One of my favorite stories about the birth of the victims’ rights movement is how Anne Pride, Executive Director of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape in 1980, refused to produce a client’s counseling records during a rape trial. There were no statutes protecting this information, but advocates assured everyone that they would do anything necessary to protect the information shared with them. She was arrested and spent the next several months fighting legal battles to hold her ground. This act of civil disobedience led to the nation’s first absolute privilege for counselor-advocate confidentiality. Seven years later, amendments to the PFA Act legally recognized domestic violence advocates as professionals and offered legal protections to the conversations between victims and advocates.
Today, legally protected confidentiality is at the core of domestic violence services. Every person interacting with the people who come to Turning Point for help must be trained as advocates. We shape all of our services to be sure we in no way compromise this privilege. Every word we write, where and what records we keep – all framed around how critical confidentiality – privacy – can be to a person’s safety.
However, while confidentiality is at the core of our services, empowerment is at the basis of our movement. Empowerment, self-determination, free choice. The freedom to decide when and if to leave an abusive relationship. The ability to determine the difference between love and control. The choice to speak out about abuse when and if a person feels it is safe.
It would be a disservice to encourage victims of domestic violence to keep quiet about the abuse he or she has endured. We need to help someone understand safety risks; we need to discuss the victim-blaming responses that society may pose. But sharing one’s situation should not be a victim’s cross to bear. Sharing one’s story is one way to start understanding and healing. It is helpful to the person who has been abused and it is helpful to us as a society to listen. Most people do not appreciate just how prevalent domestic violence is; we do not fully understand just how pervasive abuse is because it is often viewed as a private matter.
October 20th, please join us in Downtown Allentown as we rise up and make some noise on behalf of those who need to be silent. Let those suffering privately realize that they are supported publicly. Help us break the cycle of silence.
While people experiencing abuse often need to remain quiet in order to stay safe, we can’t remain quiet, as advocates, about abuse. As a society, we shame embezzlers, liars, bullies, but we are less convincing about our anger toward those who physically and emotionally torment the people who love them. We tolerate light criminal sanctions for abusers. We look for signs that the abused person isn’t perfect (and therefore, somehow, to blame). We are largely quiet. There’s not disgust, there’s not even much collective outrage. Mostly, there’s just silence.
Once upon a time the world was flat. Thus sun revolved around the Earth. These theories were studied, challenged, debated, and passed down through generations until they were common knowledge. Our societal values can be shaped in a similar way. But we must start by talking about it.
If you’re not able to join us at this year’s rally and vigil, check our calendar and join us on another date. Talk to four friends and encourage them to share their stories (unfortunately, at least one is likely have a history of being victimized). Be empathetic. Point out when a friend is acting in a controlling manner. Talk to your kids or grandkids about the distinction between possessiveness and romance. Call your Senator and Representative and let them know you support protections for victims. Let’s RISE TOGETHER!!