Survivor Leadership Institute Graduation: Celebrating leadership and each other

Sanctuary Client Renata writes about her experience as a member of the Survivor Leadership Institute’s Graduating Class of 2019.

Renata is a Survivor Leadership Institute graduate from the Class of 2019.  Our Survivor Leaders are 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.  Our graduates have completed this 12-week Survivor Leadership Institute, which consists of training in public speaking, vicarious trauma, self-care, media re-exploitation, advocacy, boundary setting, and many other skills.  

The Survivor Leadership Institute has a rigorous application and interview process, as the content of the training program is very challenging and can be triggering.  Each of the graduates has participated in counseling in the past, and to graduate this intensive program, they have leaned on their skills, their strength, their robust support systems and one another in our Survivor Leadership community. They have done the work to make it this far, and we are honored to have them become Sanctuary Survivor Leaders.

We often think of graduation as a milestone marking an entrance to a higher standing and the receipt of a diploma. To graduate also means to move from one stage of experience and prestige to a higher one, such as leadership. On May 13, 2019, the new cohort of survivor leaders at Sanctuary for Families did just that. I’m proud to say I am a part of this tribe, a part of the new cohort and a part of the story that extends before my time and to individuals who remain hidden and still in trouble.

As each of us stood at the podium to speak our truth, we celebrated life. Life after pain. Life after heartbreak. Life after trauma. We joined a brave tribe of survivor leaders fighting for justice, lifting shame, eradicating stigma, and promoting healing—all of whom are doing so with courage and strength that this work requires. Most of us didn’t choose our experiences. We didn’t choose our hurt. We didn’t choose disappointment and struggle. Now we certainly don’t choose what happened in our lives to define us. We choose to stand up, speak up, break the cycle, fight the system, educate the world, and be there for each other along the way. Today we choose to do something. Standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, today we are ready to support others on our shoulders. Our past drives us. Our future excites us. Our present allows us to show up—for ourselves, each other, and hopefully, many others.

For me, and I suppose for many others, healing is a process with ups and downs. It involves empathy and forgiveness—especially for myself. Healing also involves love for myself and others. My fellow survivor leaders and I are here today because the deeply broken people who tried to break us didn’t succeed. Unfortunately for many others, this is not the case. I hope that one day we will focus on the troubled situations that give rise to people who think it’s their right to take the lives of others, in one way or another, but we still have a long way to go. It’s an honor and privilege to stand among individuals paving the way for the justice that many of us never received and as a reminder that this can happen to anyone, and if it’s happening to you, you are not alone. We need to close the chapter on the narrative of broken, fragile, and gullible victims. No one standing at the podium at the Survivor Leadership Institute Graduation embodies any of these qualities. Instead, it was a night celebrating courage, determination, strength, vulnerability, resilience, and hope, along with intelligence, beauty, inspiration, and humor.

I recognize that I get to tell my story because I am lucky, and I survived. But becoming a leader isn’t luck—for me, it’s about being grateful for my life with all its twists and turns, the support of my fellow leaders, and Sanctuary for Families. This leadership opportunity is so much bigger than my story. The truth is that to get where I am today, I had to experience my yesterday. I stand with my humanity intact, and I no longer bear the weight of the lack of it in others.

Graduation night was a testament to the fact that our tribe is getting bigger. Our collective voice is getting louder. As Oprah says, our voices are our power. By breaking our silence and sharing our stories, we are taking our power back. Power we didn’t give away. Power that was taken from us by people we loved and trusted. This is an important distinction I hope others come to accept and recognize as we move away from painting inaccurate caricatures of victims and begin to focus on the individuals, ideologies and systems perpetuating gender-based (and related forms of) violence.

Survivors Organize First-Ever Leadership Conference

What does it mean to be a survivor? Why is it important to speak out?

What does it mean to be a survivor? Why is it important to speak out? How do we share our experiences while protecting our emotional and mental health? Can we create a safe space for survivors of all backgrounds to share and celebrate their stories?

