The Prevention Connection: Our Powers Combined!

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The Crisis Life: We’ve Been There

Many of us have been here, direct service work or as we call it the crisis life. We are the ones who are helping others to put out fires. We hold hands in the hospitals, in shelters, and courtrooms; we answer calls all hours of the day and night, listening, and safety planning. We are the experts of crisis intervention, reacting to the crisis of the moment, often overwhelmed by it all. Our work is often focused on the individual in front of us, but what would it look like if we had the opportunity to be a part of prevention efforts?

Community Needs Assessment Strategy:   Internal Survey

As we, the Rape Prevention Education Team, were searching last year through external data about how many sexual assaults had been reported to the police in Clark County, we knew we weren’t going to find accurate numbers. Most people reading this probably know that rape is the most underreported crime out there. And there aren’t many surveys that ask about it and can give us data at the county level, either. Then, these questions occurred to us: Why weren’t we looking to our own staff? To the very folks who have been living the crisis life? Wouldn’t they know better than anyone else where we were needed most?

Sometimes we get so caught up in needing “reputable sources” that we don’t ever look to our own expertise or identify it as expertise. If you were to ask people on the street who an expert would be, we’d imagine that they’d at least mention the local rape crisis program. We hope.  Why wasn’t this one of our first thoughts? We’re the experts in our community. We have this whole fancy data tracking system that everyone just loves entering stats into, so why don’t we actually USE that information for more than just grant reporting? So we pulled our data. It was mildly helpful but pretty incomplete (but that’s a whole different post). So we took to our staff members. Our Southern Indiana Campus had about 15 staff who worked directly with folks in some capacity. We made a survey monkey and asked them about where they thought we should be, what kinds of needs clients expressed in southern Indiana, and what kinds of laws/sanctions were in place. Turns out, they gave us GREAT information.  Duh. That’s not the shocking part, though.

We were overwhelmed by the nature of staff responses. Most staff didn’t want to fill out the survey because they felt they weren’t experts. Even when they did fill it out, it was because we begged them to and many of their open-ended responses were flavored with professional self-doubt. Quite a few referenced getting external sources of data and not feeling like they knew enough to answer our questions in a helpful way. We think part of their hesitancy was that since this was part of a prevention effort, they didn’t feel like they knew what they were talking about – which extended to they didn’t feel like they were a part of prevention efforts at all, like they couldn’t participate in prevention because they were direct service. We think another part is that they don’t realize just how important we as preventionists know their work to be.

These were heart-breaking thoughts to us. The work they do is SO important and the knowledge and skills they possess SO crucial – not only to help people directly experiencing these awful things but to help us figure out where we need to be and how we can be most effective on the prevention side of things! If we’re getting a ton of calls or clients reporting issues with nude photos or strangulation or specific areas, we need to know to include that in what we talk about. Our crisis intervention advocates and family advocates may have realized their impact on the one person they’re working with, but it seemed like they had no idea how much value we, as preventionists, placed on their work. We had to stop this. We can’t keep working in silos. It’s not good for the work and it’s certainly not good for our souls.

So with this particular project, we made sure to communicate with them just how valuable their input was and include them in the assessment process every step of the way. That primarily meant emails, the first a very heartfelt and sincere expression of gratitude and appreciation. It also meant updating or asking for feedback in person. It meant interviewing one of them further in the CNA process. It has meant keeping the conversation and priority alive on the Prevention Education Team about how we include direct service staff in our efforts regularly – and how we include ourselves in theirs. That could look like something formal OR it could be as informal as striking up conversations with clients in the courtyard because they’re looking at you funny in reaction to the fact that you’re making green dot snow balls.

I’m really excited about what opening these channels will bring The Center and violence prevention in general in the future. We ALL are on fire with this work – or have been at some point. We ALL want to make it possible that no one is suffering, that no one is hurt anymore. We truly believe that our prevention work is strengthened when the WHOLE agency is involved AND our advocacy and direct service work are strengthened when the WHOLE agency is involved. We’re in this together, and, together, we make a much better Safe World Superhero Team!

Questions (if you want to apply / explore further):

  • How are advocacy and prevention efforts connected (or disconnected) at your space? What are some of your “a-ha” moments around the disconnect?
  • What are some ways that the two do (or could) overlap or provide learning and teaching spaces with each other?

Written by Lori Droege, Indiana Prevention Coordinator at The Center for Women and Families