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Advocates of Change: A Spotlight on Domestic Violence Advocates

By Olivia Pikul

Finding resources as a victim of domestic violence can be extremely intimidating; shelters are often at full capacity and opening up about your experiences or admitting that you’re in danger can be scary. Hotline advocates can be the determining factor between whether a victim of domestic violence leaves the situation or stays. Hotline advocates exist to make the process smoother and link victims to the resources they need to make a safe escape. 

Each month the National Domestic Violence Hotline receives more than 24,000 calls – that equates to over 288,000 cries for help each year to this hotline alone. At the time of the call, the advocate assists with crisis intervention, develops an immediate plan of action and refers victims to local shelters. To receive assistance and resources, please do not hesitate to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

While hotlines are an extremely important tool to gain access to necessary resources, the process of escaping can feel isolating. Emotions run high and often feel very conflicting. This is why Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence offers a survivor-run hotline. By choosing advocates who have survived domestic violence, calling our helpline offers hope to victims as they’re able to speak with someone who has shared and similar experiences to their own. The helpline emphasizes providing support and validating all emotions that the victim is experiencing. The BTSADV helpline is in place to provide victims with a friend who has similar experiences and can act as a soundboard to listen with empathy. Being heard is a powerful tool in times of need. 

Helpline advocates play a key role in who BTSADV is as an organization. BTSADV strives to provide emotional support and resources, which can be hard to find in times of need. BTSADV would not be able to have such a large impact without our courageous survivors who dedicate their time to share their strength by being an advocate for others. If you wish to speak with one of our advocates, please call 855-287-1777 during the hours posted below. 

Honoring Our Advocates

Advocates work tirelessly to help victims and survivors navigate their safety, but there are few opportunities to recognize them for everything they do. This year, BTSADV wants to recognize the advocates in your community. Whether you spoke to an advocate on our helpline or received court accompaniment in your hometown, you have the opportunity to nominate someone for our 2020 Advocate of Change award. Winners will be announced at our 2020 Evening of Hope Gala. 

The deadline for submitting a nomination is March 1, 2020. 

Every advocate is a changemaker. This is your opportunity to thank them for all the work they do.

Survivor Helpline Hours:

  • Monday  – 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. MST, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. CST, 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. EST
  • Tuesday – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. MST, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. CST, 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. EST
  • Wednesday – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. MST, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. CST, 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. EST
  • Thursday – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. MST, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. CST, 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. EST
  •  Friday – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. MST, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. CST, 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. EST

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

Survivor Story: My Experience Surviving Teen Dating Violence Drives Me to Help Others

Written by: Christine Miller

It has been years since my abusive relationship ended – 17 years to be exact. I was still a teenager when my high school boyfriend and I officially parted ways as we headed to different colleges. But it was not the storybook young lover saga I had so desperately craved as a hopeless, romantic teen. It was sad, confusing, and he often hurt me; sometimes it was visible and rage-filled, and other times with quiet, manipulative words that seared in my subconscious, making me believe that nobody else would ever want me.

I even cried when he broke up with me because I was just broken enough to believe him. I felt defiled, lost, and as though this tarnish was written all over my face. It was like he erased my teenage years in one hateful swoop. I lost memories, isolated myself from friends and family, and made excuses for his behavior to myself and anyone who would listen. I was the textbook “perfect victim.”

In the end, I was unrecognizable, and it would be a long time until I came back to myself. I have not seen him since, but he lingered under my skin for years after. I thought I was free, but the constant looking over my shoulder, the gripping fear of that nauseatingly familiar ringtone that could chime at any moment, it was everywhere. He was everywhere, like a ghost that no one else could see.

After years of therapy and support groups, I slowly became a person again. I learned how to maintain healthy relationships, and I stopped breaking out in tears when anyone raised their voice. I let the horror fade from my body as I replaced it with self-care and love – and then I wrote a book.

