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Part 2 ~ Getting Started: First Steps, Decisions, and Notes

A Brief History of the Origin of Women's Justice Center
Getting Started
Non Profit Status - or Not
Office - or Not
Knowledge, Training, and Certification - or Not

This section of tips on starting an independent center to end violence against women is drawn from our own experience starting Women's Justice Center. So we want to begin with a brief history of the origin of our center.

**A Brief History of the Origin of Women's Justice Center

Women's Justice Center was established ten years ago on October 1,1998. We started with less than $300. We were up and running in a couple days. We have no doubt you can do it too.

Women's Justice Center was born out of crisis. Two of us who started the center had been working at our county's rape crisis center, Women Against Rape. For over a year leading up to our decision to start a new center, all ten local police chiefs, the sheriff, and the District Attorney had been lobbying the state to pull Women Against Rape's federal VAWA funds. These officials were easily able to leverage this because the annual renewal for federal funds required that crisis centers obtain local law enforcement's signature of cooperation. This one requirement alone gave law enforcement effective veto power over the core funding of crisis centers around the country. All the officials had to do to threaten our funds was to hold back on signing the required memos of understanding, which they did.

The reason officials were going after Women Against Rape's funding was because the center frequently publicly criticized law enforcement's mistreatment of victims. And specifically, law enforcement was retaliating because of Women Against Rape's investigation and publicizing of the law enforcement failures that led up to the domestic violence homicide of Maria Teresa Macias. And most pointedly, they were retaliating for our part in filing a $15 million federal civil rights law suit against our Sheriff's department for denying Maria Teresa's constitutional right to equal protection.

By the summer of 1998 local law enforcement's multi-pronged attacks on Women Against Rape's funding were so unrelenting that the center was unable to buy postage stamps and wracked by internal dissension. A few of us at the center decided it was time to do what we had actually been talking about doing for many years. We decided to form an independent advocacy organization for victims of rape, domestic violence, and child abuse, and to focus our efforts in the Latino and other underserved communities of our county.

Over the last ten years, Women's Justice Center has advocated for over 1500 victims of violence against women and children, and launched numerous campaigns to end the violence and to obtain justice for women in our community, particularly in the Latina community. One of the things we're most proud of is the fact that of the more than 1500 women we've helped get free of the violence we've had to put less than a dozen women in a shelter. We've done this on an annual budget averaging less than $60,000.

**Getting Started: First Steps, Decisions, and Notes


We start with funding because if you can put together an independent funding base, you're set forever to pursue your mission wholeheartedly, without ever having to worry about risking your funding. Fortunately, it's not that hard to do.

**Financial Independence of Government and Large Foundation Funding.

Financial independence was not just an early goal of Women's Justice Center, it was a founding principle, and one of the two main reasons for founding the center. (Our other primary goal was to focus on serving the Latino community, which we've written about elsewhere. (See Improving Services to the Latino Community.)

After ten years of working without government and big foundation funding we can say with absolute certainty that this financial independence accomplished exactly what we wanted it to. It's given us immense freedom to push hard for social change, and to advocate vigorously for individual and community-wide women's rights.

Having independent funding has also given us the ability to quickly change course, to seize opportunities, and to strike on issues when the iron is hot. And perhaps most importantly, our funding independence gave us the freedom to make radical departures from established crisis center structure. For example, we did not establish a 24 hour hotline, nor did we initially provide psychological counseling or groups, both of which would have been required by most major funding sources. Instead we chose to focus more intently on justice system, housing, and immigration advocacy, and on community organizing and activism.

In addition to not seeking government funds, we also have only very rarely applied for formal foundation grants. Here are five reasons why:

1. Large foundations only rarely support women's rights work. Earlier in this text we referred you to a set of fact sheets called "Where is the Money for Women's Rights?" put together in 2008 by the Association of Women's Rights in Development (AWID).

The AWID factsheet on large foundation funding is introduced with these sobering words:

"Of all the funding sectors that AWID monitors, the large private foundations currently create the fewest opportunities for women’s rights organizations and movements worldwide. Gender equality is not high on their agendas, and their funding mechanisms are shifting in ways that inhibit access by most women’s rights organizations."

