Advocates and Law Enforcement: A Unique Partnership

Details from ‘Hands Across the Divide’ sculpture. Photo by the artist, Derry~Londonderry, 2013
Details from ‘Hands Across the Divide’ sculpture. Photo by the artist, Derry~Londonderry, 2013

Working with trauma survivors has been a humbling experiencing. Surviving trauma has been equally so. I do not consider my experiences to be as tragic or overwhelming as the people I’ve met along the way, but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my own struggles. In acknowledging that I have lived, less than perfectly or in fear, I am acknowledging a vulnerability flavored with shame. Even if I know the strength it takes to get through difficult times, there will always be someone who believes otherwise.

I believe that law enforcement and anti-violence activists have a lot in common. They (we) are often on opposing sides, but the dividing line is often a call for justice. Police and advocates witness the aftereffects of horrific abuse, assault and even death. Police may respond first, but there is always life after a call. Advocates may walk alongside a victim to support their choice, but law enforcement is often the safety net. There are times where it feels like the gender lines are firmly drawn and no bridge in sight, but inevitably these groups are back, working together to achieve the same end. Safety, justice, and an end to the violence.

My first experience of law enforcement was not positive. Thirty-five years later, I still have a visceral reaction to flashing lights and sirens. I’ve worked hard to overcome my bias and I have a more balanced perspective than ever. As an advocate, I’m amazed that there are officers who maintain their humanity in the face of daily trauma. Even though they are held up as heroes we all know there is a consequence to frequent exposure to violence, as well as the impact of long-term stress. Especially when your role is to maintain order in the midst of conflict.

Anti-violence advocates deal with similar overexposure to stress. Often with limited resources and very few acknowledgements of their daily heroism. There seems to never be enough. Resources, awareness, and space to house families in crisis. Domestic Violence Shelters have been at or overcapacity for several years. There is very little celebration when life is a never-ending, crisis-fueled experience. Burn-out can be high and it’s not unusual for people to leave the field periodically for as break.

As Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes to an end, I wanted to offer a little of my appreciation for both law enforcement and anti-violence advocates. They work in the thick of violence to support families, regardless of the divide, it’s a truly unique partnership. May we have more opportunities to partner.

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