Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Finding Your Niche as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate

You have decided being a domestic violence advocate is your calling in life. Your reasons are personal and varied.. You have worked out the ethics and appropriateness of your choice. You have established your boundaries. You may be a survivor and wish to provide assistance to others but know you cannot use the job as your own personal therapy. You may have the desire to provide resources and empowerment to those escaping a violent situation but you understand that you cannot be a  rescuer and fix people's lives. You may wish to educate segments of the population, public or professional, but have learned that being an expert doesn’t preclude listening and learning. 

 Grassroots advocacy back in “the day”, the 60’s through the early 80’s, involved concerned individuals filling a need. “Between 1974 and 2000 women working in local communities have established almost 2,000 emergency shelters and programs and emergency hotlines…for battered women”(Ann Jones, Next Time She'll Be Dead: Battering and How to Stop It).   Community programs and women’s movements- some underground- were happy to have volunteers or employees with the right motives who were willing to work and maintain confidentiality. No other special skills were required.

 Since that time, programs have organized and expanded and are often supported by government grants, budgets have grown and laws have changed. Many program priorities are documented outcomes and results over meeting actual needs. Program boards require employees who can handle money, fundraise, network and comply with grants and reporting. Often a BA, MA or MSW is required along with specialized training. While domestic violence advocacy is still a cause or ideology it has evolved into an occupation with several specialty areas.

 There are many avenues to your first job in the field. Regional shelter programs have traditionally served as an entry point in this area. There are volunteer positions to gain some overall experience. These can often turn into paid positions. Shelters employ the whole spectrum of advocates from entry-level phone workers to therapists and attorneys. Working in a shelter environment can be empowering for a new advocate. You will be working with others who share your passion and ideals. You will have access to varied trainings and you will be exposed to all ages and specialized populations. Assess how you can be most effective. Are you better with small children, teens or adults? Are you better with public speaking and networking or do you prefer one-on-one interactions?

 Domestic violence victim advocacy jobs are now embedded in almost every area of public service from local police, courts and health care settings to state and federal government entities to regional and national associations and commissions. There are independent or consultant opportunities or it can be an area of expertise within a standard profession such as a journalist or an attorney.

 Spend time assessing what is available. Find out what program policies and missions are. Understand your own motives and beliefs. Wherever you begin your career as a domestic violence advocate it is important to continually assess your environment. Choose your battles. Positive change doesn’t usually come from alienating those around you. Don’t spread yourself too thin, you are most effective when you are focused.  Network with others, form alliances and never stop learning. Continually refine your position. Blend advocacy with all you do. Even as an administrator or someone involved in high level systems change it is important to maintain a level of interactive, ground level, face to face advocacy to remind yourself of the real reason you are doing this work. 

Your true value as an advocate is not reflected in statistics and data but is reflected instead in the eyes of a traumatized and frightened woman who sees that you represent her potential for a better life and safety for her and her children.

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