Advocacy Consultation For Victims of Sexual And Domestic Violence

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Advocacy is itself a form of consultation and is a role consultants take on when they believe a certain course of action should be taken.  Advocacy consultation is an expansion of that view, in which the role of the consultant is entirely devoted to some course of action.  Considering these two definitions, one would be considered an Advocate consultant for victims of sexual and domestic violence, if that person believes very strongly that the empowerment of victims is what needs to happen to help victims overcome the abusive situation and further them in their healing process.  As an advocate, the consultant for victims of sexual and domestic violence attempts to persuade the consultee-client to do something the consultant believes to be a highly desirable course of action, which is to primarily put themselves in a place of safety first and then to embark on a journey of healing. 

By definition, to advocate literally means “to act as the voice of”.  In the last twenty years or so, the advocacy role has been described more as advocating for the rights of those who are unable to help themselves, nor speak for themselves.  According to the National Violence Against Women Survey almost 25% of American women are physically or sexually assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, or a date at some time in their life. According to this survey, approximately 1.5 million American women are physically or sexually assaulted by an intimate partner each year. In addition to this, rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among battered women are much higher than in the general population.  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders purports that PTSD among victims of domestic violence are similar to those of prisoners of war who have been repeatedly tortured.  The promotion of available services to this population has been a primary goal of outreach in the last few years. 

Counselors have enlarged the use of outreach, advocacy and consultation in order to assist those populations who are in danger of becoming victimized.  Outreach is an inclusive term for all services that do not use traditional counseling methods. Both advocacy and consultation are included under the term outreach.  Outreach has grown from the need to find alternatives to services which primarily attempt to help after the fact, so that a larger part of the general population can benefit from a more preventive way. Outreach attempts to broaden the traditional counseling methods, since most counselors tend to spend more time applying individual and small group interventions and often have less time for specific populations of people in need.

An advocate is one who stands up for another for a particular cause. It can involve supporting an individual, a small group, or even a larger population. The counselor as an advocate might implement a media campaign that provides general information about sexual and domestic violence to the public, while identifying and assisting that particular population in the community. Victims can be helped by providing them with focused information that is needed to prevent potential crisis events associated with sexual and domestic violence.  Counselors can also function as advocates for sexual and domestic violence victims when they collectively join with their client for the purpose of encouraging, supporting, or advocating for the cause on behalf of that client. Sometimes advocates may work alone on the cause for a client, but it is always for the advancement of the client’s needs. The advocate’s client may be an individual, but more often is a group or a special population of people in need. The advocacy branch of these outreach services focuses on empowering both individual victims and groups of victims through information, therapeutic interaction, consultation, and representation, to improve social inequities and to prevent new occurrences of sexual and domestic violence.

Advocacy may be seen as a process for pleading the rights of others. In this way, the advocate seeks a prevention or a remedy for a client group from whoever has the power to make the desired changes.  In most cases advocacy requires counselors and consultants to become more value-focused than is commonly practiced.  The counselor works with community groups to create procedures to advance social policies and to reinforce strong victim-community ties through an atmosphere of communication, collaboration, and advocacy.  Many counselors work with community representatives, family members, and others in an attempt to empower victims of sexual and domestic violence through a clear articulation of their needs and the initiation of alternatives in facing the everyday problems and difficulties of the victims.  In this type of community advocacy, the counselor works with existing community groups and agencies to promote and communicate their needs as active representatives in the advancement of programs for this particular group.

            The practice of outreach and advocacy cannot be understood without also having a familiarity with the process of consultation. Consultation, much like advocacy, is outreach work. In many ways consultation can be regarded as a special form of advocacy that attempts to mediate and promote the actions of at least two other parties. A consultant is someone, usually a human service professional, who gives direct service to another person (consultee) who has a work-related or caretaking-related problem with a person, group, organization, or community (client system). In particular, it means that the counselor, as a consultant for victims of sexual and domestic violence will be working with people other than the victim such as family members, medical and law enforcement personnel, and other agencies.  While consulting, the counselor will most often help other professionals to assess, understand, and solve difficult issues occurring in their day-to-day work with victims of sexual and domestic violence.  When these little daily problems grow into larger problems, it is usually because the consultee has a need for more knowledge, skill, confidence, or objectivity.

