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Advocate Safety Strategies

Written by Victoria Ybanez, MPA

 

Understanding the risks as an advocate


Safety planning is the foundation of our work as advocates - we are often working on safety plans with victims. Advocate safety strategies need to be a part of our regular advocate practice. Tribal advocate programs will also want to take time to develop policies and practices for enhancing the safety of advocates while making sure they are able to effectively respond to the needs of survivors.  


The following are some areas to consider for advocate safety strategies. This is by no means a complete list. Each advocate program should consider unique conditions in their communities and how to address them, creating strategies relevant to the Tribal advocate program and the advocates working in it.


Areas to consider for safety strategies


Setting Boundaries for Safety

Boundaries are rules or limits that someone establishes to protect their security and wellbeing around others. They can be important tools to help advocates feel secure in their surroundings and with other people. (Coppack, 2024) Setting boundaries can be a source of support when addressing safety doing this work. Often, as indigenous people, boundaries can feel at odds with responsibility to the community; It is important to realize that individual and programmatic boundaries can protect both advocates and survivors.

  • Practice self-awareness; be aware of how situations make you feel and seek support when you need it.

  • Give yourself permission to focus on yourself and make your safety a priority. Identify limits about what you are willing to do and not willing to do.

  • Program directors/coordinators should work to create a safe space for advocates to talk about their concerns and find ways work through them.

  • Be clear with survivors that if the advocate sees them in public, the advocate will not acknowledge them. This is not meant to be rude but instead is about survivor confidentiality and advocate safety. Also, inform survivors that the advocate will not be “friending” them on social media for the same reasons.

  • Ask for help when needed. Ask for backup to support you. Ask for someone to help you think through what you are struggling with. Ask for someone else to step in if you feel like you need to step back from a situation.

  • Identify how to address when boundaries are crossed in constructive ways that reflect respect.


Advocate’s Personal Information

It is important to keep advocates’ personal phone number and address confidential. Advocates should not share their home address or personal phone numbers with survivors. In small Tribal communities, some of that information might already be known but advocates should not actively share that information with survivors.

  • It is important to only use a work cell phone for communications.

  • Refrain from having family pictures in your workspace.

  • Survivors should not be invited to the advocate’s home. Setting boundaries like this might not feel normal for us in our Tribal communities but are still important.

 

Understanding the risks and importance of using safety strategies for themselves is critical to helping safety become second nature to advocates.

 

Safety in the Workplace

It is important to be thoughtful about the location where the advocates work. This includes considerations about entrances and exits.

  • Is there more than one way to come and go from the office?

  • Is the advocate office organized in such a way that they have access to exit the office if needed?

  • Is the front office person informed on what to do if there is an emergency?

  • Are exits accessible and free from clutter blocking the exit?

  • If someone needs to exit quickly, what is the plan once they exit?

 

Some advocates talk about having a code word or code phrase to help alert other staff in the area that there is a problem and for them to move into a crisis response (2013). This could be something such as, “Can you get me a glass of water” in the office for crisis intervention or escalation or “Can you bring me some water with ice” if police are needing to be called. While out in the community, calling 911 is critical.


Contact with Abusers

It is important that anyone answering the phone regarding matters related to the Tribal advocate program is prepared to respond to contact by abusers. The person receiving a call or contact from the abuser should not engage in conversation and have a brief response prepared such as, “I am not at liberty to talk with you”, or “you can discuss this with your probation officer or batterer invention facilitator” (n.d.). End the conversation/phone call, close the door, and/or walk away if safely possible.

  • Before a contact is made, has the program identified what their plan for response is? What instances they might want to contact law enforcement? What other options the program might have?        

 

Tribal Law Enforcement

If the Tribe has Tribal law enforcement, it can be an important safety resource. The advocate program can work with Tribal law enforcement to create a plan for rapid response to the advocate program if needed. This should be made well in advance before there are any problems within the program location. Advocate programs have talked about asking law enforcement to provide regular patrols in their area when there is heightened concern.