We agree with AWID's assessment, and with their further call for this distressing stance of major foundations must be changed. But unfortunately, at present, small women's rights organizations risk losing huge amounts of time trying to get funds from large foundations.

2. Most large granting foundations are much more conservative than they project. Even if the majority members of a funding committee are comfortable with our activism and feminism, there's usually at least one committee person who will be nervous about it. And one or two nervous committee members can easily nix the grant.

3. Even the very few large foundations that may consider supporting women's rights still have very tight boxes they want you to fit into. Social change work, almost by definition, rarely fits into preordained committee designed boxes. In addition, large foundation funding usually nails you into a tightly defined program design far in advance of your knowing whether or not that program will be relevant when the money finally comes in.

4. The time it takes to jump through the application hoops of a foundation's process is prohibitive, exasperating, and usually a complete waste of time. If you don't end up getting the grant, the time you've spent applying has served no useful purpose whatsoever. This is different from seeking private donations where even if you don't get the donation you haven't necessarily wasted your time. You've educated another community member to the cause.

5. And, finally, beware! Some large foundations will gush with enthusiasm over your initial inquiry and strongly encourage you to make a full application, even though they know perfectly well from the beginning that your work is very unlikely to be funded. Some foundation people do this in order to beef up their own recruitment record so as to look good to their own boards. This practice is an unforgivable theft of your organization's time. The problem is that It's very hard to distinguish when the funder's enthusiasm is genuine and when it's a ruse. Usually it's only after you've had a chance to talk with a number of other applicants that the real picture emerges.

** So where does Women's Justice Center get our funds?

From the very beginning until the present Women's Justice Center obtains virtually all of our funding from individuals and businesses in our own community. In addition to giving our organization tremendous freedom and agility, fund raising from individuals and businesses in our community has the huge additional advantage that the fund raising efforts, in and of themselves, have simultaneously served to educate key individuals in the community. We get our message out again and again as part and parcel of our fund raising activities.

** Getting Started Financially from Nothing.

When we set out to start Women's Justice Center we only had about $300 and no other "day job" to back us up. We had to hit the ground running, both to get the organization going, and to eat. Truly, our prospect of success looked dubious, especially since neither of us had any fund raising experience. Fortunately, we chanced on a tactic that got us financially up and running in no time, and continued to build our base for years. In one variation or another, it can probably work for you too.

We printed up hundreds of 3in.by 8.5in cards on standard yellow card stock. The front side of the card gave a brief description of the organization and contact information - in Spanish and English. The back side listed five tips for helping a friend or family member - also in English and Spanish. Then we stood in front of different supermarkets for two or three hours at a time and handed a card to every one going into or out of the supermarket! To EVERY ONE! And we talked to as many people as were willing.

With this one strategy we quickly built a mailing list of supporters (and potential donors), immediately got speaking engagements, got our fingers on the pulse of the community, and got connected to clients, volunteers, teachers, clergy, youth, business owners, health workers, gang members, perpetrators, families, cops, radio announcers, etc.. Everyone goes to the supermarket! In a single Saturday or Sunday morning at the supermarket we'd connect fact-to-face with upwards of 500 people. In addition, one bonus of these mornings at the supermarkets is that we always came away with $300 to $400 cash in hand, over and above pledged donations and sign ups.

Naturally, over time, we've used a number of other methods to generate funds. But no other strategy has ever matched up to the personal touch combined with high volume contact of meeting people as our mornings at the supermarkets. One way or another you have to move through a high volume of people fast in order to find those gems among them who are so aligned with your mission that they're delighted to reach into their pockets and fuel the cause. What better place to do this than at the supermarket?

** The Key to $$$$ Success: Outreach Requires Reaching Out!

The essential key to making this particular approach work is avoiding a mistake we see being made by many other groups. Don't sit passively behind a table and wait for people to come to you whether at the supermarket or whatever the event. It's asking too much of people to require that it's they who have to step out of their comfort zone and make the first move.

