Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Empowerment Model of Advocacy - a Refresher

                              INDIVIDUAL ADVOCACY WITH SURVIVORS

 1.       This type of advocacy should view all "personal" problems in the context of a sexist society and help women understand the real oppression and socially defined roles which reinforce their victimization and feelings of powerlessness. In such counseling, a large part of an advocate's role will be to communicate to survivors this vision and understanding through the facts about battering. The difference between our own oppression as a woman and that of the survivor is one of degree. The issues the abused woman must struggle with ‑‑ such as balance of power in the relationship, being viewed as her husband's property, and finding her own worth as a woman in a sexist society ‑‑ are the same issues that we as women all face daily.

 2.       Empowerment advocacy believes that battering is not something that happens to a woman because of her characteristics, her family background, her psychology, her psyche or her unconscious search for a certain type of man, We believe that battering can happen to anyone who has the misfortune to become involved with someone who wants power and control enough to be violent to get it.

 3.       In an empowerment model, the woman coming for help is assumed to be a basically healthy person who needs understanding, information, support, and concrete information and resources in order to make changes in her life. She is responsible for her own life decisions, and the advocate's role is to help her tap her own strengths and abilities, and to recognize and experience her potential as a woman. Advocates are not there to probe for weaknesses, assess her, diagnose her or label her.  Advocates can put forward the conscious expectation that she will take charge of her own life. We can help her learn to, and encourage her to act on her own competence, rather than allowing ourselves to see her as helpless and tell her what to do.

 4.       The survivor and the counselor/advocate are assumed to be equals. We may use the term "counselor" and "service participant" to define different roles which are interchangeable depending on the skills and needs of the individuals involved. It is basic to the feminist philosophy that the word "counselor" does not connote value, or more worth, and that we have the responsibility to tell that to the survivor. We may have special training in a particular mode of counseling, and we can use this if you and the survivor agree that it is appropriate ‑‑ however, in a peer relationship we should see this as a sharing and teaching of skills rather than as a taking over or thinking for the survivor. As a peer we see ourselves as a woman sharing the position of the survivor in society, and involving ourselves in the counseling process by openly sharing our skills and our own experience which might be helpful to her in taking charge of her own life. It is also important that although the two of us are equals, our current role as counselor gives us institutional power over the woman. It is our responsibility not to misuse that institutional power, and carefully look at how that affects our relationship with the survivor.

 5.       Advocates have the responsible for becoming conscious of our own cultural biases and stereotypes in order to effectively support all survivors we are working with. We have the responsibility to learn about the real differences in life experiences that affect women from different cultural backgrounds than our own, and about oppression. We must commit ourselves to making our services culturally accessible to all and to struggle towards cultural competency. Counselors have the responsibility not to discriminate on the basis of age, race, class, background, gender, sexual orientation, service seeker's consumption of or addiction to drugs or alcohol, disabilities, religion, political beliefs, victimization by the sex industry, being trapped in prostitution or other circumstances.

 6.       Advocates need to provide a supportive atmosphere in which to discuss concerns including confidentiality. Counselors have the obligation to explain fully to the survivor the extent and nature of confidentiality. If confidentiality must be breached because of life threatening situations, or child abuse, this should be explained truthfully to the survivor.

 7.       Counselor/advocates operating under this philosophy affirm that the survivor is the expert on her own experiences and her own life, and that counselors learn a great deal by listening without judgments to survivors.

 8.       Counselor/advocates have the responsibility to identify areas where we are judgmental of survivors, and to work on providing services compassionately, supportively and non‑judgmentally.

 7.       Counselor/advocates have the responsibility of informing themselves about the ways the criminal justice system has revictimized women, other societally disadvantaged populations, and survivors of violence. They have the responsibility of imparting that information to survivors. They should give survivors accurate information about legal options.

 8.       Advocates have the responsibility of informing themselves about different models of assessment and intervention and adapting them to their work<>

 9.       Counselors must have the utmost respect for confidentiality. They must pay assiduous attention to their record keeping practices.

 10.     This philosophy should not be construed to mean that:

  a)       counselors should avoid enhancing their advocacy skills of assessment and intervention in any way possible. Updated kills are essential to effectively counsel survivors within the framework of the above philosophy.

 b)       advocates should avoid communicating to survivors that they have the ability to change their life and make personal choices that will improve their situation. By putting all the problems on the batterer, counselors may inadvertently send the message to survivors that there is nothing they can do to change their lives. A balance is essential.

c)       advocates should avoid discussing directly with survivors the effects of alcohol and other drug addiction on their lives and the need for women to take immediate and affirmative steps to get treatment for their addiction.

 11.     Counselors must strive to promote survivor’s autonomy - psychic, spiritual, emotional, physical, and economic.

 12.     Counselors and advocates must safety plan with survivors at every encounter.


 1.  Any domestic violence worker who will be advocating for or accompanying survivors through the criminal justice system or civil process has the responsibility of gathering as much concrete and accurate information as s/he can.  This includes reading, listening and thinking about the ways the system has revictimized battered women and has not held the assailant accountable legally.  The legal system impacts differentially on women from societally disadvantaged populations, and it is the advocate's responsibility to become sensitive to that fact. The advocate should keep up to date on the laws, and the policies, procedures, and personnel in her own community. In this way, s/he can be most helpful to the survivor.

 2.  There is sometimes great pressure from the system to "get survivors to press charges". It's critical that advocates not pressure survivors to report crimes, press charges, or go to court. Advocates may give information, but must support women in making their own decisions. Survivors are the experts on their own lives, and on the level of danger they face from the assailant.

 3.  One of the advocate's major roles is to make the legal system accessible to survivors. This means helping survivors feel comfortable with the process. This may mean accompanying them to sign charges, talking to personnel on their behalf (only with their permission), accompanying them to court, role playing interactions, consulting with attorneys, and fighting the system on the survivor's behalf. It may mean "translating" legalese into English.

 4.  Legal advocates have the responsibility to keep the survivor informed of contacts you have made on her/his behalf. S/he must be consulted in making and carrying out the plan in her case, and she must have veto power over your actions. Although the advocate may be in a position to use her/his expertise and contacts to help the survivor, it cannot be without her/his  knowledge and consent.

 5.  It's critical for legal advocates not to give legal advice. Giving information about the law, and the experiences of other survivors, being supportive and helpful, and doing advocacy is very different from the role of the attorney. Be careful and in case of confusion, consult your supervisor.

 6.  Advocates have the responsibility of helping the survivor do things for herself. If you make a connection for her/him, make sure s/he understands the steps to do it alone in your absence. Support her or him in becoming her own best advocate.

 7.  Advocates must not collude with the system in order to make it easier for yourself or your agency.  Example: Sometimes we might want the survivor to agree to a "deal" that would make the prosecutor happy. It would strengthen our relationship with his or her office. It's important to remember that relationships with systems and political progress (although crucial) are secondary to the individual survivor's safety and best interests.

 Modified fromOriginal Published by Susan McGee in 1997

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