“It was about six months after my children and I finally got a house in tribal housing. I was struggling to get to work, take care of the kids and keep the car working. I needed my ex to watch the children a couple days a week so I could work. I trusted him to take good care of them for that amount of time. One day I drove to town, about 18 miles away, to get my paperwork up-dated for food stamps. I handed my papers to the worker. She gave me a mean look, grabbing the papers from me, she said, ’Your husband is at your house all the time! If he’s living with you, you can’t get food stamps!’ There were other people there and she was loud and angry. I was so embarrassed, but mostly I honestly wanted to jump over the desk…! But I knew if I did or said anything, she could “lose” my paperwork – How did she know he was at my house? Who was watching me? She said other stuff to me…I just had to take it…”

“He was screaming ‘I’ll kill you’ while he was pounding on me. Somehow, I escaped and ran to the neighbors. The woman said she heard him yelling but didn’t know if she should get involved! Found out later I had a concussion, a cracked rib and 25 bruises and welts. Shirt was torn. Finally, the cops arrived. I’m sitting there holding my shirt together, just stunned, shocked. The cop says, with his one hand on his gun, the other on his hip, ‘So what’s your problem?’ He told me I had to stand out on the street and watch when they went into my house to get my batterer…. A few days later the sheriff says, ‘Well, I’m surprised you didn’t drop this yet. Most do.’”

“I knew I had to leave. Everybody said I should just leave him. But the lease was in his name. Closest shelter is 50 miles away – my job? Kids’ school? No car and 3 children. I call the county housing authority about low-income housing. They say I have to bring all kinds of paperwork and show up on Monday morning at 7:30 in person. That’s the only time they take applications. How do I do that? Especially with getting kids to school? And there’s a two-year waiting list!”

The next step in doing systems advocacy is to listen to women. Creating relationships with women is the beginning place for advocacy. Trusting relationships are imperative for healing from trauma and allow for getting integral information to provide individual advocacy and institute systems change. First assuring that immediate needs are meet, intake or contact paperwork is an opportunity to ask about who they have sought help from in the past, with focus on the response by the program or agency, not on the woman’s choices. It’s about what happened, not what they did. Who did they ask for help? What was the response? How did it impact them? Were there difficulties accessing the resource/program/agency? What worked? What didn’t? How do they want things to change? What are their suggestions? Read more…