Effective outreach requires that you do the reaching out. So stand up in front of the table, approach people, and say "Hi". It's that simple. Hand them a card and introduce your program. If the person doesn't want to engage further, and some don't, that's fine. They can just keep walking. But in our experience the vast majority of people are willing to take a minute to hear what you have to say ~ if only you take the initiative to step up to people, smile, say, "Hello", and have a good time doing it.

After "Hello" while handing them a card we'd say something to the effect of, "Hi, we'd like you to know about Women's Justice Center. We work to end violence against women and children in Sonoma County, particularly in the Latino community,...." Then we'd mention a current issue of note or news, and the conversation would go from there. And, of course, at some point we'd always mention that we depend completely on community support to do this work, and we ask for a donation.

Yes, we ask directly for a donation. For first time fund raisers, this is often the hard part, especially for women. But do it! And do it directly! Over and over again. It doesn't take too many times of people reaching in their pockets to give you $5, $10, or $20 dollar bills before your shyness at the 'ask' will vanish. Say something like, "We need your help to do this important work, and we'd like to ask you for a donation today. We're very grateful for whatever you can give, and we promise to put your donation to very good use."

By this one supermarket strategy, Women's Justice Center was fully launched and on the community map in a matter of weeks. It worked so well at connecting us into the community and generating supporters that we continued doing this for years. Over the course of time we've person-to-person handed out over 50,000 of these cards.

NOTE 1: Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins (1980): A Case that establishes Any One's Right (at least in California) to Leaflet in Shopping Plazas, both indoors and outside, without permission of the business owner. One question we are always asked by others who consider doing this is how we get permission from the supermarket owners to stand in front of their stores. The answer is that, at least in California, and in a number of other states, you don't need permission. By a 1980 Supreme Court decision in the case of Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robin, an earlier California decision was upheld that both the inside and outside of shopping plazas are considered the modern day public square even though they are also privately owned business property. As such, everyone has the freedom to speak freely and pass out literature without permission of the owner. The one thing you can't do, naturally, is obstruct the flow of customers.

For more information on this key right for activists, and to find out if this right has been established in your state, google "Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins". The Wikipedia article on the case gives a good overview of the case, and summarizes more recent decisions refining the case - most importantly expanding the right to call for a boycott of a particular business within the plaza.

NOTE 2: Donations in low income communities: If you're concerned about whether or not this fund-raising strategy can work in low income communities, don't be. This may surprise you, as it surprised us at first. As a general rule, the sum of donations we'd receive from a morning at supermarkets in poor neighborhoods would usually come out about the same as the sum of donations received in wealthy neighborhoods. This seeming paradox is actually something veteran fund-raisers have been aware of for a long time. The main difference being that in low income areas almost everyone is willing to donate something. Whereas as in the wealthier neighborhoods, a much smaller percentage of people donate, but the few who do donate are much more likely to hand you a sizeable amount.

** Working Effectively on a Low budget

For the past ten years, Women's Justice Center has operated on a budget hovering around $50,000 to $60,000 a year. While some may consider $60,000 to be a hefty budget, it's meager compared to most other rape and domestic violence centers, most of which operate on a budget five to ten times that and more. Yet our record of accomplishments and women freed from violence matches or exceeds that of most other centers.

There are three main points we want to make here. One is that you can do significant, high impact work on a small budget, a medium budget, or a large budget. It's up to you. Second, there are advantages to designing low budget strategies. And third, if you put your mind to it, you can easily raise more money than we have and still stay free of government funding. Our fund-raising efforts have always been relegated to the bottom of our to-do lists. Like too many organizations fueled by passion, we raise a little money, put fund-raising on the back burner, get back to work until the money is gone, and only then turn back to fund-raising again. This is NOT intelligent, and you can easily do better than we have just by being a little more diligent about fund-raising.

