A young immigrant woman came to an immigrant rights organisation seeking assistance. She had gone to a party with her former employer, the owner of a bar. That evening, he attempted to rape her. She was able to struggle and get away. However, the experience was clearly traumatising. Outraged, the woman had decided that she wanted to confront this man. She talked to the advocate about her plan to enter the bar and directly confront him, convinced that her sense of violation could only be met by this bold move.
The advocate, moved by the courage of this woman, responded by offering to go into the bar with her, a strategy ultimately challenged by the advocate’s team of co-workers. This offer went beyond the usual practices of this organisation and much beyond what most anti-violence organisations would recommend. Interested in the further exploration of this woman’s request, this organisation wondered whether this was the right opportunity for trying out a community-based intervention. The other options didn’t seem to fit. She had already gone to the police who told her she did not have a case. And she did not have money or speak English. Who would she go to for ‘therapy’ except the organisation? Besides, it seemed like she was seeking her own pathway to healing which for her meant facing him head-on.
The advocate decided not to go with her and confront this man. But she did decide to act as a supporter or facilitator to see if she could provide a supportive anchor for this woman to carry out this plan of action. Self-determination became the guiding value for the organisation’s workers. Safety was also foremost in their minds. How could they prioritise safety without taking away this woman’s self-determination?
The staff team discussed what a facilitated community-based intervention would look like in this situation. How could the advocate ask exploratory questions without trying to convince this woman not to go or to scare her off? The advocate met again with the young woman. This time she helped her explore her goals in confronting this man. Could her goals be met in other ways? Did she think about safety? It became clear that this woman’s goal was direct confrontation even after all of the questions. But she was also open to discussing safety plans and to role-play the action
The advocate role-played possible scenarios based on her knowledge of the dynamics of sexual assault. She presented possible dangers as well as responses of victim-blaming, denial, threats and violence. She helped the woman explore who else among her friends and family might be willing to help. The role-play brought up many situations which this woman had not considered. She recognised that marching into the bar on her own or with others was too dangerous. She had not thought of the possibility of his denial or his manipulation that it was her fault or her imagination. After going through the role-play, she realised that these were all possibilities and appreciated the opportunity to go through the process. It helped her clarify a safer plan which still met her goals.
Since the advocate was interested in helping this woman explore what other allies she had, she asked more about this. Although the advocate had at first been convinced to march alongside her, she thought more about this. It was dangerous. She did not ‘know’ this man, his possible reactions, or how her presence could make the situation more dangerous. Supporting this woman to centre this ‘intervention’ within her own community made more sense. They are her first-line supporters. They know her and the situation in which she worked. And the advocate was willing to help think through their possible roles and safety as well as hers.
The woman could not identify anybody within her community to help out when this plan was first discussed. But the question seemed to make an impression. By the time she decided to go and confront the man, she had talked to a friend who agreed to stay close to her phone in case any crisis occurred.
After thinking through and role-playing the safety plan, she called her former employer to meet her at a restaurant. He agreed. When she went to prepare for the meeting, she talked to the waiter at the restaurant and asked him to keep a close watch on the situation in case anything happened. These were two allies, the friend and the waiter, that she organised to support her safety.
The woman met with her former employer, confronting him by naming his action and her outrage. Within a short time, he admitted his guilt and apologised without further incident. She called the organisation following this confrontation with great appreciation, relief and a sense of closure.
This story illustrates the basic principles of the model of community-based intervention, the critical role of helping the survivor identify her own goals and a plan of action to meet these goals. It also highlights the importance of exploring a collective response and the opportunity it opens for a different set of options. It offers one example of engagement with the person doing harm and the transformative power of this possibility for the person he hurt. We can imagine that the “healing” powers of this action were deeper and more powerful than anything the police or professionals could provide.
Story adapted from Kim, M. “Alternative interventions to intimate violence: Defining political and pragmatic challenges.” Pp. 193 – 217 in Ptacek, J. (Ed.), Feminism and Restorative Justice, (NY: Oxford Press, 2010).