My debut YA novel Forgiven Are the Starry-Eyed was published in April of this year. Through my healing, I grew to learn just how common teen dating violence is, and it became my mission to help modern teens understand what is and is not normal when it comes to relationships.

When I was 16, having a boyfriend felt crucial and defining. I was already exposed to many adult, mature situations but without an adult, mature mind to match (even though I would have begged to differ at the time). We cannot expect teens to know what a healthy relationship is unless we A) tell them, or B) let them figure it out after a potentially dangerous game of trial and error. So, I decided I would tell them.

I interviewed dozens of teens from all walks of life and spoke to other survivors of dating violence. The common themes from my research were 1) a complex shame that prevented us from sharing our stories more publicly, 2) a deep-seated belief that we could have or should have stopped or prevented the abuse, and 3) having our experiences be minimized and normalized at the time by our peers and other adults.

The latter of these often are invalidated with, “it’s just a phase,” or, worse, the deafening silence most people exude when faced with something unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and/or involving relationships. I took all of this anger, all of this strength, and all of the hope that still flickered lightly behind some survivors’ resilient, starry eyes and put all of it into this book.

I wrote furiously and frequently. I listened to nostalgic emo-rock on repeat. I cried, and I reminisced, and I became drunk with courage. This thing I had been so ashamed to say out loud, this part of my past that I hated and wanted wiped clean from my soul, I was not just ready to share it with a few close confidantes, I was ready to share it with the world.

I was ready to identify myself as a survivor and tell a story that I thought needed to be told because this story belonged to all of us. The story of a young, vulnerable, bright-eyed person who was manipulated, betrayed, and hurt by their angry, confused partner. One person who just wanted to be loved and so easily ignored the red flags that eventually and methodically grew into volcanoes. That was not just my story, it was her story, and their story, and his story, too. I heard it over and over again, I read it over and over again, and each word dripped with inspiration and solidarity. And Forgiven Are the Starry-Eyed was born.

The book quickly resonated with teens and adults alike, and I was flooded with emails from survivors who finally felt seen for the first time. I traveled back to my hometown in Michigan where I spoke to high school and college students about relationships, dating violence, and the healing role that writing played for me. And in every interaction, I regained more and more of the power that I once thought was lost forever.

I wish I could speak to my 16-year-old self now. I would tell her that she is stronger than she knows, that she is full of love and virtue, and that one boy with messy hair and cold, dark eyes could not erase that. And when it was over, I would tell her to shout her story from the rooftops, because sinking into the silence that was forced upon her would only empower the surrounding darkness.

*Christine is the author of the bestselling YA novel Forgiven Are the Starry-Eyed, which explores teen dating violence through the eyes of one girl’s volatile, delicate journey. To learn more about her book, click here.

**If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org, chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777, or send a private message through our Facebook page.

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What’s YOUR Raw Truth?

Sharing our stories can be incredibly empowering while also helping others connect with survivors who have similar experiences.

If you are inspired to share your story with us, submit here. You can choose to remain anonymous.

What is Vicarious Trauma?

By Jenn Rockefeller

A friend gets into a bad accident and tells you about it, and then you begin to have nightmares about that accident despite you not even experiencing it firsthand. Maybe you’re in a helping profession and the experiences of those you help are starting to affect you. You are experiencing what is called vicarious trauma. What is it and how can you tell if you are experiencing it? 

Definition
According to Merriam-Webster, vicarious means “experienced or realized through imaginative or sympathetic participation in the experience of another.”

So when the term vicarious trauma is discussed, it means that you are experiencing someone else’s trauma simply by them talking about it, discussing it at length, and even mentioning details of that trauma. It’s the cumulative effects of other people’s emotions that you somehow take on as your own.

How it can impact you
Vicarious trauma can have a serious impact on a person’s mental health if it’s not addressed in a timely manner. It can leave you with extreme emotional distress, especially if you are in a helping profession that hears other people’s trauma on a daily basis. 

