1Donate. Survivors of domestic violence usually leave their homes quickly to escape from abuse. In their rush to seek safety, they leave behind most of their belongings. When you donate items and money to community domestic violence organizations, you’re helping victims get back on their feet.
- Collect professional attire. Finding employment is an important first step for victims. They need to look professional at interviews so they can land a job. Then they need an appropriate wardrobe once they start working. Partner with a local organization such as Dress for Success and help with a collection drive. Victims need suits, dress shirts, dress pants, shoes, handbags and accessories.
- Create healthy meals for victims and their children. Contact local domestic violence shelters in your area and ask to help with meal preparation. Shelters often need dry and canned food donations, meal preparation help and assistance with cooking.
- Provide school supplies. When victims relocate to a shelter, it means their children are starting a new school. Often the parents cannot afford school supplies for their children. Contact your local domestic violence shelter or Salvation Army to see how you can donate items such as backpacks, crayons, pencils, notebooks, tissues and hand sanitizer.
- Collect used cell phones. Donate old cell phones to domestic violence assistance programs such as Hopeline from Verizon. Hopeline refurbishes old phones and gives free phone and texting services to domestic violence victims. The phones are a life line to victims, who are often closely monitored or harassed by abusers.
2Provide childcare. From legal appointments, counseling sessions and job interviews, victims have a lot of work to do to get their lives back on track. When you volunteer as a childcare assistant at a domestic violence center or shelter, you’re giving victims peace of mind. They know their children are being safely cared for while they are away. Contact your local domestic violence shelter to find out about training and other requirements such as background checks.
- Childcare volunteers care for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and school age children. Children over age five usually need care before and after school, while younger children need all day care. You’ll help to create a stable environment for children who’ve come from an unstable or a violent home. You’ll provide much needed comfort and support to young ones who are adjusting to a new and unfamiliar place.
3Be a legal advocate. Help victims keep track of legal appointments and accompany them to court appointments. Victims need help understanding domestic violence laws and connecting with appropriate legal resources.
- You typically don’t need a legal background because the domestic violence organization provides training to legal advocacy volunteers. However, you do need to be available during court hours.
4Answer hotline calls. Volunteer at a domestic violence call center to help victims find resources such as local shelters. You’ll also help them develop a plan to safely get away from their abusers. You’ll go through extensive training prior to answering calls.
- Volunteering as a hotline advocate is rewarding because you’re a lifeline to the person struggling with abuse. You’re often the first person a victim ever contacts for help. However, constantly hearing about trauma can take an emotional toll on you. Pay attention to signs of compassion fatigue such as difficulty sleeping or withdrawing from things you used to enjoy. Prevent compassion fatigue by regularly talking with colleagues and supervisors, taking breaks during your shift and making time each day to do something relaxing such as taking a brisk walk or caring for a pet.
5Aid in domestic violence prevention efforts. Most domestic violence organizations provide educational programs in schools or community centers. The programs raise awareness and aid in preventing domestic violence. Ask your local domestic violence organization how you can help with their community education efforts. Sometimes they need teaching assistants or curriculum developer volunteers.
- As a volunteer facilitator or curriculum developer, you’ll help with programs such as teens and dating violence or domestic violence prevention in adult relationships. Help create lesson plans that appeal to the audience. For example, middle schoolers need different content and interactions than adults. You may also present or teach the information. Help people of all ages understand dating and domestic partner violence so they can stop the cycle of abuse.
Working as a Professional Advocate
1Work at Victim Services. Most communities have a division of Victim Services, also known as Victim Assistance, offering free support to domestic violence and other crime victims. When you work at Victim Services as an advocate, you provide guidance, emotional support, legal help and connect victims with resources such as social service agencies. For some Victim Services roles, you need an educational background in social work, counseling or law. For others, you need prior volunteer or work experience helping trauma and crime victims.
- The FBI, police stations, prisons, courts and non-profit agencies are some of the organizations with a division of Victim Services. Online career sites are good places to start your victim advocate job search.
2Counsel domestic violence survivors. With an advanced degree, such as a master of counseling or social work, you can provide individual, group and family counseling to people dealing with domestic abuse. Counselors or therapists help victims understand the cycle of abuse so they can break the pattern in future relationships. They help victims rebuild confidence and self-esteem. Domestic violence counselors work in private practice, domestic violence crisis centers or social service agencies.
- Find out the counseling and social work licensure laws in your state. Some states require that you obtain a license before you provide counseling.
3Work as a paralegal or attorney. Domestic violence victims need help with legal issues such as immigration, protection orders and child custody. With an associate’s degree, you can work as a paralegal and help family or immigration attorneys. To become an attorney, you need a bachelor’s and a law degree.
- As an attorney, you can offer pro bono, or free, services to help domestic violence victims who are struggling to make ends meet.
4Provide shelter or hotline advocacy. When you work as a domestic violence shelter or hotline coordinator, you are typically the first point of contact for victims. You’re responsible for helping them get the emergency resources they need to be safe, as well as connecting them with ongoing support. Some positions require prior volunteer or work experience with domestic violence victims, while other positions have minimum educational requirements.
- Shelter or hotline advocates can also take on additional responsibilities such as community outreach and education and program coordination.
Helping People You Know
1Offer support. If you suspect a friend or loved one is a victim of domestic violence, let them know you’re there to help. Abuse can be physical, emotional, verbal or financial. It’s common for the victim to, at first, deny what is going on, or not want to label what’s happening as domestic violence. Recognize that denial is part of the abuse cycle. Simply let them know you’re worried about them and are there for them when they’re ready to talk about it. For example, you could say,
- “I notice your bruises. I’m worried about you and your kids. How can I help?”
- “I’m worried about you but I see you don’t want to talk about it now. When you’re ready to talk, I’m here.”
Listen without judgement. When your friend or loved one is finally ready to talk to you, listen without judging. Abuse usually begins subtly and gets worse over time, so it can take a while before the victim recognizes the pattern. Allow your loved one to be open and honest with you by refraining from criticizing them.
3Avoid making ultimatums or demands. Meet the victim where they are and invite them to create a plan together with you. They might be ready to leave or not ready to label what’s going on as domestic violence. Vocalize your concerns for your loved one’s wellbeing and safety, without telling them what to do. Telling victims what to before they are ready may have the opposite effect. They may retreat from help.
- For example, you might say, “You’re telling me he hit you and you’re scared. I’m scared for you too. No one deserves to be treated this way. You did nothing to deserve this. Let’s come up with a plan so you can be safe.”
- Avoid blaming and demanding statements such as, “What a monster! Why would you stay with someone like that? You need to leave right now!”
4Emphasize safety. Ask your friend or loved one to start planning in case things ever spiral out of control. For example, where would they go if they needed to leave? They should have a hiding place for important documents and valuables so a quick escape can be made.
- Valuables include an extra set of car keys, social security card, driver’s license, passport, cash, credit cards and children’s vaccination records.
- Domestic violence can escalate to dangerous levels when the abuser knows the victim is getting ready to leave the relationship. Victims should leave when the abuser is not around or they can contact the police for an escort.
5Provide resources. Let your friend or loved one know that they can contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) for 24/7 support. The Domestic Violence Hotline will help with finding shelters and safety planning.If they are ever in immediate danger, they need to call 911.
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- If you work as a victim advocate, be aware that many states have funds set aside for crime victims to help them pay for counseling, medical bills and living expenses. Contact your state government to determine a victim’s eligibility.
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