When Sarah (not her real name) went to the courthouse to obtain a stalking petition, she was terrified that her former boyfriend might have followed her and would be waiting when she left. The Clerk asked if she’d like to have an advocate and when Sarah said yes, the Clerk called Turning Points Network and an advocate came immediately to meet with Sarah at the courthouse to discuss a safety plan and to explain other options and follow up and then escorted Sarah to her car when she left.
Advocates play a vital role in Turning Points Network’s court advocacy work with survivors of domestic and sexual violence. They partner with survivors to complete paperwork, offer a range of services and resources and sit with the survivor in court, providing a buffer between the survivor and the abuser. Available 24/7, advocates can provide assistance with emergency protective orders after hours.
“When the survivor is in a heightened state due to fear of personal harm and overwhelmed by decisions that involve life changes, an advocate can assist the survivor in prioritizing needs and creating a plan for next steps,” explained Amanda Mace, direct services coordinator of Turning Points Network and the advocate who met with Sarah. While they do not provide legal advice, advocates offer referrals, a wealth of information, emotional support and a number of safety-planning options.
“When a survivor is contemplating leaving an abusive relationship, safety planning with an experienced advocate is critical. An abuser’s control typically escalates when the survivor attempts to leave,” Mace continued. “We can help with emergency shelter, settling children in a new school and connecting an individual or a parent with children to additional services.”
Technology has brought new challenges to these services as stalkers can place monitors in their victims’ cars to track where they go and phone apps and social media can both aid and impede anonymity. Advocates are able to alert survivors to alternative safety measures they might not have considered.
When an advocate is called to support a survivor of rape, the advocate will meet with the survivor at the hospital and stay as long as the survivor wishes during the interaction with the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, or wait nearby to answer questions when needed, for the duration.
“Everyone we support has different needs,” explains Mace. “We are there to assist at a time when people are most vulnerable, and to provide what that individual needs to be safe.” Whether it’s housing, legal aspects, following up regarding victim compensation, Turning Points Network either provides and tailors the service or knows how to connect the survivor to another agency that does.
While advocates do not “speak for” survivors, they work with them, partnering at every step to help individuals make the decisions that are right for them as they move forward toward healing, safety and independence.
One survivor’s words seem to sum up advocacy, “Working with TPN has helped me get my confidence back and learn that it takes courage to ask for help but it is so worth it!”
Advocacy services are free and available during business hours by coming to Turning Points Network offices in Claremont or Newport or by calling 1-800-639-3130, anytime 24/7. Survivors do not need to be in crisis to call this crisis and support line. TPN also provides free on-going peer support and support groups.
OUR TURN is a public service series made available by Turning Points Network in celebration of its 40th anniversary of providing violence-prevention education programs in our schools, services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and helping people move from the darkness of abuse toward the light of respect, healing and hope. For information contact 1.800.639.3130 or www.turningpointsnetwork.org or find us on Facebook.