Furthermore, it can leave you with symptoms that bear a striking resemblance to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as adversely affecting your identity, self-esteem, sense of safety, ability to trust and intimacy. So it’s imperative to keep a close eye on yourself and develop healthy boundaries so that you can become more aware of the first signs of experiencing it.

Signs that someone is experiencing it
According to Good Therapy, signs of vicarious trauma fall into five categories – emotional, behavioral, physiological, cognitive and spiritual. 

  • Emotional – Signs of emotional vicarious trauma include prolonged periods of anxiety, grief or even sadness. You may feel like you are frequently distracted, and can become angered quickly. 
  • Behavioral – You may begin to feel isolated, have difficulty sleeping, and even begin to notice changed eating habits. You may even begin to blur the lines of personal and work life and engage in risky behaviors.
  • Physiological – These symptoms can take on the form of rashes, headaches, heartburn, rapid heartbeat, and ulcers.
  • Cognitive – Someone who experiences cognitive symptoms of vicarious trauma can have difficulty concentrating, difficulties in daily decision making, may become cynical, and have the trauma constantly on their minds.
  • Spiritual – Symptoms include feelings of hopelessness and unworthiness, as well as feeling a disconnect from others around you.

What you can do if you’re experiencing it
The best thing you can do if you’re experiencing vicarious trauma is to practice self-care. It’s a vital part of taking care of ourselves. But how do you know when you’re in need of self-care? As long as you incorporate self-care activities into your daily life, you can become a creature of habit and self-care will become second nature. 

Activities like eating healthy, regular exercise, taking walks, journaling, meditation, deep breathing exercises, therapy/counseling, and yoga are among the many things you can do to combat the toll that vicarious trauma can take on you. 

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

Self Care for Advocates

Advocates for survivors of domestic violence must practice self-care so that we may continue to provide the best care and support possible. Especially because we have the tendency to experience burnout, compassion fatigue, or vicarious trauma. Even when we try to keep our advocate work separate from our personal lives at home, it can sometimes creep in. This can include feeling guilty, angry, hopeless, and other similar symptoms, along with physical and emotional exhaustion.

If you feel you are reaching the point of experiencing advocate burnout or compassion fatigue, here are some ways that you can take care of and focus on yourself to continue being the best advocate possible:

Spend time with loved ones and friends

Make sure they are people who will listen to things you have learned and experienced through your work as an advocate. They can also help you bring your attention to other things going on in the world and in their own lives, whether they are good or bad things. Making new friends can help you find out about different perspectives on life and experience new things. Try joining a new club or activity at your local gym, community center, or park where you can meet new people.

Remember to take a break from screens.

We do much of our advocate work on the computer through emailing and messaging survivors, as well as through reading and researching about domestic violence in our communities through social media and the news. Take some time off from your screens to read a (real, paper) book or take a walk around the block. Play with your furry companions at home or do some of your other favorite hobbies – that piano in the corner is not going to play itself! Your eyes and brain will thank you for the much-needed break from your phone, computer, and tv screens and the endless amount of information they display.

Be kind and gentle with yourself.

Practice some of your favorite relaxing rituals- think bubble baths, lighting scented candles, cooking your favorite meal, exercising, taking a nap, or drinking a cup of warm herbal tea. An advocate and survivor of our own mentioned in a previous blog post interview that planning to do one fun thing per week can be an important part of your self-care regimen. Additionally, journaling about your work as an advocate can be especially helpful to make your feelings seem less nebulous and more tangible. Journaling can include writing, drawing, pasting in pictures of yourself or other things, or creating anything that helps you feel better.

You are NOT your intrusive thoughts.

Some thoughts that may bubble up as an advocate or provider may include things like, “I am not doing a good enough job at helping” or “How can I help if I have never had these traumatic experiences myself?” If you imagine what survivors of domestic violence would say to these intrusive thoughts, they would probably say they are so thankful for your help and that you are doing a good job. Remember the good things survivors say to you when you help – you can even include them in your journal.

