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Advocate must have great listening skills

By an SOS Rural Victim Advocate

A job application for a rural advocate position with SOS, Inc. doesn’t look any different than an advocate’s application to work in one of the more populated areas covered by our agency. There are some differences in how we accomplish our goal of increasing safety for domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking victims in the six-county areas, dependent on where they live.

The day-to-day work of an advocate is basically the same, no matter where you are working. Listening to what a survivor wants to tell – really listening, without stopping the story to interject thoughts or solutions is the beginning. There is time to offer resources and options after this story – AFTER they have trusted you enough to give you the secret they have been carrying for so long. It is a hard story to tell, with the feeling of betrayal weighing down the words, the first time it is told. An advocate may not be the first person to hear the story as there may have been many times where law enforcement, family and friends have been involved with the family. Stories tend to be told in chapters – not in chronological order so it takes a while for things to become clear and that is when the survivor can begin to work on a safety plan for themselves and their family.

Increasing safety levels for the survivor and their family is the focus of an advocate’s work. The plan itself is unique to the family and their network of family and friends, the location where they reside, their routines of school and work and their ability to communicate with law enforcement if needed.   The safety plan is what comes from the conversation.

The hope of the advocate is that there will be continued conversations, each one building upon the previous ones. As the victim’s relationship with the advocacy agency strengthens, the world opens a little wider and subjects like housing, employment, transportation and school are part of the continued conversations, along with the ever changing safety plan.

And as it began with listening, it also continues and ends with listening. Advocacy is being the voice of those you are speaking for and in order to do that, you have to listen first.