But whatever your budget realities, it's good to remember that some of the most effective strategies cost virtually nothing at all. Investigations, public declarations and demands, spotlighting injustices, community education, etc., can all be done with keen use of existing media and events. Similarly, freeing individual women from violence, with her life and housing secure and intact, has more to do with smart, effective advocacy than it does with providing a barrage of expensive social services and shelter. We detail a lot of this thinking on other parts of our web site. The point we want to make here is that there are significant advantages to setting your aim on creating low budget, highly effective programs and strategies:

  • The less money you need, the less fund-raising you have to do. Time is money.
  • Low budget strategies can be copied and adopted by others who have little income and resources.
  • The less money you need, the less likely you are to become entangled in contractual relations that constrict your activities.

There is one thing to keep in mind where we believe the opposite is true. It is always best to pay people well, whether they're working for you directly or on a contract basis. And sometimes it's better to pay people even when they offer to volunteer. So you need to find a comfortable budgetary balance between the goal of designing a low budget program and the goal of paying people as well as possible for the work they do.

** Five Fund-raising Tips from the Trenches:

The following are some conclusions about fund-raising we've come to over the years that may be helpful to you as you start out. By now, you're certainly aware that we're not fund-raising experts. And you may find that a totally different strategy works for you. Nonetheless, these guidelines did grow out of our experience. They've sustained us and kept us independent for ten years. They've kept us focused on our mission, and minimized the time we've spent fund-raising.

Five Fund-raising Tips from the Trenches:

1. If you don't ask, you don't get. If you keep asking, you will always get. Not from everyone, to be sure. But if you continue to ask people for donations you will create a constantly growing base of people who support your work. But first you must ask, ask, and ask again. And that, at least for many, is the hard part, as it was for us. Learning to make direct 'asks' for money is often especially difficult for women. Most of us have been raised on a 'bake sale' mentality, which is demeaning both to your own self worth and to the worth of your mission. So you have to actively retrain your thinking. Remember, you're giving potential donors the opportunity to be part of the fight for justice, and that's worth a hell of a lot more than a cookie or a sugar-coated bun.

The other problem is that so many women have been hypersensitized to rejection. Since rejections are a constant part of fund-raising, that's another fear you have to actively work on to overcome. One way to do this is to minimize the number of complete rejections. If someone can't or won't donate today, ask if they'd like to receive the newsletter, or if they would like to be called on the next round of fund-raising, or if they have suggestions of others who would be interested in the mission.

If it seems like it's taking you forever to erase that last twinge of reluctance every time you ask for a donation, here's something else that should keep you going back at it again and again until you get it right. Think about this. Once you teach yourself to comfortably and confidently ask someone directly for $1,000 to help end violence against women, your organization is set for life for wherever you want to take it.

2. Avoid fund-raising gimmicks, events, silent auctions, dinners, raffles, etc., They take enormous energy to organize. They rob your time from the main mission. And they almost never bring in enough money to make the effort worthwhile. You may be impressed to hear that this or that group made $3,000 in a two hour event. But if you add up all the prep time, anxiety, people involvement, and hidden expenses these events require, that $3,000 quickly loses its luster. Especially when you realize how exhausted people are the next day, and how derailed you've become from the real work at hand.

This doesn't mean we don't hold events. We do. But the purpose of our events has never been to raise money. We've put on any number of luncheons for colleagues, women's rights movies with pizza, organized protests, trainings, and more. At most of our events, we don't even pass the hat or ask for donations.

3. Don't Waste Time Getting In-Kind Donations: Well, hey, of course, if a company knocks on your door and offers you a computer, take it! But that isn't usually how the 'in-kind' donation game gets played. Most frequently it goes like this. We ask a winery for a donation to support the work. They offer to give us a case of their wine. We decline courteously - again, and again, and again. Wine, gift certificates, clothing, food, tickets, etc. First of all, this stuff takes a lot of time and space to handle. Second, it's really not a donation at all. What the companies are usually trying to do is use you and your time to push their products and their name into new arenas under the umbrella of your good name. And that's not what we're about.

