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How Advocates Can Respond to Community Violence

The anti-sexual violence movement should be paying close attention to a pair of events that occurred this week. 

The first event happened on Monday, August 24 near Bedford, PA. A group of people were marching from Wisconsin to Washington, D.C. to protest the murder of George Floyd when they were shot at by residents from the area. The second event occurred in Kenosha, WI on Tuesday, August 26 when a 17-year old murdered two people and wounded one person during a protest against the shooting of Jacob Blake by the Kenosha Police Department.

Both events not only symbolize a shift in the level of confrontation among civilians, they both reinforce who is likely to be apprehended for a crime. For example, a white person who commits an act of sexual violence may think that they can get away with causing harm because they are white: and because victims can see this harm being played out on our tv’s weekly, they may also come to believe that it's true. For many survivors, seeing daily unrest and severe violence can increase fears and triggers. Additionally, those of us who are advocates may be seeing more tension in our relationships with allied professionals, especially those in law enforcement. Nonetheless, civil unrest and citizens who decide to cause harm with assault weapons have major impacts on how advocates are able to work within our communities and support survivors.

Now that the problem and the implications of the problem have been stated, what can you do?

  •  Stay up to date with what’s happening nationally, statewide, locally. There tends to be a trickle down effect that could end up affecting your community. When looking at what is happening, it’s important to ask yourself:
    • What would our stance as an organization be?
    • How can we best support survivors who may experience this or be triggered by this?
    • What do those resources look like? 
    • What can we do for staff who may be affected or triggered?
  •  Prepare yourself and your organization for tough conversations. First and foremost, start with ensuring there is an understanding that we cannot end sexual violence without ending all forms of oppression. Second, identify common themes and phrases used during conversations. Then develop responses and points that cater to the lived experiences of the person you would be speaking with. For example, when speaking with law enforcement that is defensive about defunding police, a response can be, “I hear you don’t want to feel unneeded in the community. I’ve also heard you don’t receive enough training to respond to mental health calls. I feel that in the case of defunding the police it could allow for other professionals who have the training in mental health to respond to those calls and deescalate the situation.” 
  • Rely on what we know about trauma and strategize to support survivors. As advocates we all have a good understanding of how trauma affects individuals. When strategizing on how to support survivors during civil and racial unrest, think through ways to apply the foundational knowledge of trauma to support survivors, especially Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) who are more affected by racebased incidents of violence. This can be accomplished through utilizing trauma-informed principles to ensure services are meeting the holistic needs of the survivor. Additionally, be aware of the similarities in sexual and racial violence and how they affect survivors who simultaneously experience both forms of violence. Lastly, recognize that survivors are not only those who walk through the virtual door but also those who work alongside you. Therefore it’s important to apply these same strategies when supporting your fellow co-workers, especially BIPOC advocates at your organization.