One incidence of consultation might occur if a parent has a child that has recently disclosed a past incident of childhood sexual abuse by another family member and is currently experiencing behavior problems at school. The parent has attempted to help the child a number of ways, but has found no way to sufficiently help the child deal with the abuse or the resultant behavior problems and has sought the help of an advocate-consultant.  The counselor as advocate-consultant could form a temporary partnership with the child’s teacher to help solve the behavioral problems the child is having at school in light of the abuse.  In this situation the counselor as consultant helps the teacher view the situation both from the child’s perspective and the teacher’s perspective, while including the parent, in the process, as well.  The counselor and the teacher work together, in order to find ways to improve the situation for the child. It may need change only on the part of the child, or it may include the teacher, the school, the parents, or even the community.

In this case, differing levels of outreach, advocacy, and consultation can be seen. The role of outreach is clear because the counselor is working outside a traditional counseling setting with others in the child’s social network. The role of advocacy is clear because both the parent and the counselor are advocating for the child’s educational and emotional situation and are collaborating to provide the best help possible. The role of consultation is taking place because the actual process of helping the parent and teacher to understand and solve the problem is not counseling. It is two or more adults coming together to solve both a caretaker-related and work-related problem.

            The counselor, working as a consultant, is the third party. The consultant is contributing to the problem-solving process by helping with assessment and solutions, but is not generally responsible for long-term interventions as advocates sometimes are. In this situation, it is the parent or teacher as consultee who will interact directly with the child. The primary focus of the counselor as consultant is on the issue causing the problem and not on the characteristics of the child. It is a child who has been sexually abused and is experiencing related behavioral problems, not just a sexually abused child. It is usually triadic in that the counselor as consultant works with the parent and teacher, and the parent and teacher works with the child. Rarely will the counselor as consultant work directly with the child for the purpose of providing a specific intervention. It is likely that the counselor working as a consultant for victims of abuse will present specific programs to groups of children or to parents. Such direct service to children or parents is correctly considered consultation, even though it is usually dyadic, especially if the parents or teacher is working in collaboration with the counselor, which is more triadic in nature. When consulting with parents and teachers it is critical that the working relationship between parents, teacher, and counselor be seen as voluntary and beneficial to all parties. If either party feels coerced, and the working relationship is perceived as inequitable, it will not likely be helpful.

There are other times when the counselor, acting as a consultant, can have a more dyadic role. In such cases the counselor works directly with the situation with no third party present. For example, the counselor could go directly to the school and plead the case for better services to be offered to school-age children who have been sexually abused and who need more services than what the school usually provides.  These may be children who are depressed and are having behavioral problems and need special consideration. In this case, the counselor is working alone, and it is possible that the school would consider starting a program for child victims, with the parents being included in the process. Following this special form of advocacy, the counselor may first be seen as the person initiating the need for better services to these children but later become an organizer helping other adults in the school and community to understand the nature and extent of the problem and possible solutions to the problem. In most cases, some level of school administration needs to be involved and willing to support advocating for special help for these children. It is always important to develop an interest in the problem.  If the teachers are concerned, and can identify and communicate with parents who are also concerned, the process will likely go much smoother.

            There are cases when a counselor may decide that the cause is worth any problems or opposition they may run into. In a situation where there is a lack of support, it is imperative that accurate and objective data be available to substantiate the cause being put forward. Once again, the counselor should try to gain the help of other experts, like someone from a mental health center or medical field, to join in presenting the problem to the teachers and administrators. If the counselor has good data, believes deeply in the cause, and continues in a socially acceptable and systematic way, it is less likely that they will incur problems and opposition.