4. Remember, Social change sells. We may too purist, but we do believe that staying tightly focused on the mission, and asking donors to support exactly that, is the best fund-raising strategy of all. You just have to truly believe that there are many people in your community who share your vision and passion for change, and who are happy to have a local organization that is dedicated to that mission. All you have to do is find them. And the mission will sell itself.

5. Raise your voices high! Whether your talents take you to radio, video, print media, the internet, or a soap box on the street, raising your voices high isn't just good for the mission, it's great for fund-raising, too. You don't really even have to trumpet your need for donations. It's automatic. The higher the profile of your work, the easier your fund-raising will be later on.


Non Profit Status - or Not ?

One of the early decisions you'll likely be considering is whether or not to seek non profit status for your group. But take your time. This is a decision you can probably put off for a while until you have time to look into it further. Especially, since right now, there's considerable debate going on among activists about the pros and cons of obtaining official non profit status. The women of color against violence group INCITE! has put together a thought provoking critique of the non profit structure in a section of their work on 'alternatives to non profit systems'. Take a look and see what you think.

Though we agree with many of their arguments on the perils of what they call the "non profit industrial complex", here's why we decided to obtain non profit status for Women's Justice Center. And here's how we were able to do so in just a matter of hours, a path which may be an option for you, too.

We decided to get non profit status first, because we had an easy way to do it, and second, because we felt that people would be more likely to donate if we had it. Whether or not it's really true that people are more likely to donate to a group with non profit status is hard for us to say. Most of our donors have never asked us directly whether or not we have non profit status. But, then again, they may have inquired in other ways, or they may have seen it mentioned on our materials. So it's impossible to say whether or not our non profit status has influenced most of our donors one way or the other.

However, ~ and this may be the deciding point for you, too ~, most of our major donors DO inquire about our non-profit status. In our experience there's no question that people who donate large sums definitely do want to be assured that their donation will be tax deductible. But beyond that, it just stands to reason that, in general, people would view a group's non profit status as an indicator of the group's seriousness of mission and of the group's intent to persevere. So, looking back, if we had to make the decision over again, we would probably decide again to obtain non profit status, and we would most certainly do so if it were as simple as it was the first time.

In the beginning, it took us less than two hours to obtain non profit status for Women's Justice Center. This likely sounds impossible, especially if you've listened to other organizations groan on about the horrendous and time consuming hurdles they've been through in order to obtain their own non profit status. And, frankly, if we had to go the standard route, it's very possible we would not have stayed the course.

So here's how we made an end run around the whole ordeal, and how you might do it, too. We knew an existing non profit that was willing to adopt Women's Justice Center as a project of that existing non profit.

The existing non profit, Redwood Justice Fund (R.J.F.), is actually an umbrella non profit for five or six distinct groups, each focusing on their diverse and independent interests, from environmentalism to prison work to women's rights. We all share the same board, so none of the groups had to establish their our own board of directors. But beyond sharing a board, each group functions independent of the others. Each raises their own funds, and controls their own programs. And each group pays 10% of their income to the board to carry out the monthly accounting and administrative tasks needed to keep the show on the road. The administrative bylaws, and especially the politics, of Redwood Justice Fund were compatible with our thinking. From that point, all that was required to finalize our non profit status was a one page letter from Redwood Justice Fund agreeing to adopt Women's Justice Center as a project.

This arrangement of one board serving over multiple and diverse groups is not as unusual as you might think. Since joining in this arrangement with R.J.F. we've discovered a number of other activist and social justice groups, both locally and around the country, who have joined together in similar arrangements. So ask around in your community. A few hours of phone calls may be all you need to set yourself up on a foundation of instant respectability.

In addition to the obvious advantage of a speedy start up, there are a number of other advantages of this kind of arrangement. For example, because the board for the various groups is overseeing multiple and diverse groups, there is little tendency on the part of the board to want to micro-manage the operation of Women's Justice Center, or any of the other projects. This is a significant advantage. The tendency of many non profit boards to meddle in the day to day management of an organization is a frequent source of nightmare conflicts; conflicts that too often lead to organization demise.

