By: Maureen Wishkoski, Court Advocate Manager
Advocacy is a surprisingly complex endeavor. It requires intense empathy metered with strong boundaries. It needs mountain-top perspective underneath rolled-up sleeves for working on the ground level. It seeks a willingness to collaborate and to challenge; to be polite yet firm in asking for more and for better. Advocacy asks for humility, confidence, and both patience and impatience-so that we can be steadfast in taking action against injustice. Advocacy is about the here-and-now, while understanding that today’s work builds the future.
This complexity is reflected well within Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM). DVAM offers us the opportunity to see what we’ve done, to feel proud of progress, to acknowledge work left as yet undone, and to earnestly hope and put our hands and voices to the tomorrows we envision. It invites us to join more people to our vision: where no child sees one parent harm another, where no woman needs to make a plan for safety, where no man needs healing from sexual assault.
For this moment, let us take a look around and see where we are. We can give ourselves space for learning, for reflection, and for taking action. Below is a selective summary of challenges and achievements in the spirit of DVAM.
System and Social Challenges
- In 1988, the Idaho Legislature enacted The Domestic Violence Protection Order Act, one year after the first DVAM. This created a civil avenue for victims to seek protection from abuse, and has been a boon to thousands of victims. In 2016, responding to a system gap, the Idaho Legislature enacted a protection order for victims of stalking and harassment. Since then, Ada County has seen a 122%+ increase in the number of protection order cases-clearly an unmet need. It has also greatly strained resources and tested the limits of the judiciary, advocates, and victim-serving agencies. An estimated 65%-70% of these cases are intimate partner stalking and harassment-a reminder that abusers continue to try to punish victims for leaving them. But it is not just victims who file. We know that nationally, 89% of male stalkers will use the legal system against their victims. We see this here in Ada County, too.
- The Fordham Law School Justice Index formulates attorney access for each state in America. Data from 2016 shows that Idaho has the fourth lowest access in the country: we have just .29 attorneys for every 10,000 people living in poverty. That is down from .67/10,000 just two years earlier. With financial abuse rampant (between 95%-98% of abusers will use finances against their victims), legal access remains an area of high need.
- Within the lens of financial abuse, it becomes easier to understand the barriers of affordable housing and child care. In order for victims to be economically stable, they must have both of these, and both are woefully inadequate in the Treasure Valley.
- Well-intentioned individuals continue to ask, “Why does she stay?” As a community, we have not yet adopted the belief that intimate partner violence is fundamentally wrong, and that another person cannot cause the abuser’s violence. The premise of the above question is that this violence will never stop, and, that we are never really going to demand that it stops. That is why we ask about her leaving, rather than his violence.
System and Social Progress
- Twenty years ago, a court advocate volunteer and herself a survivor, was one of the first lay people to train local law enforcement on the dynamics of domestic abuse. Today, law enforcement are involved in task forces and multi-disciplinary groups, listening and responding to concerns regarding victim safety. Law enforcement work side by side with Victim Witness Coordinators, who advocate and help guide victims through the criminal justice process. Both are regular participants at the statewide training for professionals in the field of ending domestic violence. They are often the first to let victims know that there are resources for safety and support.
- Today, our family law and criminal court judges are more nuanced and responsive to victims and savvier in understanding how abusers attempt to maintain control. Judges attend regular trainings that cover domestic violence, and judges’ demeanor with victims has become more trauma-informed and more validating for victims. Ada County’s Domestic Violence Court has partnered with the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program and the primary protection order judge, in order to train attorneys who will then volunteer their time to represent victims for free. We’ve never had this in our community before, and the results have been incredible. Approximately 95% of victims seeking this service have received it. Idaho Legal Aid Services continues to provide a clinic for those not eligible for initial direct representation, now in its third year. They have helped hundreds of victims, providing services where none existed before.
- The Justice League, a softball game between the Ada County Sheriff’s Office, Ada County Prosecutor’s Office, and the Ada County Paramedics, is now in its third year. They help raise money for victims of abuse in their off-time, even though they help victims for a living, too, each and every day.
- Idaho Legal Aid Services and the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program serve more victims than ever before. They’ve obtained additional grant funding, experiment with new models, make access easier, all with the goal of helping more victims use the legal system to protect themselves from ongoing abuse. They have done this, and still they continue to do more.
- At the WCA, our clinicians have begun a group for children of shelter residents, where kids can play in guided and therapeutic ways. They train other counselors in the community on the dynamics of domestic violence and trauma-informed care. Our residential and case management programs work with homelessness service providers and have been working on developing a single pathway for homeless individuals in the Treasure Valley to find permanent housing as quickly as possible. The financial literacy program provides help to incarcerated women, in addition to the other good work the program accomplishes inside the walls of the WCA. And our child care does much more than watch children. They connect mothers with special resources for their children, help identify potential developmental concerns, give moms activities they can do with their little ones to assist with child development, and make sure that each child in the shelter has brand new books, pajamas, and a cake for their birthday.
There is more to do. We see the work around us. And yet, for today, let us celebrate together. Not so long ago, our voices were diffused, separated, drowned out. Today, we see and hear so many that have joined together in this work. Our voices are no longer isolated, but connected. If you listen, you can hear the chorus of song that we have created for victims in our community. It gets a little louder, and a little clearer, every day. When you listen, you will hear more than melody-you will hear welcoming, acceptance, respect, and shelter. Victims listen for us, and we continue to sing out our support, as a beacon for those who are hurting. DVAM reminds us of the concerted effort we have made and continue to make, in creating a vibrant chorus of safety, healing, and freedom. It is a chorus of voices all throughout the valley; a song thirty years in the making.
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