It is clear that the role of the advocate includes being available for routine activities with parents, children, and teachers, to pleading the case for this special child population at the school board, city council, or state legislative level.  For much of the work, the counselor as advocate can draw from ordinary skills such as helper, organizer, communicator, data gatherer, or providing information on resources. The skills needed by advocates are those used for all other aspects of counseling and consultation. Communication skills such as attending, listening, clarifying, reflecting, paraphrasing content and questioning are invaluable.  Gathering, analyzing, and using good data is essential to the total advocacy process.  Several other skills useful for effective advocacy are understanding the laws and legal procedures, negotiation skills, persuasive writing skills, and working with the media.  It is important that an accurate and objective picture of the whole situation come out of the process.  The counselor must have good data and completely understand it. Other than an advocates’ strongly held values, good data may be the only way the counselor has to gain the support needed for the cause.  Worthwhile causes are often abandoned because statistics that cover the area of concern is poorly presented. A number of skill categories that may be useful for working with larger groups, include community organization, community development, and consultation. Community organization generally refers to intervention strategies at the community level that attempt to influence community institutions and to solve community problems.  Community development is more specific and emphasizes the creation of improved social and economic conditions through an emphasis on voluntary cooperation and self-help efforts of the residents.

Counselors as advocates or consultants must be persistent when it comes to advocating the cause. Realizing that childhood sexual abuse has been reported more frequently in the last few years, the counselor may choose to act more directly. The counselor, in conjunction with administration representatives, could survey the parents and teachers and plan meetings with all interested parties to begin to develop curriculum guidelines for all grade levels.  Literature for teachers could be distributed, and films on the related health concerns could be shown in health classes. Training that establishes the differences between good touching versus bad touching could be offered to younger children, and their parents and teachers.  Curriculum that clearly states issues related to childhood sexual abuse can be implemented from kindergarten on up through high school. A school policy that clearly defines how issues related to childhood sexual abuse will be dealt with in the classroom, and in the school can be distributed to all interested parties and then implemented. Parents can get literature concerning the situation with a request for input and involvement, and appropriate community agencies should be contacted for ideas and help.  Staff participation in all aspects of childhood sexual abuse training is recommended. Experts can be brought in for lectures and informal discussions with parents, teachers, and children. The counselor is an advocate for the children and seeks to inform the school and community about the problem of childhood sexual abuse and its effects on the child.

Counselors should attempt to use all the resources available in order to combat the problems related to childhood sexual abuse not only in the school but in the community as well.  The counselor may choose to bring mental health officials into the school to run groups for children of all ages or to set up self-help groups for children who have been identified as being past victims of abuse. The counselor may find it necessary to do more counseling work on both an individual and small group level. A broader approach is difficult because crisis situations often come out.  The problem is great and the counselor must deal with the issue in a reactive fashion. The dropout rate for past victims of childhood sexual abuse is increasing, referrals to outside agencies are common, and other problems associated with childhood sexual abuse such as absenteeism, depression, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, lower standardized scores) appear regularly.  The school counselor can work as a crisis counselor dealing with the presenting issue, while trying to look beyond the crisis in order to focus on the effect it is having on these other related issues.

Advocates also have increased opportunities to reach out to adult women who have been physically or sexually assaulted. These women who have been raped and battered, may have had little experience receiving social services and may not know how to ask for help. Over half of all women coming for counseling have reported marital aggression in their relationships, yet many counselors are still unaware of the extent of sexual and domestic violence in the community. Even when the counselor is aware of abuse occurring in a relationship, they are often not prepared to effectively deal with this issue, while protecting the victim.  Advocates can help women learn about their options in a supportive context.  Giving survivors information about available resources can help women get out of violent relationships. It’s important to have an active outreach program to help victims after they’ve filed a police report.  Women who getd advocacy or protective orders or both had more police contacts than women who did not get these services, which resulted in more arrests.  Advocates facilitate victims’ empowerment in interactions with police and courts by providing both emotional support and information about the legal system. 

Advocacy may be described as services which support victims during the legal process and provide for the safety of victims. Advocates help victims assess their situations, provide information about legal processes, and provide referrals for additional resources. They also encourage the victim to talk about their feelings about the abusive incident and their treatment afterwards by medical and law enforcement personnel.  Safety planning is also supposed to be a large portion of advocates’ services, that is, helping the victims to plan for their safety when incidents have become dangerous.  Safety planning is an important part of working with women who have been physically or sexually assaulted, because advocates might have knowledge about safety planning ideas that is often new to the victim.

