Op-Ed: SafeHaven President and CEO, Kathryn Jacob, explains the mission behind the Start By Believing campaign and how you can be a better advocate for survivors in Tarrant County.
Malebo Sephodi is a development worker and social commentator on issues of gender - she is an acclaimed author who speaks at various conferences around the globe. Perhaps the thing she is most famous for saying was something like, victims should not be the ones responsible for ending intimate partner violence.
But, as we work through the systems set up for providing ‘help’ to those who need it, it’s actually not that obvious that the onus should fall to offenders when so much of the greater system - advocacy, law enforcement, the courts, probation, medical care - depends on the victim speaking out. The victim ‘cooperating’. The victim showing up. The victim being brave. The victim putting her life at risk in an effort to hold an offender accountable. Even when a victim is virtually perfect, doing all the things the system requires of her, it still may not work out to her benefit. It still might leave her exposed and vulnerable and at risk.
Quite frankly, the system as a whole is not set up for victims.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and SafeHaven will be promoting our “Start By Believing” campaign once again. We do this because one in three women in Tarrant County will experience domestic violence in her lifetime and the way we as a community respond to this epidemic relies on the notion of believing victims when they outcry. If we do not do this, we will never move the metaphorical needle. When we downplay violence, when we pretend it is a ‘takes two to tango’ situation, when we blame the victim for what she has experienced, even when we naively ask, “Why didn’t she just leave?” when we know the answer is more complicated than that... When we do all these things, we are not starting with belief. We are actually proving to victims the system is not there to support them and we are continuing this cycle of distrust and captivity.
This work is like turning a battleship. Battleships are huge - long and heavy - and turning one while barreling ahead quickly is not an easy feat. The ship could tip over. Momentum carries the ship forward and it takes a lot of force to make it change course. But the physics of this also apply to ending intimate partner violence. Our system is changing. It’s slow and strategic, but it is change nonetheless. Police are responding to domestic violence calls in new and innovative ways. The court system is utilizing tools at their disposal in a different way in order to secure convictions for offenders. Probation is identifying high risk offenders and managing them using unique models. And this is where you come in.
Start by believing.
Our system is at the point where we are beginning to handle these cases in ways that - after long last - do fully support victims. We are here for them, to walk beside them and shout on their behalf when they are hardly able to whisper. This can only work, though, if you are the first responder. If you believe victims when they offer an outcry. Take that outcry seriously. Give out our local hotline number (877.701.7233). Affirm that you support and love the victim no matter what decisions they may make. Understand that victims know their offenders best - that you are not in the relationship yourself and you must trust victims to keep themselves safe, no matter how that looks from the outside. All of this is based in believing.
Here’s wishing you a safe and healthy October. Thank you for being an advocate and the lynchpin at the start of a very long process for victims. And thank you for believing.