This Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), we’re spotlighting some of our incredible Survivor Leaders, former clients of Sanctuary who go through a 12-week training and certification course to prepare them to make system-wide change through advocacy, training, program development, and working directly with other survivors.
Esperanza is a survivor of domestic violence who escaped an abusive relationship with her child’s father. Sanctuary was able to provide services and support her and her child with their services. Now that Esperanza is no longer a victim, she seeks ways to advocate and support other survivors throughout NYC.
Survivor leadership is an essential aspect of Sanctuary’s work. Can you describe how survivor-led initiatives or programs have made a difference in the fight against domestic violence?
The survivor leadership program has helped me gain a deep understanding of myself as a survivor. This program made an immense impact by helping me understand the domestic violence cycle and why it was so difficult for me to escape. This program not only educated me but it also inspired me to want to advocate for survivors in the future.
Can you tell me about some recent advocacy work you’ve been involved in, and which moments have been the most impactful to you?
Some of the advocacy work I have been a part of are events which offer outreach in local communities in underserved neighborhoods and even assisting in curriculum for the next survivor leadership cohort for 2023-2024. All of my involvement in advocacy work has been impactful to me. I have a deep passion inside to want to work and help others who may be in need of services from Sanctuary for Families.
How has your experience as a survivor influenced your approach to supporting others who have experienced gender violence?
I felt my experience as a victim was humiliating, many lacked empathy, consideration, and many programs had professionals that were just disconnected from understanding the hardships that survivors face. Me and my child found safety and support from the services that were provided from Sanctuary. The experience I gained from Sanctuary helped me understand healthy approaches to support others who experienced gender violence. The approach to learning at Sanctuary is what helped me begin a path of healing and also influenced me to want to support others who experienced gender violence.
What challenges have you encountered in your journey toward healing and advocacy, and how have you overcome them?
Some of the challenges I faced were learning to feel comfortable to express myself. I struggled with being able to communicate and express my thoughts. This program provided me with a safe space to express my feelings and thoughts which finally gave me peace of mind. Sanctuary helped me take the first steps towards a journey of self healing.
What advice do you have for other survivors who may be hesitant to come forward or get involved in advocacy work?
When this program was presented to me I was hesitant because I felt I wouldn’t be good enough to do advocacy work. However, I quickly learned and felt so proud that I joined and met all the people who make this program possible. The Advocacy program not only helps others, it also helps survivors to heal as they are in a position to assist others who may be in need. Advocacy needs to be run by survivors who are experienced in this topic.
In your opinion, what are some of the most significant barriers or misconceptions that still exist when it comes to addressing domestic violence?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that people on the outside look at domestic violence as something that is easy to just walk away from and it’s so much more complex in so many ways. We need more advocacy from actual survivors because there are so many survivors who remain silent.
What are some ways that people can get involved or support survivors throughout DVAM and beyond?
All people can get involved to support survivors, we welcome all people to join DVAM as we try to spread awareness. We truly need support in making changes in our judicial system where it supports victims instead of exposing them to more trauma.
Is there a particular message or call to action you’d like to convey in honor of DVAM?
We all have to unite if we want to make a change. Survivors have to feel their voice matters, our justice system needs to make changes, we have to start holding abusers accountable for their actions. We must stand up, we must use our voice, we need to be heard not just through Domestic Violence Awareness Month but throughout all injustices that happen to our strong survivors. We need a system that is willing to support survivors and children who are affected.
“We all have to unite if we want to make a change. Survivors have to feel their voice matters, our justice system needs to make changes, we have to start holding abusers accountable for their actions.”
I chose the image of the tree of life to symbolize roots where we started and growth to who we have become today as advocates.
Join Esperanza in standing with survivors of gender violence. Your gift supports Sanctuary’s life-saving work with thousands of families escaping abuse.