Office or No Office?

Do you really need an office? For a number of years Women's Justice Center operated out of a sweet, low rent office in a prime location, right where we wanted to be, next door to the best known Mexican market and restaurant in the county. Until the day came when the building we were in was sold and we had to leave.

Our efforts to search for new office space were a heart stopping shocker. The rents were through the roof. One day we just stopped in our tracks and took stock. Do we really need an office? For what?

An office to meet with clients? But, for the most part we hadn't been using the office to meet with clients right from the beginning. Most of our clients have been immigrant women for whom it was very difficult to get to our office despite its prime location. They're young, frightened women with young kids, without cars, who are already too over stressed by circumstances to arrange a trip to a place they'd never been before. So we had long ago adopted the practice of meeting many of our clients in a place chosen by the clients themselves, a safe and easy place for them to get to in their own environment; a park in their neighborhood, a coffee shop near their home, a school, a friend's home, etc. Or, if the purpose was to accompany the client at some point in the process, we would meet the women there at the relevant police station, school office, or court room.

An office to house office equipment? Files cabinets, phones, faxes, and other bulky office equipment are for the most part history. In a matter of just a few years all this bulk has been squeezed down into the size of a simple cell phone and laptop. No need of an office to house those. The one thing we haven't been able to squeeze down into the new virtual reality is space for our inventory of written materials, which we now keep in a simple storage rental.

An office for staff meetings? Workshops? Events? Meetings with potential donors? With the money we'd save not paying monthly rent we could easily spend the money to rent space in a community center or another venue appropriate for whatever the occasion.

And that's exactly what we've done. For the last couple years, Women's Justice Center has operated without a physical office. We rent storage space. And we use the considerable money we save to rent some very nice meeting and event space as needed. And we still come out saving a lot of money.

Knowledge, Training, and Certification, or Not

You don't need knowledge and experience to fight against the injustices and tyranny of violence against women. At the same time, you need all the knowledge and experience you can get.

One of the critiques of the current violence against women movement in the US is its increasing trend toward professionalization, i.e. the requirement of many centers that advocates and staff have professional degrees. This increasing professionalization is often blamed right along with government funding, contractual relations with law enforcement, and big budgets, as the root causes of the movement's stagnated progress. Without getting sidetracked into that debate, we can't emphasize enough that you shouldn't let your lack of knowledge and experience keep you from plunging head long into the fight to end the violence against women and children.

When we first started our activist work at our county rape crisis center in 1991, we had no more knowledge than the average 'woman on the street' of the issues or systems involved. Yet within weeks, we were demonstrating on the courtroom steps demanding that the district attorney prosecute a prominent local doctor for bringing 21-year-old Maria Ramos into the US on the false promise of a job so he could use her and sell her out as a sex slave. And that was back in 1991 before anyone was talking about sex trafficking or sex slavery. The injustice of the denial of justice was as blatantly evident to us and to Maria as would have been the evident wrong of a dagger in her heart.

Don't let a lack of specialized knowledge shy you away from your outrage and action against injustice. Even without specialized knowledge:

  • You can recognize, name, document, investigate, validate, and demand remedy for injustice and tyranny, and you can organize others to do the same.
  • You can accompany and stand beside victims, and that, by itself, is more powerful protection against revictimization than you can imagine. You can help them get information, make phone calls for victims, help them keep a notebook, help them remember information and questions they want to ask, accompany them to court, help them find resources, and so much more...
  • You can (and must) learn as you go.
  • You can ask questions and insist on answers.

However, whether you begin with little knowledge or a with a lot of knowledge,

* First, Do No Harm! Recognize your limits, and don't advise beyond what you know. As an advocate for women and communities, the maxim is the same for you as for physicians, First, Do No Harm!

* And just as important, it's essential to continue to educate yourself to the maximum extent possible. Knowledge is golden.

There are many more principles of good advocacy for individual victims that are beyond the scope of the present topic. But there is one other golden rule of advocacy worth mentioning here. Never take action on behalf of your client without having her complete, fully informed permission. Follow this one rule meticulously at every step and you won't go wrong.

