Importance of Advocacy
by Teresia Smith
Imagine that a victim of domestic violence, living in fear of a batterer, finally finds the courage to seek help. On their own, they somehow obtain a copy of the petition for a protective order, but it is overwhelming and confusing with all the legal terms. They call a lawyer’s office for assistance, and they are told a $1000 retainer fee is required for assistance. Feeling like there is no one to help, they happen to stop at a public restroom and on the stall door see a poster where they finally learn that there is help available at the local crisis services agency. They call and are welcomed and offered help by a domestic violence advocate.
Many victims are not aware of their legal rights or protections that are available to them. Instead, they are prone to believe a distorted view of the law that they have been told by their batterer. The legal process can be confusing and intimidating to any person and more so when one is in an emotional crisis, and their safety is at risk. A domestic violence advocate is a non-lawyer who does not give legal advice but can educate victims about the legal protections available to them, assist victims in preparing for various court proceedings and provide emotional support throughout.
Having the assistance of an advocate throughout the process of leaving a domestic violence relationship is often the key to successfully being able to start over and not feel there is no choice but to return to the abuser. The advocate can accompany a victim to hearings, meetings and other proceedings, providing guidance and support. Obtaining a protection order is a good first step, but often the survivor also needs assistance with shelter, housing needs and referrals to various support programs so they don’t return to a dangerous situation.
Utilizing the continued emotional support services of a domestic violence advocate can frequently lead to more positive outcomes as well. An advocate’s role is to provide information and support so the victim can decide how to best protect their own interests and safety. Advocates provide a lifeline to anyone in an abusive relationship and deliver confidential services to victims navigating issues such as housing, physical and mental health needs, financial support, children’s issues, etc. They also offer self-help groups that provide much-needed support of peers.
If you or a loved one is experiencing intimate partner domestic violence or sexual assault, our advocates at Crisis Services of North Alabama offer free, confidential services such as court advocacy, safe shelter, crisis counseling, support groups and referrals. You may reach our Jackson County office at 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000. You are not alone.