Helpful advocates generally give information, are emotionally supportive, and are readily available and accessible. Advocates who are not helpful are those who are described by victims as unavailable, not understanding, unsympathetic, or ineffective. Victims may see advocacy as a sign that someone cares about them. Women who have been assaulted in the past have felt that the police and others in the community did not consider sexual and domestic violence to be a serious crime. Since batterers often try to isolate their victims, and community support has not been what it should have, women who have been battered have grown accustomed to doing things alone. So victims who getd only a quick visit from a social worker were not likely to use the available social services in relation to the abuse. Brief advocacy interventions are not enough to overcome the lack of trust most victims have toward the community in general.  Many of these women are burdened by poverty, child-care responsibilities, and the lack of job skills, with the prevalence of homeless families having grown significantly over the past few years.  These factors can increase distrust and decrease practical access to social services. In contrast, when advocates actively assisted women who have been battered over a period of several weeks, many women got the resources they needed. Women who have been battered need more time during initial interviews and more contacts over a longer period in order to gain trust in those trying to help them. 

Sexual assault survivors also need advocacy sources.  An appropriate advocacy role for consultants of victims of sexual and domestic violence is when the consultant detects the discrepancy between the way society is supposed to treat the victim, and the way the victim is actually being treated and attempts to change the situation to the benefit of the victim.  Rape survivors’ experiences with the legal, medical, and mental health systems often re-victimize the survivor.  The trauma of rape often goes far beyond the actual assault, and intervention strategies must address the difficulties rape survivors may have when seeking community help. Survivors are often denied help by their communities, and what help they do get may often leave them feeling re-victimized. Sexual assault has widespread effects on women’s psychological and physical health and as a result, rape victims may contact several community agencies for assistance, such as the legal, medical, and mental health systems. These are often difficult to access and potentially stressful for rape survivors.  Even for survivors who have the assistance of an advocate, often their legal cases are dropped and the decision was made by legal personnel, which went against the victims’ wishes to prosecute.

The provision of paraprofessional advocacy services to women is sometimes more effective in achieving the women’s goals than those who did not get advocacy.  Some experts suggest that independent advocates, not employed by the police or prosecutor’s office, can often be more victim-centered and better able to meet victims’ needs.  Those working in this specialty must be cautioned that content disclosed by victims might contain horrific descriptions of events outside the evaluator’s personal experience and bring out strong counter-transference responses such as outrage or disbelief. Critically important to the process of evaluation is the opportunity for frequent and regular peer consultation and supervision by another mental health expert, who works with this population. 

Advocate-Consultants for victims of sexual and domestic violence can avoid misusing the role of advocacy by maintaining a high level of self awareness and skills where poverty, racism, and values are concerned. When consultants maintain an egalitarian and collaborative relationship with the consultee, they can make the most effective use of the advocacy role.  By respecting the consultee expertise of the situation they find themselves in, and also considering their own expertise as the consultant, many having been through a similar situation and having come through the healing process themselves, counselors and advocates can be very helpful to the victim. Advocacy consultants for victims of sexual and domestic violence have often found forgiveness to have been an integral part of their own healing process and the healing process to those in which they minister.  Forgiveness has been described as rationally determining that you have been unfairly treated, forgiving when you willfully abandon resentment and related responses (to which you have a right) and trying to respond to the wrongdoer based on the moral principle of mercy, which may include compassion, unconditional worth, generosity, and moral love (to which the wrongdoer, by nature of the hurtful act or acts, has no right). Peer counselors who advocate for victims, attempt to help victims understand that they, even as Christians should forgive their abusers, while they still have the right to protect themselves from continuous physical, sexual and emotional violence, whether at the hands of a stranger, or at the hands of someone they know and love, which is most often the case. While forgiveness is necessary, reconciliation may not take place if the guilty person is unrepentant. Peer counselors, are often those who have been there, done that, and come through it all by the grace of God, through a long journey of self-discovery, forgiveness, and healing.  We advocate for others because we have been where they are and want to help them find healing as we have.   

References

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