What is Victim-Centered Advocacy?

What is Victim-Centered Advocacy?

Advocacy and allyship play a vital role in helping abuse survivors reclaim their lives. Anyone can be an advocate and ally, but not all advocacy is created equal. Today, we’re exploring victim-centered advocacy: what it is, how it’s used, and why it’s important. 

Advocacy and Allyship 

Abuse victims often feel incredibly isolated. Advocates and allies help victims know that they are not alone. 

Anyone can be an ally or advocate for domestic abuse victims. Even if you’re not a professional, you can still be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and a source for information and encouragement. If you want to know how you can be a better ally for abuse victims, read this blog

While many of us are part-time allies, some people make advocacy a full-time job. Professional counselors and victims’ advocates work closely with victims and their families to find safe and healthy solutions. Many of these professionals use something called victim-centered advocacy to better serve their clients.

What is Victim-Centered Advocacy?

As the name implies, victim-centered advocacy is entirely driven by the person or person experiencing the abuse. It’s also known as victim-defined advocacy.

An advocate is anyone who argues or fights for a particular cause, specifically related to social change. A victims’ advocate works with the victim to:

  • Understand the situation
  • Give support and encouragement
  • Direct her, him, or them to services and resources that can help

Victim-centered advocacy uses a holistic approach, letting the abuse victim take charge of the process. The advocate will listen to the victim, understanding not only her abuse but her entire life’s journey. She is more than just her abuse. She is a complex accumulation of her childhood, adulthood, hopes, dreams, fears, talents, emotions, and thoughts. Her relationship and the abuse she experienced are only a small part of her larger story.

Victim-centered advocacy looks at the entire picture with a compassionate and non-judgmental lens. Then, the advocate actively involves the victim in the healing process. What does the victim hope to accomplish? Does she want to leave the relationship? What are her aspirations for the future? What resources and services does she need right now and in the future?

Why Is Victim-Centered Advocacy Important?

There are many services and resources available to abuse victims and their families. But victim-centered advocates start by using the most important tool of all: their ears. By listening to the victim’s story, the advocate gains a better understanding of what led to the abuse, why the victim is staying in the situation, and what resources might best help her as she moves forward. 

No two situations are the same. What works for one survivor may not work for another. Victim-centered advocacy is about finding what works in one particular situation, for one individual victim or family. It’s about giving the power back to the abuse victim, allowing her to set the course for her healing. 

Some victims want to leave, and they already have a plan to do so safely. Others might want to leave but don’t feel safe doing so just yet. Others might decide not to leave their abuser, but instead need access to resources to help them cope. A victim-centered approach honors each of these decisions without judgment. 

Victim-centered advocacy is important because it lets the abuse victim play the starring role in her own story. It allows her to make her own decision about when or if she will leave, how she will move on, and what she does in the future. It gives her the ultimate say in what resources and services she will access and when. It establishes trust between the victim and her advocate.

How to Help Survivors

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, it’s tempting to jump in and “fix” the situation. But that’s usually not the best way to help an abuse victim. Instead, start by being a good listener. Let the victim know that you are a safe person to talk to. Then, direct her toward resources that can help.

Start by visiting the National Domestic Violence Hotline website at thehotline.org, visit our nonprofit partners, Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS), or contact your local abuse hotline or shelter. Each of these resources can provide access to a caring, professional victim-centered advocate who will walk the victim through her options.
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