These were some of the questions that guided our survivor leaders as they organized and led Sanctuary’s first-ever Survivor Leadership Conference in October.

dscf7148-editHosted by Gibney Dance, the Conference aimed to celebrate survivors’ journeys, strengthen resiliency and build survivor leadership within Sanctuary. Drawing on these questions and common goals, Conference organizers developed a program as empowering as it was healing.

dscf7143-editThe day’s events began at noon with a delicious buffet lunch catered by survivors and conference participants. As attendees filtered in and settled down, Sanctuary’s Executive Director Hon. Judy H. Kluger welcomed everyone and introduced Gwen Wright, Executive Director of the NY State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. As a survivor of domestic violence herself, Gwen’s deeply personal speech about her abuse, escape and evolution as a survivor leader set the tone for the afternoon.

dscf7196-editPanel discussions throughout the day covered a range of topics and were interspersed with self-care exercises and art-therapy projects. The first panel, moderated by a Sanctuary board member and survivor leader, highlighted the diversity of survivor experience through powerful testimony. Panelists spoke of their experiences as survivors of sex trafficking, forced marriage, breast ironing, and domestic violence in heterosexual, as well as same-sex relationships, and shared how they are each working to raise awareness through community, education, art and nonprofit advocacy.

dscf7314-editThe second panel delved further into the process many survivors go through in realizing and nurturing their inner leader. Between panel discussions, attendees wrote notes on a Sanctuary tapestry, snapped a few photos for the survivor-led selfie project and practiced meditation to ease the weight of the day’s discussions. Towards the end of the afternoon, staff members shared how survivors could get involved in survivor leadership opportunities at Sanctuary, including advocacy and outreach efforts, and the larger movement to end gender violence.

Joan Hutton Mills

The conference came to close with a special interpretive dance performance by a survivor entitled Points of Change and the reciting of a poem titled, “Change,” by Sanctuary survivor and poet, Joan Hutton-Mills.

 

Sanctuary is grateful for the generous support of Gwen Wright, Gibney Dance, and Project Playdate (which oversaw childcare during the conference). A special thanks is of course due to Sanctuary staff, volunteers, our board members, and the survivors who organized and led this incredible event.

For over 30 years, Sanctuary has served those escaping abuse, helping them transform from victim to survivor. Moving forward, we will build on this experience, working closely with our survivors, to create an organization that not only helps victims become survivors but helps survivors become leaders. By harnessing their energy and knowledge we, as a movement, will transform society’s response to gender violence.

Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Attorneys Go Above and Beyond

Stories from our Pro Bono partners.

In the weeks leading up to the 2016 Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards, we worked closely with our Pro Bono Council and event co-chairs to publish eleven stories – one each week featuring a different team and case. This collection showcases the extraordinary lengths to which so many of our pro bono partners go in order to serve our clients.

To learn more about our Pro Bono Council and related advisory groups, click here.

Akerman Attorneys Help Domestic Violence Survivor Win Final Protective Order

Akerman LLP: Steven Cordero and Vanessa Garcia

“Thanks to their remarkable ongoing efforts before, during, and after each court appearance—not only from a legal point of view, but also in terms of their kindness, compassion, and sense of humor—Vanessa and Steve helped make this unpleasant process as pleasant as possible.”

Read more

Cahill Attorneys Help Domestic Violence Survivor Secure Appropriate Housing for Son with Autism

Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP: Tara Curtin, Krista Friedrich, Jason Hall, Komal Patel, and Jamie Stinson

“I feel fortunate to work at a firm with such a strong commitment to pro bono work—and such a longstanding relationship with Sanctuary…”

Read more

Cahill Attorneys Help Domestic Violence Survivor Keep and Protect Her Kids

Cahill Gordon & Reindell LLP: Joel Kurtzberg, Sara Ortiz, Chloe Sauer, and Ben A. Schatz

“Working with Sanctuary on ZN’s case as a junior associate has given me a great chance to take the lead on a completely different and incredibly important case.”

Read more

Cleary Gottlieb Attorneys Seek Asylum for Survivor of Female Genital Mutilation

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton: Marion de Meslon, S. Ellie Norton, Clayton Simmons, and Jessica Thompson

“The only copy of Ms. G’s marriage certificate available in the United States was in the hands of her abusive husband, who refused to turn it over to us.”

Read more

Cohen & Gresser Attorneys Reinstate Critical Public Benefits for Trafficking Survivor

Cohen & Gresser LLP: Matthew V. Povolny and Scott D. Thomson

“There is a tremendous feeling of what a great opportunity pro bono gives you to help people in the city that you pass by in the streets every day.”

