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The Advocate

"Basically, I wanted to be believed, understood, and assured that I was right in trying to confront [my perpetrator] ... I had hoped for someone who would have the knowledge, power, and strength to persevere with me..."
—A Survivor

"When survivors have the courage to speak about their experiences it is critical that they receive support. They need someone to walk with them, to ensure that they are supported and listened to. They need someone to promote justice and compassion for them. This is the objective of the advocate."
—Heather Block [1]

Why an Advocate?

The journey back to wholeness for survivors of clergy sexual abuse is arduous. The healing process can be compared to grieving because it involves various stages, intense feelings, and it takes a long time. Each survivor must make her (or his) decision about disclosure and confrontation as part of their journey. The possible benefits and risks must be weighed carefully. Benefits could include self-empowerment, justice and restitution, and some closure to a harmful experience. For many survivors the decision to break the silence is inspired by wanting to prevent harm to others.

The risks in disclosure are high. While breaking the silence may contribute to healing and reconciliation, it may also lead to additional wounding and trauma. Confronting perpetrators and institutions is an adversarial and risky situation that offers no guarantees. Still there are some professionals who work in this field who insist that truth telling is the way to healing.

Deciding whether or not she (or he) needs and wants to disclose and confront is the first instance where an advocate could help and support the survivor. The trained advocate can walk with the survivor and offer deep listening, knowledge about the complex dynamics of clergy sexual misconduct, and knowledge about the institutional process. When the survivor decides to use the institutional process, the advocate can facilitate communication, monitor and help interpret the institutional process.

The Role of the Advocate

We are indebted to Heather Block whose "Advocacy Training Manual, Advocating for Survivors of Sexual Abuse by a Church Leader/Caregiver" informs our understanding of the great potential an advocate has for assisting and supporting a survivor through the institutional process. The manual gives detailed descriptions of the advocate's role, qualifications and responsibilities. While the manual was written to offer guidelines for advocates, the information is valuable for anyone interested in promoting justice and compassion for survivors of abuse. The information that follows, based on Heather Block's work, will not replace the wisdom and detail in the manual. The hope is that you will have a better understanding of what an advocate might accomplish and how.

The advocate's role includes the following: [2]

  • listening—in a believing and nonjudgmental manner
  • problem-solving
  • assisting survivors in locating other supports
  • locating the institution's policy regarding sexual abuse by church leaders/caregivers
  • suggesting options
  • helping the survivor write the experience down
  • attending meetings, investigatory hearings with the survivor
  • clarifying goals
  • supporting
  • speaking on the survivor's behalf when they cannot speak themselves
  • modeling appropriate boundaries
  • documenting
  • locating information [3]

However, the advocate is not the therapist or lawyer or decision-maker. Clear boundaries are important for an advocate too.

Qualifications of the Advocate

Because the role of the advocate is unique and demanding, training, preparation and personal qualities are important. In her training manual, Heather Block lists the following qualifications that are helpful for an advocate:

  • knowledge of sexual abuse by a church leader/caregiver and its effects
  • good listening, problem-solving and communication skills
  • outside of the particular situation and able to provide a more objective perspective
  • in touch with own feelings and able to process them
  • aware of own feelings with respect to sexual abuse by a church leader/caregiver
  • trained regarding advocacy work
  • comfortable with conflict and an ability to manage it constructively
  • knows the limitation of the role of an advocate
  • aware of own boundaries
  • be of the same gender and race as the victim, if victim/survivor prefers

Justice for All

Restorative justice is a philosophy that provides the framework for responding to clergy sexual misconduct in a manner that supports healing for the victim/survivor, the second circle and the perpetrator. The advocate can be a key intermediary who brings ministry, compassion and justice to victim/survivors on behalf of the denomination.

Footnotes

  1. Heather Block, "Advocacy Training Manual", Mennonite Central Committee Canada, 1996
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid

For more information contact safecongregations @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Friday, April 22, 2011.

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