Summit Advocates for Victims of Assault looks to engage LGBTQ, non-English speaking communities
Summit Advocates for Victims of Assault has been a fixture in the Summit County community for almost 40 years, providing a number of resources to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and other similar traumas.
But the organization is planning on making some changes in the near future, pushing to increase their visibility in the community to make survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault better aware of their services, and to create a more inclusive environment by reaching out to survivors in marginalized communities.
“I’ve been really surprised when I’m talking to friends and family, or members of the community, how little people know about the scope of what we do here,” said Lesley Mumford, who took over as executive director of Advocates earlier this year. “Talking about what we do and the diversity of what we do is very important.”
Mumford said that community members view Advocates primarily as a “hotline” organization, with volunteers manning a 24-hour crisis hotline and responding to crisis situations at crime scenes and hospitals. And while these are valuable resources offered by Advocates, Mumford says it’s vital that victims understand the full breadth of their services, which often help victims even years removed from traumatic incidents.
In addition to crisis intervention and counseling, Advocates also offers financial assistance to help survivors pay for college tuition, down payments on vehicles, rent, child care and more. Advocates also offers a “match-to-savings” program wherein applicants can receive up to four times the amount they’ve saved toward self-sufficiency goals.
Additionally, the group provides subsidized therapy and suicide prevention in cooperation with the Summit School District, emergency safe housing and legal advocacy among other services. The organization also partners with Stand Up Colorado, a program that engages potential perpetrators rather than victims, hoping to shift the conversation from telling people how not to be victims, and instead showing people how not to be offenders.
But the nonprofit still feels that there’s more they can be doing. It starts with creating a more comprehensive presence in the community.
“We’ve struggled with our public image for sure,” said Mumford. “Part of that is because it’s hard to talk about this stuff. I recognize that our Facebook page doesn’t lend itself to a lot of likes. But as a community we have to talk about it because if we don’t nothing will change. … over the next two years we’re going to be focusing on marketing and branding, and figuring out how to better engage the community and tell our story. We’ve already started doing that with an increased social media presence, and looking for funding for a new website and efforts along those lines.”
Perhaps the biggest reason why visibility in the community is so vital for organizations like Advocates is that victims of domestic violence or sexual assault oftent aren’t willing to engage with the criminal justice system, whether it’s due to a fear that they won’t be believed or a fear of retribution, harassment or stigma. Mumford said that of the 132 new client contacts they’ve had this year, only 14 were referred by law enforcement.
But Advocate’s newest push to engage the community is also an effort to reach out to individuals in marginalized communities such as racial minorities and the LGBTQ community, which often face disproportionate rates of violence.
“We had more than 300 clients in 2017, and we’re on pace to exceed that this year,” said Mumford. “So it is a problem here. The national average is that one in four white women will experience domestic violence in their lives, and the rates become even more disproportionate for people of color or members of the LGBTQ community.”
Mumford, whose gender transition drew widespread media attention last year, said that members of the LGBTQ community often feel unwelcome even at organizations like Advocates. She noted that in the coming year, the group would focus its attention toward reaching out to victims in the LGBTQ community to find out how Advocates can better serve them.
Additionally, she said the organization would be making messaging on their website and social media pages more inclusive by sharing more diverse stories.
Mumford also noted that she is working with the GLBT Center in Denver to help train Advocates’ volunteers to be more aware of the issues surrounding the LGBTQ community.
Furthermore, Advocates is planning a series of outreach programs targeting Hispanic communities in the area, holding bilingual and Spanish-speaking events to inform non-English speaking community members how to access services, and what they entail. Advocates is also one of the few advocacy organizations in the state which participates in U visa programs, assisting foreign victims of domestic violence or sexual assault to find a path to citizenship.
“I think there’s certain marginalized populations that have not wanted to approach organizations out of discomfort or fear that they’re not going to be equally served,” said Mumford. “It’s up to us to take intentional steps to erode that perception. It’s part of creating an organization that reflects the community.”
But as Advocates works to better engage with the most traditionally vulnerable communities, Mumford said that there’s more that individual members of the community could be doing to help address ongoing issues surrounding domestic violence and sexual assault in Summit County.
“It begins in daily conversations in the way we talk about intimate partner violence,” said Mumford. “In each conversation we need to make it uncomfortable for people to have permissive attitudes. Those attitudes and minimizing these issues creates the environment where these crimes can be looked at as ‘not that bad.’”
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