See a therapist once every few months.

Even therapists and other providers and advocates need to talk to someone sometimes. Check with your insurance if therapy appointments are covered under your plan or get a recommendation from a friend for a trusted therapist. As survivors of domestic violence and other traumatic experiences can tell you, it can be extremely helpful to have an impartial, third party listen to you and perhaps give advice on how to start making things better.

Talk with other advocates and providers.

Experiencing burnout and compassion fatigue is very common for advocates and providers, so you are not alone in feeling this way. Talk to other people who do similar work as providers or advocates to determine what they do for self-care and how they avoid burnout. Consider starting a group discussion at your organization about advocate burnout, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma to determine the specific needs of your volunteers and workers.

Taking the time to practice self-care will not only help yourself but will also help the countless survivors of domestic violence for whom you continue to advocate throughout your life. Remember, your feelings as an advocate are always valid and the fact that you are taking your time to help those in need is a beautiful thing.

For more resources on how to practice self-care as an advocate, check out the Joyful Heart Foundation and domesticshelters.org.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our support line advocates at 855-287-1777.

Taking a Stand against Sexual Assault: The Green Band Project

By: Meghan Mausteller

In Colorado Springs, CO, a teenage boy is doing his part to raise awareness about sexual assault among high school students with the Green Band Project.

Last summer, Jess Cohen, a high school senior, worked as a junior staff member at a leadership camp, where he heard a guest speaker talk about sexual assault. After the presentation, the junior staff talked together and a few female staff members came forward and discussed their own experiences with sexual assault.

For Cohen, this was a life-changing moment. While he had learned about sexual assault and domestic violence in school, he had never before realized that it impacted people his age.

When he returned home from the camp, he began talking to more people about what he learned and realized that most people have a friend or family member who has experienced sexual assault. This inspired him to immediately begin brainstorming ways to bring sexual assault awareness to his high school. Out of this came the Green Band Project.

The Green Band Project works to prevent sexual violence by empowering people to become active bystanders and “intervene in any situation of sexual inappropriateness.” Through this project, Cohen teaches students about sexual assault and encourages them to sign a pledge promising to intervene. To show their solidarity with sexual assault survivors and that they have signed the pledge, students also wear green “I Will Intervene” wristbands.

The goal of this project, which was modeled after the Green Dot Program on college campuses, serves the dual purpose of creating a community of people who are willing to stand against sexual assault, while also providing a safe space for sexual assault survivors.

According to Cohen, he decided to focus on bystanders to remind people that we all play a role in preventing sexual assault.

“It’s obvious to tell people not to rape, but most people think this doesn’t affect them because they know they won’t rape anyone,” he said.

Citing the Stanford University rape case as an example, Cohen said he believes that it is the third party that has the power to step in and stop or even prevent a sexual assault from occurring.

“If one person can change or impact someone else, it can be a chain effect,” he said.

Creating this network of people supporting others will not only serve to encourage people to intervene in situations of sexual violence, but also to encourage them to begin talking about the issue and work on erasing the stigma surrounding sexual assault.

While his ultimate goal is to stop sexual assault, Cohen would like to “have hundreds of high school and college campuses be involved and have students across the country wearing green bands.”

Currently, the Green Band Project is only being implemented at Cohen’s high school, but he is also working with friends in other school districts in Colorado, as well as in other states to try to spread the project’s mission to a wider audience. When he starts his freshman year of college this fall, Cohen also hopes to bring the Green Band Project to that community.

“Don’t be afraid to speak out and use your voice,” he said.

He said it’s important you know that what you are doing matters and to find a supportive community that will encourage you to reach for and accomplish your goals.

This Sexual Assault Awareness Month, take a stand against sexual assault in your local community. If you are interested in bringing the Green Band Project to a high school in your area, visit www.greenbandproject.com for more information and check out the “Get Involved” tab to order your own wristbands.

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