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Serving Survivors and Building Trust through WomensLaw

April 13, 2016

April 10-16, 2016 marks National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, sponsored by the Office of Victims of Crime. This year’s theme, Serving Victims. Building Trust. Restoring Hope., highlights how important it is that advocates build relationships and rapport with the survivors we serve.

Survivors of domestic violence are in a vulnerable position when they reach out to programs and advocates for services and assistance. Many survivors have been victims of horrible crimes, often perpetrated by a loved one. Sharing the personal details of abuse with a stranger when accessing resources and assistance can be challenging. It may be even more difficult for survivors from marginalized communities to access these services. Survivors from immigrant communities, communities of color, and the LGBTQ community may face additional obstacles when accessing services, including distrust of authority and/or the legal justice system and social stigma. The challenges survivors face when working with advocates make it imperative that as advocates we take the time to form relationships with the survivors we serve. Building trust with a survivor may give her the strength to share a crucial detail about her abuse, to access support and resources in her community, and to plan for her safety and future.

Through our projects at the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), we provide support and resources to survivors of domestic violence and the state coalitions that help serve them. WomensLaw, a project of NNEDV, provides easy-to-understand, state-specific legal information and resources to survivors living with or escaping domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault. Through the Apoyo Tecnológico project, funded by the Office of Victims of Crime, we provide legal information, resources, and outreach to Spanish-speaking communities. WomensLaw also serves survivors by providing support and tailored legal information over our legal Email Hotline, in both English and Spanish. The Email Hotline is a safe, accessible service through which victims, friends, family, and advocates can request personalized and anonymous legal information and resources. We respond to each email, tailoring responses to address each person’s specific needs, and build trust by offering survivors emotional support, resources, and referrals.

In many cases, we exchange multiple emails with a survivor, establishing a consistent and trusting relationship. Survivors often write back to express appreciation for the information and referrals they receive over the hotline. One survivor replied, “Thank you so much for getting back in touch with me, and also for providing that information. I have tried and looked elsewhere with no luck. I am grateful that I stumbled across this website. I don’t feel by myself anymore, which means I don’t feel powerless. I am going to look into the information that you provided to me and go from there. Thank you again.”

By empowering survivors with knowledge and information through the services we offer, we hope to continue to build trust with victims of crime so that they have the tools to move forward and live a life free of abuse.