As part of our Advocacy Week Celebration, we are blogging daily, focusing on a different theme of Advocacy each day. Today, advocates from the organizations PAVE, HOPE Works and Circle spoke to us about the topic of Safety.
“If you’re not feeling safe, your safety and your survival become priority one,” explained an advocate from Circle, “and then all other things take lower priority.” A basic human need, safety is necessary for people to thrive. Advocates know it is also complex. “Safety is the absence of physical danger: I have a place to stay; I feel like I will not be physically hurt tonight,” explained the advocate from Circle. “There is emotional safety – being in a place where you are able to speak your mind or be your authentic self…. This has a lot to do with freedom – to come and go as you please, and do what makes you happy. That ties into spiritual safety: Freedom to express yourself and be your authentic self without fear of repercussion.”
For survivors and the advocates who sit with them, safety is foundational, and happens in relationship as well as through planning and action. Natania, an advocate from HOPE Works, explained, “My work is to follow the journey, at every point making sure I show up creating opportunities for people to trust themselves again. Sometimes people no longer trust their actions or themselves, what they see, what they experienced, if what happened really happened. My work is to help people trust themselves again… People need to feel there is power in every aspect of who they are – even the parts that are vulnerable.”
A youth advocate from Circle explained that to build those relationships with moms and kids requires “allowing myself to be super goofy and fun and as non-judgmental as possible. That allows me to help families. Moms have to be able to trust me, and so do kids.” This advocate described how she sometimes sees kids’ development speed up after they have a chance to settle into shelter and feel safer, making big jumps in language acquisition, motor skills and ability to talk about feelings. She sees many opportunities for adults to support kids’ safety and trust in their own needs about every-day things like hugging or being touched or kissed, explaining, “I wish more adults respected kids’ boundaries and knew how to have those conversations with kids about what they feel comfortable with, and that they took them seriously.”
Lauren and Christine at PAVE spoke to us about how safety is something we all work to create in our lives, and it looks different for everyone. This is why simply listening and being present can be so powerful. In reflecting on a recent client in the supervised visitation program, Christine remarked, “This mom had not been heard, had not been listened to. It meant the world to her that someone would listen and pay attention to the safety of her child, their history, and her own safety.” Christine and the advocates at PAVE helped her engage a network of community resources to take concrete actions that are helping to keep her family safer.
Lauren shared that for someone she is working with, the focus on safety looks very different, “I’m working with one person who gets overwhelmed very easily now by sensory experiences. I’ve talked to her about wearing headphones, and being alert to her surroundings so she won’t get startled or surprised easily. People don’t think so much about just feeling safe in our own identity… That is advocacy work.”
How do we create space for survivors to explore their own safety needs and trust in their own truths? How do we do that for ourselves? What is one thing you can do today to bolster your own sense of safety, well-being and freedom?