 

Advocate Safety in the Community

It is common practice for advocates to be in the community for many different reasons. This could be providing accompaniment for medical care, court, getting resources, and more. Advocates also move about the community during their personal time.

 

The advocate program will want to work with the program coordinator and their supervisor to determine whether visits to survivors’ homes will be allowable (Volunteers of America, 2017). Often programs do not allow home visits if the survivor is still living with the abuser but might allow visits in situations when the abuser is known to be in police custody or is no longer living at that location.

  • Notify a designated co-worker of your whereabouts and when you will return. Designating a person is important. If it is left too broad, no one really has the responsibility to respond.

  • Keep in close communication with the designated person, update them of any changes and make sure they are notified on return.

  • When possible, have an advocate buddy to accompany as needed.

  • Limit the amount of items you have with you. Only bring what is necessary and leave the rest either in the office or locked in the car. If the advocate needs to leave in a hurry, there is less to think about (2017).

  • Be aware of surroundings. Pay attention to sounds, movement, etc. What is your exit plan?

  • Consider vehicle safety: always lock the doors when getting in the car, sitting, and talking, etc.

  • Trust your intuition. If the advocate has an uneasy feeling, believe that and act in a manner that is cautious and protective of safety. Better to be extra careful than to miss the opportunity to protect themselves.

 

Policies and Practices

 The Tribal advocate program should develop policies and practices that fit their local environment. Advocates involved directly in the work bring an important voice to safety concerns and should guide the protocols. Good communication regarding policies and practices is important to creating a culture of safety within the advocate program (Duncan, 2024).

  • Make sure the policies are read and understood by everyone they apply to.

  • Identify who will be in charge of ensuring the policies and practices are communicated and followed.

  • Policies and practices should be reviewed on a regular basis to make sure they continue to be relevant in changing conditions.

 

Safety Tools

 

  • Staff education and training is one of the most important tools the advocate program will have. Discuss advocate risks and safety strategies regularly with staff so that these risks and strategies become second nature to the advocate, and they can draw on their knowledge in an emergency. This might also include regular discussions and training with other Tribal employees that might be working in the vicinity. Be sure to never share confidential information with staff that are not allowed access to that information within the advocate program.

  • Cell phones and chargers are important equipment. Make sure the cell phone is fully charged when leaving the office and make sure there is a backup charger, such as a power block to refresh the charge when an electric outlet might not be readily available.

  • Satellite phones are a great resource for advocates working in areas where there are no cell phone signals. Many satellite phones have an emergency signal that can be sent that is trackable by GPS.

  • Panic buttons can be used within an office and in the community. It is important to make sure they work in any rural locations the Tribe may cover.

  • Advocate work is hard work and can involve potential risks to the advocate’s safety.  The advocate program should take these potential risks into account and provide policies and procedures to support the advocate that helps them continue to do this important work.

 


 

Works Cited

Coppack, M. J. (2024). 8 Tips on Setting Boundaries. Retrieved June 2024, from DBS Alliance: https://www.dbsalliance.org/support/young-adults/8-tips-on-setting-boundaries-for-your-mental-health/


Duncan, C. (2024, March). Workplace Safety Tips for 2024. Retrieved May 2024, from Alert Software: https://www.alert-software.com/blog/top-10workplace-saety-tips-every-employee-shuld-know

National Indigenous Women's Resource Center. (n.d.). Advocte Safety Policies. Retrieved May 2024, from Nationnal Indigenous Women's Resource Center: https://www.niwrc.org/sites/default/files/files/a.%20Advocate%20Safety%20Policies.pdf


Volunteers of America. (2017). Home Safety Guidelines. Retrieved May 2024, from End Homelessness: https://endhomelessness.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/3.13-Advocate-Home-Visiting-Safety-Protocol.pdf


Ybanez, V. (2013). Safety Planning: Advocate Safety. Creating Sister Space: A Guide for Developing Tribal Shelter and Transitional Housing. Colorado Springs, Colorado.

 

This project is supported by Grant No. 15JOVW-21-GK-02228-TRIB awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. 

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