Advocacy Essay

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Advocacy has been a core component of the movement to end domestic violence. Many of the principles of advocacy discussed here can be applied to all survivors of domestic violence, but this essay focuses on advocacy for the vast majority of these survivors— battered women. In this context, an advocate is someone who responds directly to help battered women, most often in an organizational setting. Advocacy can take many forms, but the main purpose of advocacy is to help survivors of domestic violence navigate the bureaucracy of community systems—including the criminal justice system, health care and social services, and/or religious institutions—as they attempt to acquire needed resources.

Goals Of Advocacy

Safety planning is a critical goal of domestic violence advocates when working with battered women. Safety planning commonly refers to a discussion between an advocate and a battered woman about her partner’s physical, mental, emotional, and/or sexual violence, as well as a plan for her to maximize her safety. Safety planning involves critical thinking on the part of the survivor with the advocate to determine which strategies will help her best find safety for herself and, if she is a mother, her children.

Another important goal of advocacy is maintaining the battered woman’s agency, or autonomy. This goal is best achieved with woman-defined advocacy. Woman-defined advocacy builds on the belief that the battered woman begins safety planning after her first response to batterer-generated and life-generated risks, and continually builds on those earlier safety plans. It shows respect for the survivor, and allows her to be the decision maker, set priorities, and decide which services and resources she needs.

Restoration and the provision of resources is another goal of advocacy. Survivors of domestic violence are likely to have a wide variety of needs, including legal assistance, housing, counseling, employment, education, and child care needs. The advocate should assist survivors in acquiring resources to fill those needs in a way that ensures survivors’ full participation in their restoration. It is important to note that criminal justice intervention may not always be a top priority for survivors of domestic violence. Advocacy services appear most successful when the advocacy organization provides a comprehensive response to the survivor’s self-defined needs and wants.

Another goal of advocacy is the pursuit of justice for individual battered women and their families and for battered women as a group. Initially, justice for a battered woman means that she, and her family if she has one, are safe from further abuse, and that she has kept her agency or autonomy in determining the actions that promote that safety. Justice also means that the battered woman is restored and that the perpetrator has been held accountable. Restoration and accountability might be achieved through the legal system, or they might be achieved through another means within a particular community. Justice for survivors of abuse also implies that the woman’s economic needs are met, and she will not be economically reliant on her batterer should she separate from him.

Seeking justice also requires advocates to seek systemic change on behalf of all battered women. Advocates seek system changes when the same injustices are experienced time and time again by battered women and their families.

Forms Of Advocacy

Advocacy activities may be directed toward individual survivors or larger systems. Individual advocacy may include sharing information with the battered woman about legal options or remedies, assessing with her the risks posed by the batterer, engaging her in critical thinking and strategies to maximize safety, assisting her in identifying the array of problems arising from the violence, offering feedback on the legal and extralegal remedies she is considering, assisting her in participating in the legal system, and accompanying her to meetings and court hearings, as well as referral and follow-up.

Systemic advocacy includes a spectrum of activities directed at upgrading the process and products of community systems (including health, welfare, religious, educational, legal, employment, and neighborhood systems) to promote safety and justice for victims and the accountability of perpetrators. Coordinated community response teams, as well as other forms of community organizing, ensure accountability for the perpetrator and within the system. Systemic advocacy also promotes culturally inviting practices (i.e., practices that are relevant to battered women seeking services).

Cultural transformation advocacy seeks an end to all gender-based violence and violence that is based in sexism and the oppression of women. It seeks to remedy unequal access to justice, which is based on class, race, and gender. The means used to achieve a transformation of the larger culture might include the media; demonstrations by battered women, their families, and their supporters; neighborhood teams organized to end violence in their communities; men’s engagement initiatives; monitoring of the justice system; and efforts to prevent violence.

Core Values Of Advocacy

Advocacy services provided to battered women must be voluntary, which means that the advocacy is consensual and that the battered woman is there on her own behalf, instead of being compelled by a court or an agency to participate in the services. Thus the agency keeps the battered woman informed of her options and the potential impact of her decisions, so that she can make the best, informed decision for herself, and if she has a family, for her family as well.

