The heart of the advocate’s role is providing compassionate crisis intervention and ongoing support to survivors and families of survivors.
Because advocates do not investigate or collect evidence, they can believe the survivor and stand in her or his corner. Because advocates don’t have a personal stake in the decisions that the survivor makes like family and friends, they can provide unbiased information and support the survivor, whatever choices are made.
That support can take many forms, the most fundamental of which is simply being there with the survivor so they don’t have to go through the experience alone. More than just a physical presence, ‘being there’ means being mindfully present and actively engaged in listening. It means being someone with whom the survivor may safely talk through thoughts and feelings, at her or his own pace, with someone who has probably heard it before and will understand.
Advocates also provide support in the form of information. Survivors are often faced with difficult decisions and bewildering systems about which they may have little knowledge. Advocates can act as companions and guides – helping survivors to explore their options, understand their rights, find answers to their questions, and connect with their other resources.
Advocacy is not about ‘fixing’ things, nor is it about having all the answers. Advocacy is about providing a safe space where survivors can talk and be heard without being judged. It’s about helping people build a network of support. It’s about empowering people to make their own decisions and supporting them in their choices.
• We are here to listen… not to work miracles
• We are here to help individuals explore their feelings… not to make those feelings go away
• We are here to help someone identify her options… not to decide for her what she should do.
• We are here to discuss steps with an individual… not to take those steps for him
• We are here to help an individual discover her own strengths… not to rescue her and leave her vulnerable.
• We are here to help people discover they can help themselves… not to take the responsibility for them
• We are here to help individuals learn to choose… not to make it unnecessary for them to make difficult choices.
• We are here to provide support for change.
adapted from the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault Survivor Advocacy Training Manual, 2004
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