What about certification as a victim advocate?

First, there is no requirement in any state or any country that we know of that you must have victim advocate certification in order to function as a victim advocate. Second, there is nothing a certified victim advocate can do that you can't do. Any human being can carry out all the functions of a victim advocate. In sum, you don't need certification to be a victim advocate.

So what is certification all about? Rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters that receive federal violence against women funding require their advocates to obtain certification as sexual assault advocates or as domestic violence advocates. This is a requirement of the federal funding. The training required for certification is generally a 40 to 80 hour course, and is usually provided by the centers.

In Women's Justice Center's ten years advocating for victims, only one advocate had obtained that certification. All the other advocates have not had certification. They learn by doing and so can you.

Note: Confidentiality Most state laws require that certified victim advocates maintain client confidentiality except when released from that confidentiality by the victim. As part of this confidentiality mandate, most state laws also give certified advocates limited protection from subpoena in the legal cases pertaining to the victim's assault. This is really a protection for the victim, since it gives the victim some assurance that she can speak freely to you, her advocate, without having to worry that you will be called into court to testify. Naturally, neither you nor the victim are covered by that protection from subpoena if you are not a certified advocate.

If you think it's important to extend this protection to your clients, you can take the training and get certification. However, there are a number of reasons we believe that your lack of coverage in this regard poses very little risk to the clients, if any at all.

1. In most all legal cases, neither the prosecutor nor the defense attorney is ever going to want to put the advocate on the witness stand in the first place. The defense attorney doesn't want you on the stand because you'll inevitably say things that are favorable to the victim. And the prosecutor doesn't want you on the stand because virtually all you have to say is hearsay. The victim and other witnesses can give first hand testimony of what you only know second hand.

To show you just how rare it would be for a defense attorney or prosecutor to subpoena an advocate to testify, consider that over ten years none of the non certified advocates at Women's Justice Center has ever received a subpoena to testify. The only person to receive the two subpoenas in ten years was the certified advocate, me. One subpoena resulted because I had put myself in the chain of evidence by taking photos of the victim's injuries, and, as such, had stepped outside the advocate's role. The second subpoena was from a federal court proceeding. The victim was dead, and, as such, the court argued there was no person's confidentiality to protect. And in addition to that there was no federal law at the time covering victim/advocate confidentiality. Even so, we fought to quash the subpoena and won.

2. In the rare instance where either the defense attorney or prosecutor feels there is something you know that is critical to the case, your certification is unlikely to protect you from subpoena anyway. This is because the victim advocate confidentiality is a much weaker construction legally than the confidentiality between attorneys and their clients or physicians and their patients. All the defense attorney or prosecutor has to do to overcome your certified confidentiality protection is to argue successfully to the court that you probably have information that has evidentiary import to the case.

So, all in all, we believe you can advocate for victims of violence against women without certification without compromising your clients at all. The most important part of protecting your client's confidentiality is very simple and can be done by any one. Don't talk with others about the details of her assault unless you have her expressed permission.

Use Your Freedom!

Creating an independent platform on which to work may be the easiest part. Standing on it, and fighting for women's rights, is a constant struggle.

Freeing women from violence, individually or communally, threatens the deepest roots of society's most powerful institutions. You encounter resistance to change at every step, no matter which direction you take; resistance, retaliation, fear, accusations, and high voltage disagreements. The more effective you are, the more intense it can get. This, of course, is one of the reasons it's so easy to retreat back into the safe and compliant programs. Repression works. But don't let it!

It's especially important that you understand that these reactions aren't directed at you personally. Rather, they're the automatic response of those who desperately don't want to give up the powers and privileges of the old order.

But don't be deterred from your course. Sit back and regroup! Take time to make new strategy. Remember, the reason you're creating an independent organization is to give yourself the freedom to do exactly that.

Feel free to photocopy and distribute this information as long as you keep the credit and text intact.
Copyright © Marie De Santis,
Women's Justice Center,


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