the kind and compassionate person that I know you are. You can love them, while still wanting them to change how they treat you and your children.
- Leaving is a process–it should never be an event. You need to carefully plan your way out. There are more barriers (and your partner has more allies) keeping you in then there is help to get out. Do your best to discover the barriers ahead of time, and let us help you find the way around them. The life and heartache you save may be your own.
- You can do it (whatever “it” is: leaving, or safety planning for staying)! You have the courage and the strength. I will be your greatest cheerleader, and will work hard to help you find information and resources when you need them. But you can do this. I have every faith in you.
Kathy is doing some amazing work. She is the type of person who needs to share her gift with the world and she is! Not only is she speaking publicly about domestic violence, she has created some great resources including “The Maze of Coercive Control“, It’s Not Just Black and Blue…”It’s More Like Shades of Gray”, “Why Don’t They Just Leave”, and “Children Who Live Domestic Violence”. If you would like copies of these resources please contact myself or Kathy.
Founding Director, SELAH
Domestic Violence Response & Intervention Consultant