Four steps to becoming an advocate for domestic violence survivors
You’ve survived a waking nightmare. And now that you’ve emerged a free person, you have a desire to help others who may be still living nightmares. Perhaps you want to simply raise awareness about domestic violence, or maybe you want to advocate for stricter laws or better programs to help survivors still struggling to escape abuse. Whatever your mission, your voice and story can be a powerful tool. Linda Ruescher, a survivor ofchildhood domestic violence and author of No Nonsense Support Group Guide, suggests the following steps to start off your journey to speaking out publicly:
1. Start journaling. Jot down your thoughts, feelings and experiences. You don’t need to write out your entire story. Just start writing whatever comes to mind. It will help you get in touch with your emotions.
“While abuse is going on, you suppress your emotions—that’s the only way to get through the trauma,” Ruescher explains. But you’ll need to get in touch with your emotions in order to share your story.
“Journaling is an excellent way to get in touch with one’s story,” she says. “The act of writing something down moves thoughts and feelings out of the intangible realm of the mind and makes them concrete. When thoughts and emotions are concrete, we can examine them.”
2. Create distance. Once you have everything out, leave it be. Do other things. Focus on yourself. Then revisit your journal once you’ve had some time to heal. “Until you get in touch with the emotions that go along with your story, you really can’t speak about it, because it’s still so raw in your head,” Ruescher says.
Once you think you’re ready, try telling just one person your story. Then another. Then another. “When you get to the point where you can talk about it without further traumatizing yourself, that’s when you’re ready,” Ruescher says.
3. Hone your public speaking skills. Whether you plan to advocate in small group settings or large auditoriums, you’ll want to get comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. Ruescher suggests joining a local Toastmasters club to learn public speaking skills.
“The process is constructive and everyone there is learning,” she says. “After each speech, you get all these little love notes with what you did well and what you can do better next time. You pick up skills with each speech and, by the tenth one, you’re just rocking it.”
The best part is that you can speak about anything you want. “You don’t have to share your story in Toastmasters; you could do a speech on how to fold socks,” she says. “The important thing is learning how to construct a speech and speak in front of people.”
4. Become educated on DV. Domestic violence is a complicated issue. Knowing your own story is the first step—in order to speak knowledgably and in depth on the topic overall, signing up for a Domestic Violence 101 class with a local nonprofit agency can help you more adequately share pertinent information about this epidemic. Find a nonprofit near you at DomesticShelters.org.
Read Others’ Stories
Every survivor’s story is different and the more we bring them out into the open, the more likely we are to end domestic violence. Check out Survivor Story: Kit Gruelle and Survivor Story: Lorel Stevens to read about two women who escaped their abusers and then went on to advocate for other women.