Read more

Davis Polk Team Achieves Tremendous Financial Victory for Mother of Two

Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP: Joel Cohen, Nick DiMarino, Rachelle Navarro, and Daniel Spitzer

“Thank you and please continue with your selfless help to other families such as ours. You have left such an indelible mark in our lives forever. We are truly grateful.”

Read more

Hogan Lovells Successfully Defends Domestic Violence Survivor

Hogan Lovells LPP: Andrew Behrman, Jordan Estes, Nicole Schiavo, Gary Serbin, and Anjum Unwala

“[W]e felt very strongly that a victim of abuse should not have to pay her batterer’s expenses, especially when those expenses resulted from the batterer’s own actions that caused the victim to flee.”

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Reed Smith Attorneys Exhibit Great Skill and Persistence in Complicated Custody Case

Reed Smith LLP: Brandon Cunningham and Jeff Glatzer

“Following an initial intake meeting with the client, we were impressed with the gravity of the situation and eager to help; there was clearly a woman, and even more so a child, in real need of our help.”

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Simpson Thacher Associate Caroline Gross Honored for Her Commitment to Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Work

Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett LLP: Caroline Gross

“Of the more than 200 lawyers who volunteer with Sanctuary’s Trafficking Intervention Pro Bono Project, Caroline stands out…”

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First Year Skadden Attorney Wins Five Year Order of Protection for Survivor of Domestic Violence

Skadden Arps LLP: Tansy Woan

“Not only was I doing a full-blown trial with Sanctuary as a first year associate, but I was giving Ms. T the chance to have her side of the story heard, and to help her fight back against this man who terrified her for years.  It felt so good to tell her that it was all worth it, and to say to her:  ‘Your courage got you through this.’”

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Former Skadden Associate Michael Van Hulle Honored for His Work with Survivors of Gender Violence

Skadden Arps LLP: Michael Van Hulle

“There aren’t heroic people doing heroic things anymore; but here, I would read these affidavits, and think, ‘Wow, that is actually heroic.’ [It was hard to read through these applications without], getting a little teary eyed.”

Read more

Learn more about our Pro Bono Council here.

Yijie’s Story: I am not a victim

Yijie, a Sanctuary for Families client, shares how the Economic Empowerment Program helped her reclaim her humanity.

The following speech was delivered by Yijie, a Sanctuary for Families client, at the Spring 2016 Economic Empowerment Program (E.E.P.) graduation. Of the 43 graduates in this year’s spring class, four women were selected by class vote to share their stories with the audience.

This is Yijie’s story.

I am honored to have the chance to speak with you on this special occasion. I would like to start by saying thank you to Sanctuary for Families and the Economic Empowerment Program (E.E.P.) Department for this life changing opportunity. I would also like to give a special thanks to Angelo, Sarah, Maggie, Jessica, Saloni and Eve for their dedication to this program.

Above all, I want to say congratulations to my classmates in the Office Operations Workshop (O.O.W.) program. We have worked so hard and learned so much over these past five months. It has been difficult at times, but all of us here are no strangers to difficulty. All here have been victims of domestic violence.

My participation in this program was not only an opportunity for me to improve myself professionally as an immigrant in a new country, but also a necessary step I needed to take in the process of reclaiming my humanity.

After two years of being a victim of domestic violence, I finally found the courage to leave my abuser. This is difficult for anyone in this situation. It is even more difficult when you are a stranger in a strange land. I felt like I was at the mercy of a system and a city I did not understand. As a single woman with no children, managing the domestic violence system was a constant challenge.

Even though I was free from abuse, my freedom was a harsh experience of shelter and struggle – I lost hope and wanted to give up. But I didn’t. I kept going.

This program has allowed me to improve myself as well as my professional skills. I was a professional in my native country of China. Now I feel confident and ready to be a professional again in America. Most importantly, I feel human again. I am not a victim of domestic violence. I am a survivor of domestic violence. I have taken my life back. 

Again, I thank everyone at Sanctuary for Families for giving us this opportunity. Your work is so important to so many. I wish my classmates the best of luck in their personal and professional lives. Congratulations again to all of you!

 

Learn more about the Economic Empowerment Program’s success here.