Confidentiality is a major cornerstone in all services for battered women. Confidentiality means that the advocate or other person working with the battered woman does not communicate anything the woman shares regarding her situation, unless the battered woman specifically asks the advocate to do so. The advocate should have a full discussion of the existence of any law or programmatic policies concerning confidentiality, as well as any limits on confidentiality. If there are no laws or program policies on confidentiality, the advocate should inform the woman of this fact.

Woman-defined advocacy is a specific approach to advocacy that builds a partnership between advocates and battered women, and allows for the battered woman to define the advocacy and help she needs. Woman-defined advocacy is the acknowledgment that women experience battering in the context of their diverse lives. It includes an ongoing analysis of batterer-generated risks, or those dangers that result from the batterer’s control of his partner. It is flexible, allowing for a woman to change her mind in response to new information or changes in her life circumstances. Woman-defined advocacy also considers life generated risks. Life-generated risks might include physical and mental health, financial limitations, racism, discrimination, or other aspects of the battered woman’s life over which she may have limited control. Woman-defined advocacy affords the battered woman respect as the decision maker, and allows her to set priorities and decide which services and resources she needs.

Work on behalf of battered women must be advocacy based. This means that the battered woman is allowed to speak for herself, and that the advocate creates opportunities for the battered woman to speak. In advocacy-based representation, the advocate assists the battered woman with strategic planning and other preparation and informs the battered woman of her options, but does not promote any particular option. The advocate brokers resources for the survivor, and builds bridges to ensure she has the means to acquire the resources she determines are needed.

Advocacy must also be justice seeking. Justice for the battered woman means that she, and her family if she has one, are safe from further abuse, and that she has kept her agency or autonomy in determining the actions that promote that safety. Justice also means that the battered woman is restored, the perpetrator has been held accountable, and the woman’s economic needs are met.

Cultural transformation is another value of advocacy on behalf of battered women. Advocates work for a transformed society, in which there is no gender based violence. In a transformed society, there is no unequal access to justice based on class, race, and gender.

Culturally Competent Advocacy

Cultural competence is understood as a set of cultural behaviors and attitudes integrated into the practice methods of a system, agency, or its professionals, which enables them to work effectively in cross-cultural situations. General principles of culturally competent advocacy include the following:

Advocacy services are accessible. Advocacy providers should know about the communities of color within their service area (i.e., where people live and what their communities are like), should reach out to those communities, and should be aware and strive to resolve any transportation problems that might create barriers for women of color needing services. Providers should also make the agency environment more welcoming and attractive based on the clients’ cultural backgrounds. Advocates should come from the communities being served and provide services in the languages of population groups that have limited English-speaking proficiency.

Advocacy is accountable. Advocacy providers should have the ability to recognize racism, stereotyping, and systemic oppression, and the effects of such acts on the women of color they serve. Advocates should avoid stereotyping and misapplication of scientific knowledge.

Advocacy is nonracist. The organization’s board of directors and staff should reflect the women in the service area. The advocacy provider should include community input at the planning and development stage of each new initiative, and should find ways for the community to take the lead.

Advocacy is respectful. Staff at service providers should understand the cultural practices that battered women say have priority over activities the organization or advocate suggests. Advocates should also use approaches and materials that honor the woman’s perspective and will capture her attention.

Advocacy develops trust. Trust may not be a given, perhaps in part because of the historical foundation upon which the cultures of some advocates and battered women of color are based. When interacting with a battered woman of color, the advocate needs to acknowledge that trust must be earned, and be patient.


  1. Davies, J., Lyon, E., & Monti-Catania, D. (1998). Safety planning with battered women: Complex lives/difficult choices. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  2. Maicki, C. (2001). Cultural competency and native women: A guide for non-natives who advocate for battered women and rape victims. Rapid City, SD: Sacred Circle National Resource Center to End Violence Against Native Women.
  3. Parker, J., Hart, B., & Stueling, J. (1992). Seeking justice: Legal advocacy principles and practice: Section III. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

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