Community-based advocacy programs exist in communities in order to provide support, information, guidance, and advocacy for survivors of battering. Programs connect with survivors of battering in many different ways – posters, community events, medical clinics, community centers, and frequently, in rural communities, by word of mouth. Rural advocacy programs across the country provide tremendous support to survivors who turn to them for help; but they also worry they are not reaching all survivors who could benefit from the services they provide. This is particularly true for survivors who have sought help from or been drawn into the criminal legal system’s response to domestic violence.

In the transcript below, Kathleen Marvin, Executive Director, Tillamook Women’s Resource Center (now Tides of Change) and Rose Thelen, Praxis Technical Assistance Partner discuss the unpredictable connections to survivors of battering (or domestic violence) following law enforcement response in her jurisdiction. 

Kathleen: We have several departments in our jurisdiction, in our county, and what happens during a law enforcement response is inconsistent across departments and between officers. So, some are offering information about our program or the court-based victims program. Others do not.  Some will call us out, and some will not. It’s a very inconsistent and unpredictable response.

Rose: So it’s usually up to the discretion of the officers or whether the officer thinks it’s a good idea or if they ask the victim and the victim say yes, I would like them to contact them or the officer recommends that they contact you, right?

Kathleen: Yes, all those things happen.

Rose: Yeah, yeah. So the result is what? I mean, this is true in your community, right?

Kathleen: Yeah, what we find out that very few people will call us, at least not right away, and they may become engaged in systems in ways that are not really helpful to them as a result and then end up calling us later when we might have been able to support them through, you know, preventing some of that.

Full audio recording: Calling Victims Before They Call You, June 2014
[Recording may experience delay before playing]

In the transcript above, Kathleen and Rose discuss a problem common across rural America for all survivors of battering: lack of awareness of advocacy programs designed to help and support survivors and very few survivors actually calling to receive that information and support. Commonly, survivors of battering find out about advocacy programs following a law enforcement response because:

  • an officer tells them about it
  • they read about the advocacy program in materials provided by the officer
  • an officer advises the survivor to contact the program
  • an officer asks the survivor if they would like an advocate to contact them
  • less frequently, an officer may proactively call the advocacy program on behalf of the survivor

Unfortunately, these approaches typically result in few survivors receiving crucial advocacy following law enforcement response. Many survivors never reach out to an advocacy program for a variety of reasons:

  • they do not know what an advocate is
  • they do not know what information and resources an advocate can provide
  • they are embarrassed
  • they do not want to bother anyone
  • they do not think of themselves as being battered or abused
  • materials about the program are not available in their preferred language
  • they do not know that services can be provided in their preferred language using certified interpreters
  • they do not know that advocates can help survivors who are immigrants
  • they do not know or trust that advocates are confidential, which may pose additional barriers to reaching out for help, especially in rural and immigrant communities where “everyone knows everyone”

Typically, survivors will not call an advocate due to a simple referral by law enforcement, and they usually decline an offer to have an advocate contact them. Survivors from marginalized communities may face additional barriers to reaching out for support and are likely to experience great consequences of institutional intervention. This is uniquely true for immigrant survivors and survivors with limited English proficiency or Deaf survivors. Many survivors, therefore, are without valuable advocacy support at a time when they are under a significant amount of stress, as well as injured, confused, and vulnerable to increased coercion and violence by the batterer.

In the transcript below, Rose describes why there is a renewed focus on reaching out to survivors to provide advocacy as soon as possible after law enforcement response:

In the conversations advocates have had with women in focus groups and the research in Denver, women had a lot of reasons why they wouldn’t call. And a lot of reasons why when they were called, they wanted to talk to that advocate. That is why there is a renewed focus on advocacy-initiated response. We hear from victims that there is a huge need for victims to get this information and support. The guy leaves in the car with the officer and there they are, they sit and go, well, what’s next? What did the officer say about him getting out? Do I have to go to court? Am I gonna get to see him again? And those are the kinds of things that the call from the advocacy program can be a life saver.

Full audio recording: Calling Victims Before They Call You, June 2014
[Recording may experience delay before playing]

When an advocate calls a survivor and offers confidential support, most survivors are willing to talk. They have the right to refuse, of course, but advocacy-initiated response (AIR) provides the survivor with an opportunity to connect as soon as possible with someone who can remove barriers to accessing help and give critical support and relevant information. AIR also lays the foundation for continued support as a survivor processes their experiences and interacts with various systems, such as law enforcement and the courts. Further, this kind of contact proves to increase a sense of safety and access to more available resources, for example, with housing, childcare, employment, food programs, language access, and immigration relief. In making the outreach call to survivors, advocacy programs can explore and attend to the risks and barriers survivors face due to:

  • The survivor’s immediate and personal circumstances
  • The offender and their social networks
  • Aspects of culture and identity
  • The institutional response

Advocacy programs across the country are moving toward implementing AIR to increase the connections between survivors and community-based advocates and provide important supports to more survivors of battering.