When people find out what I do for a living, they often make the statement, “I couldn’t do what you do.” This always makes me wonder if they fully understand what I do.
If you are a person who listens, doesn’t judge and is willing to help, then, in large part, you do, do what I do.
Of course, I understand that most people are referring to the heartache of the work. The work of an advocate does involve an amount of heartbreak and frustration, but it also includes the honor of witnessing a victim’s transformation.
The frustration of an advocate’s work is based in the barriers that victims face when trying to rise above their situation. Listening and not judging is important, but there is more that you can do to support victims of domestic and sexual violence and to support the advocates who work with them.
- Here are seven things you can do to break down the barriers:
Learn more. Before you engage in the matters of domestic and sexual violence, it’s important to understand as much as you can about the complexities of the issues. Starting Point offers regular training sessions and workshops on the topic. You can also call and make an appointment to speak to an advocate just to learn more about the work we do. Our website is under construction at present but there are national and regional websites that offer a bounty of information and resources. The N.H. Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence at NHCADSV.org and the National Coalition at NCADV.org are two very good places to start. Check back for the updated version of our website at startingpointnh.org this spring. Like us on Facebook atfacebook.com/startingpointnh/ for articles and events.
- Host a Starting Point house party. Hosting a house party consists of you inviting your friends over for a get together with the executive director and board members to further the understanding of Starting Point’s work. House parties have brought us together as a community, inspired new volunteers to join us and raised awareness and funds. And, they’re fun!
- Post. One way to learn more is to go to our Faceook page at www.facebook.com/startingpointnh. Reposting an article, petition or meme is an easy and very important way to help. Creating awareness does have a direct effect on how victims are treated. Recently, a court advocate encountered a father helping his daughter with a petition. He said that he would not have known what to do for her or even what was happening to her if he hadn’t read the articles written by Starting Point. With your help, we can reach more people. Sending the message to abusers that victims no longer stand alone can reduce the scope of some types of abuse.
- Speak out. It takes great courage to advocate. In calling out the issues, you may discover within friendships attitudes that surprise you. This may require an end to some relationships, or this may be an opportunity to transform misguided attitudes. Once you find your voice, there are many ways to use it. You can go to Concord when needed and legislate for change in the laws that oversee the issues. Create or sign petitions that work to end the barriers victims face. Expose the societal structures that are responsible for gender inequality.
Here’s one to consider: Pornography has become a multi-billion-dollar industry supported by mainstream corporations. You can petition against hotels that offer pornography channels and refuse to do business with corporations on the Dirty Dozen List. Check out the list at http://pornharmsaction.com/2016DirtyDozenList. (I encourage you to learn the truth about the pornography business and its direct effect on domestic and sexual violence. Starting Point will be offering a series of workshops on the topic in the spring and summer of 2017. Get on our mailing list if you are interested in attending.)
- Volunteer. There are many volunteer opportunities at Starting Point. Some volunteers do direct service work and others support our staff to do the work. We also have office duties and outreach opportunities. You can volunteer on a regular basis or as your schedule allows. If you are retired, we will work with you to use your expertise or expand new interests. If you are building a resume, Starting Point will be a point of interest for any employer. You’d be surprised at all we address as advocates: crisis intervention, personal advocacy, work readiness support, transitional housing provision, transportation, support groups, event planning and outreach.
- Donate. Starting Point receives federal, state and local funds for the crisis intervention work we offer, but that is just a small portion of our work. In order to end the cycle of abuse, we have to provide transitional opportunities and prevention. Too many of our victims have been financially victimized by their abusers and the system at large. It can be hard to hold down a job when one is struggling with the effects of violence. Getting behind can completely overwhelm a person and can cause a victim to stay or return to an abuser.
- Federal, state and local funds are often restricted to certain, very important, uses, but the research and trend in the movement is showing that some amount of flexible funding can make the real difference. Sometimes shelter is not the best answer to a victim’s situation, but people often end up in shelter because that is the funding that is available. Occasionally it is less expensive for us to assist a victim with rent or to help them move out of the area. These approaches are expensive upfront but over the long run they relieve Starting Point and other local and state agencies of long-term financial responsibility, and most importantly they support a victim in independent living.
- Job readiness, transportation and transitional housing are all the work of Starting Point, and we desperately need the financial support that those programs require.
- Above all listen, don’t judge and then listen some more. You cannot know what another person is going through or all the complex reasons behind the decisions they make. Listening will help you know better; eliminating judgement will empower victims and survivors to make the courageous choices necessary to live the life they dream, free from fear and full of hope.
Raetha Stoddard is the executive director of Starting Point. She has a degree in Child and Family Studies, with a background in teaching, event planning and public relations. She has been a volunteer for Starting Point for several years as an advocate and board member. For “self-care”, she spends as much time as possible outdoors hiking, kayaking and breathing and an equal amount of time with family and friends sharing a meal and laughing. The phone number for Starting Point is (603) 447-2494.