Advocacy Guidelines
last updated February 1, 2006

The advocate's role is to provide confidential support and assistance to battered women so they can make decisions about the options that are available to them. Many of these guidelines also apply to other kinds of service providers. As a result, these guidelines should be included in trainings for advocates, health care providers, clergy and lawyers. In addition, all participants in a coordinated community response program must follow common principles for intervention that centralize victim safety and batterer accountability.

Advocates must respect differences and avoid assumptions. Advocates may themselves believe certain myths about domestic violence, and should attempt to be aware of any assumptions they might be making. Further, women experience violence in different ways, and advocates should try to be aware of ways in which women may face additional barriers or have specific needs because of, for example, ethnic identity or economic resources.

Confidentiality

Advocates must keep all information about a battered woman strictly confidential. Confidentiality is essential not only to promote a relationship of trust, but also to avoid endangering the woman. If her batterer discovers that she has sought assistance or may be planning to leave, she may be in serious danger.

To ensure confidentiality, it may be necessary to take precautions before contacting the woman, such as leaving messages with a third party, or communicating by mail via a separate mail box number. Advocates and service providers should never speak with other family members, may need to disguise their identity and the reason for the call, and should ask whether it is safe to talk at the beginning of the conversation.

The American Bar Association offers safety tips for lawyers that outline concrete steps that lawyers representing victims of domestic violence can take to protect their client's confidentiality.

Affirmation

Advocates offer moral support to the woman and develop her confidence to use resources to solve the problem. Battered women often feel ashamed of the abuse, are terrified of the abuser, and blame themselves for the batterer's actions. Advocates should try to convey to the woman that it is not her fault, she has options, and she is not alone. Women may take responsibility for the violence in part because of the prevailing myth that victims "provoke" their abusers and "cause" them to lose control; in addition, as a recent news article explains, "[t]aking the blame can also provide them a certain false sense of control in a chaotic situation in which control seems mainly to belong to the abuser." From Lakshmy Parameswaran, Battered Wives Often Recant or Assume Blame, in Women's eNews (30 July 2003).

Some statements that can be used to convey that the woman is not to blame include: "You don't deserve this. There is no excuse for domestic violence. You deserve better." "You are not alone in figuring this out. There may be some options. I will support your choices."

Finally, advocates must respect the decisions the woman may make, even when those decisions are contrary to what the advocate believes would be the best option. As Loretta Frederick explains:

As she contemplates life apart from the abuser, she usually finds herself contemplating poverty or at least a dramatic drop in her standard of living. She may not even know the status of the family finances. She is usually afraid of losing custody of the children to the abuser, a person more likely to have financial resources and other resources necessary to winning the battle. . . . She may fear that she or the children or her parents will be hurt or killed—as has been threatened—if she terminates the relationship or challenges the abuser's control in other ways. She could also fear losing jobs or housing as a result of the abuser's constant harassment at those places.

And she may have discovered that she cannot rely on "the systems", such as law enforcement, child protection or the courts, to protect her or to treat her fairly and without class, race, gender and other biases. Meanwhile, the abuser is turning up the frequency and intensity of controlling techniques, including violence, as his control is threatened by her assertions of independence.

All of these factors make the decisions facing the woman fraught with danger and difficulty and she may decide not to pursue uncertain legal relief from a system that may have failed her in the past. As Loretta Frederick explains further:

Finally, advocates must bear in mind that each woman is the victim of this type of abuse primarily because she is a woman, that the culture effectively supports the right to control women, and the barriers to her freedom are many. Be not surprised if she isn't able to free herself at this time; be delighted and amazed when she does.
From Loretta M. Frederick, Effective Advocacy on Behalf of Battered Women, Battered Women's Justice Project.

Information

Both advocates and service providers facilitate women's ability to make decisions about the options available to her. Initially, they may help her conduct lethality assessments. Advocates also help women identify needs, strengths, weaknesses, and resources. They provide women with information about different legal, medical and administrative systems and the rules and procedures of these systems. Advocates help women identify and explore all possible options and possible consequences, assist in developing strategies and a plan of action. They refer her to resources they know are reliable and with which they are familiar. Information provided with referrals can be as specific as the best time to call, who to talk to, and what information she will need to provide. Advocates discuss and rehearse the plan of action, assist in preparation of all necessary documents or requests for assistance, and help rethink plans of action if they fail or if circumstances change.

Decisionmaking

Advocates can provide women with the resources and information they will need to make choices and decisions, but the choices and decisions must be made by the woman herself.

While it can be difficult to see someone stay in a situation in which she is being harmed, there may be many obstacles that prevent the woman from leaving. For example, she may not be able to support herself or her children without the financial support of her husband, and leaving may itself impose an additional financial burden. She may not have alternative housing, or may fear that she will lose her children. She may be reluctant to leave her husband for religious or emotional reasons, face pressure to stay from family, friends or her community, or fear being ostracized by her family or community if she leaves. In addition, leaving entails substantial risks. She may fear that a batterer will carry out threats to harm her, himself the children, friends or family. Battered women are in the greatest danger of severe or even lethal attacks when they attempt to leave, and she is the only one who can judge when it is safe for her to do so.

The Crisis Intervention Network provides a number of models that may be useful for advocates involved in crisis intervention.