This week’s blog is by one of our Community Advocates, whose name we will withhold for confidentiality reasons.
Recently I had the wonderful experience to be part of the Massachusetts Victim Assistance Academy (MVAA) which is conducted by the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance (MOVA) and other community agencies. During those six days of this victim centered approach training, I learned more about the experiences that victims of crime go through and the impact that systems that are part of their everyday life have on them (e.g. legal, mental health, medical, DCF, etc.). One of the main goals was to learn from other systems and connect with them in order to provide a better service to victims. At the end of every day they divided us in small groups with mentors in charge of every group, to debrief about the topics of each day.
While I learned many new things especially about the victim rights beyond the court (notification, development of victim impact statement, hearing preparation, etc.), I felt really proud of the work that we do at REACH because of how unique we are. Talking with advocates from other programs, I noticed that they don’t necessarily have the relationships that we have built with other providers within the communities that we serve. I have worked at REACH for four years, and I strongly believe that as an Advocate it is very important to know at least one person from another system. This doesn’t only give us the opportunity to collectively work as a team on behalf of the victims, but help us to empower them by listening, believing and supporting them throughout the whole process. REACH has made connections with court staff, hospitals, community health centers, housing, DCF, schools, etc. Because of our good relationships, we receive referrals from them, which helps to decrease the isolation that many if not all victims of domestic violence experience.
On the fourth day of the training, they talked about some of the effects that professionals who routinely come in contact with victims of trauma are exposed to: vicarious trauma (cumulative exposure to traumatic incidents); secondary trauma stress (acute exposure to a traumatic incidents; burnout (a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long term involvement in emotionally demanding situations) and more. At the end of that day we had our meeting with our mentor and I noticed that I was the only one in my group who receives once a week supervision and clinical supervision and to add to that, REACH’s direct care staff meets together as advocates once a month to support each other. Some of them have once a month clinical supervision and irregular supervision and they expressed their wish to have more support within their organizations. Having someone who listens to me and helps me process makes me a better listener when I am with survivors. I feel proud that REACH is an organization that is trauma informed and that good self- care is always promoted. Given that every day, all the people that work in the domestic violence field see and hear stories from survivors, it is almost a responsibility for us to create a plan to manage the effects of trauma in order to provide better services to survivors.
It has been a great experience to be part of the MVAA because it helped me to grow as a professional and as a person as well. Spending the week with a group of people and listening to their personal and work related stories gave me a better understanding of survivors’ experiences with every system they work with. I am glad that MOVA offers trainings like this because with the busy schedules that everyone has sometimes is not easy to learn in detail about the roles of the people in different systems. By understanding how these systems work I can help survivors navigate them, and make a huge impact on a survivor’s life during and after the whole process that they have to go through.