In working to end sexual and power-based violence, it is clearly advocacy, empowerment, and feminism all woven together that serve as provocateurs for social justice. Empowerment has been defined as “giving someone the authority or power to do something; making someone stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights” (Google, 2014) which is the very essence and catalyst of social justice work.
As advocates at SAPAC, our primary role within the movement to end sexual and power-based violence revolves around our ability to cultivate an “empowering” environment where survivors can “have decision making power of their own, have access to information and resources to enable them to make informed decisions for themselves, and have a range of options available that they have determined so that they can make the choice that is best for them” (Self-Empowerment and Development Centre, 2014).
As an agency, we pride ourselves on our unwavering dedication to not only “support the rights of survivors of violence,” but also “recognize that survivors are experts in their own lives” and in order to accomplish this it is vital that we “create a supportive and safe environment, empowering survivors to make their own decisions” (SAPAC, 2014). Even the very definition of advocate - “a person who argues for the cause of another, supports or promotes the interests of another, and defends/maintains a cause” (Merriam-Webster, 2014) is the epitome of empowerment as a means to generate social justice; that people can “insist on their rights…” (Linehan, 1993, p. 119), speak their minds, and set their own personal boundaries. This is the cardinal philosophy that governs our work with survivors of sexual and power-based violence.
At SAPAC, it is not our purview to tell survivors what they “should” or “should not do,” but instead attempt to reinstate a sense of authentic “real power.” Brene Brown (2007) describes “real power” as the “ability to change something if you want to change it...real power is unlimited and the great thing about real power is that it’s something we create and build with others” (p. 24-25). Within SAPAC, this “real power” that we aim to ignite within others, often relies on the act of providing knowledge to survivors of gender violence. We embrace the notion that “knowledge is power,” and this “power” is something that must never be withheld or concealed, but dispersed in every way imaginable” (Baumgardner & Richards, 2005, p. xviii). In consonant, knowledge is not just reserved for those who wield an immense amount of inherent power and/or privilege. In offering survivors of sexual and power-based violence vital information, we are able to provide them with the power and capacity to make well-informed choices – the true reflection of activism (p. 20).
Within the realm of sexual and power-based violence, the word “feminism” is often an important element that is frequently discussed and at SAPAC, we provide our services via a feminist lens. Feminism not only “strives to end the discrimination, exploitation, and oppression of people due to their gender, sexual orientation, race, class, and other differences,” but also “supports people in being free to determine their own lives for themselves.”
Essential to combating the myths about gender violence, feminism enables people to “question what has been taught about forcing people into traditional roles and valuing some groups less than others, helps people understand why some hate, abuse, exploit, discriminate, and silence certain individuals and communities,” and aids people in “standing up against oppression and demand justice” (Kim, 2012).
Feminism, advocacy, and empowerment are all key components in not only “supporting and increasing the visibility/power of others” (Baumgardner & Richards, 2000, p. 279), but in contesting shame. Shame is an emotion that can result from experiencing sexual and/or power-based violence and is sometimes referred to as a “full-contact emotion” because “it can be experienced as a visceral and physical response.” Hence, not only is shame “emotionally overwhelming,” but is profoundly “felt in the body” (Brown, 2007, p. 5).
Shame can arise due to the fact that survivors of gender violence often encounter disconnection and a lack of validation when they share their stories/experiences, or refuse to do so all together because of the tremendous stigma that still surrounds these issues. Unfortunately, survivors are often “blamed” for their trauma and frequently fall under immense scrutiny for their choices due to the oppressive social institutions and debilitating cultural norms and expectations that perpetuate and maintain sexual and power-based violence. This in turn serves to further terrorize, control, alienate, and blame survivors for the unspeakable atrocities they have experienced. Not only is shame an “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that one is flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging, but is also “about fear...being afraid that people won’t like us if they know the truth about who we are, where we come from, what we believe, how much we’re struggling…” (Brown, 2010, p. 39).
At SAPAC, our goal as advocates is to help erode shame that is often felt by survivors by validating their feelings and experiences, as well as instill a sense of self-acceptance, self-confidence, tranquility, empowerment, and above all, aide in the recreation of a survivor’s trust, control, and personal autonomy. After all, when people are able to “share their stories with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame cannot survive” (Brown, 2012).
Healing from trauma is a process as diverse as the people who experience it, and the experience is influenced by an interplay of one’s prior experiences, biology, and social, interpersonal, professional, academic circumstances - there is no “right” or “wrong” way to heal. At SAPAC, we strive to embrace and validate a survivor’s unique experience in an attempt to remind them that their trauma does not have to “define, destroy, deter, or defeat them,” (Maraboli, 2013) but instead they may find within themselves an unwavering source of strength, resilience, and power.
Baumgardner, J., & Richards, A. (2006). Grassroots: A field guide to feminist activism. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Baumgardner, J., & Richards, A. (2000). Manifesta: Young women, feminism, and the future. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books.
Brown, B. (2007). I thought it was just me (but it isn’t): Making the journey from “what will people think?” to “i am enough.” New York, NY: Gotham Books.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are: Your guide to a whole-hearted life. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
Google (2014). Empower. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/search?q=what+is+an+advocate%3F&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&channel=fflb#rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official
Kim, S. (2012). Why everyday feminism is for everyone. Retrieved from http://www.everydayfeminism.com/2012/07/feminism-is-for-everyone/
Linehan, M.M. (1993). Skills training manual for treating borderline personality disorder. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Maraboli, S. (2013). Unapologetically you: Reflections on life and the human experience. Port Washington, NY: A Better Today Publishing.
Merriam-Webster (2014) Advocate. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/advocate
Self Empowerment and Development Centre (2014). Empowerment: What is it and how do i get it? Retrieved from http://www.iempowerself.com/26_Empowerment_what_is_it.html
Sexual Assault Prevention & Awareness Center (SAPAC, 2014). Our goals & values. Retrieved from http://www.sapac.umich.edu/article/8
*Picture Taken From: http://vi.sualize.us/purple_teal_ribbon_domestic_violence_ual_ault_aware...