In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness month, we sat down (via
cellphone) with Crossroads Rhode Island’s new Domestic Violence Program
Manager, Brandie Leach.
Together, we spoke about Brandie’s background and commitment to supporting survivors, the affect COVID-19 has had on those experiencing domestic violence and what her hopes are for the future of the Domestic Violence Program.
Crossroads: What brought you to Crossroads’ Domestic Violence Program? What is your background prior to coming to the organization?
BL: What attracted me to Crossroads was that I saw it as a great opportunity to both grow as an advocate as well as tap into new skills to advocate for survivors in an impactful way.
And prior Crossroads...well I’ll start at the beginning! I obtained my degree in Social Work from Rhode Island College and became a Certified Trauma Professional.
My history with advocacy began when I was an active member of the army, where I was an advocate for victims of sexual assault. In that role, I provided support to survivors and assisted them in understanding their options to report incidences. I also would educate fellow military members on the rules and regulations surrounding sexual assault and conduct. For a time, I became a crisis counselor in New York before coming to the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center in Rhode Island. I began there as a Law Enforcement Advocate and shifted to becoming a counselor for survivors of sexual assault.
And now I am with the Domestic Violence Program!
Crossroads: What would you like people to know about domestic violence and those who are affected by it?
BL: What might be helpful would be to debunk some of the misconceptions surrounding domestic violence.
For instance, DV doesn’t just constitute physical abuse. Domestic violence
is an umbrella term which encompasses emotional abuse, verbal/mental
abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse and digital abuse. And it doesn’t just have to happen between romantic partners to be classified as domestic violence; parents and children, roommates, extended family and co-parents can be examples of relationships impacted by domestic abuse. We also know that, while DV happens within every community, marginalized groups (LGBTQ, people of color, the deaf and hard of hearing, folks with disabilities) experience abuse at a disproportionate rate.
I think the most important thing people can do for a survivor is, when the survivor speaks their truth, we believe their story. And, the best way to help a survivor is support them however the survivor needs it. As someone on the outside of the situation, we may not be able to understand the barriers they face to reach for the help they need. We should acknowledge within ourselves that the right to choose the help is with the survivor, and then provide the support they seek accordingly.
Crossroads: Since the start of COVID-19, what affects are you seeing the pandemic have on survivors and service providers?
BL: The answer to this is multifaceted. From the perspective of those experiencing domestic abuse, those victims no longer have a reprieve from their abuser. COVID-19 has trapped these victims with their abuser 24 hours a day, depriving them of those moments of safety or their usual places of safe haven (like work).
From an advocate’s perspective, COVID has limited and changed the way we can provide support for those experiencing domestic violence. At the height of the pandemic, we could not provide face-to-face counseling or advocacy. And where we would usually be able provide real-time support for folks who needed it, we were oftentimes limited to responding after the fact. Social distancing recommendations have also limited our program's capacity.
And, from the agency side of things, our staff was also dealing with their own COVID-related crises. As time has gone on, luckily, we have been able to make adjustments accordingly to return to providing care in our “normal,” and now COVID-friendly, way.
Crossroads: Have you notice any changes in the amount of calls for help and/or domestic violence support in light of COVID-19?
BL: Because of COVID, we as providers we were faced with the challenge of figuring out how to support survivors who were isolated and experiencing abuse.
At the peak of the pandemic, we saw an increased need for shelter, but overall a decrease in the number of counseling calls, because many experiencing abuse did not have the opportunity to reach out for help.
During this time, we were heavily relying on our community (neighbors, family, friends and emergency professionals) to fill in the gaps and support survivors most in need. Now that we’ve established a “new-normal,” we have been able to steady supports and services for survivors.
Crossroads: What is your overall vision for Crossroads' Domestic Violence Program?
BL: The foundation of Crossroads’ Domestic Violence Program is strong, but there are
always ways to improve how we support survivors in need.
My hope is to continue to stabilize the program from the impacts of the pandemic on both our clients and staff, re-establish and implement new programming to better serve our clients and work towards adding new services that allow us to meet the needs of the community.
It is my vision that in the future, survivors that come to Crossroads Domestic Violence Program will have the ability to access every support they need right here to improve their life and get back on a safe and healthy track for themselves and for their families.
Bonus Question from Crossroads: What are some helpful ways folks can participate in Domestic Violence Awareness Month?
BL: One of the easiest and best ways to engage in Domestic Violence Awareness Month
is to educate yourself on the issue. Google is a great resource to get
started, and there are so many agencies within Rhode Island, like the
Rhode Island Coalition for Domestic Violence, for example, that also
provide a wealth of information for those in our community. And from there, you can share that knowledge you have learned within your spheres of influence.
You can also commit yourself to being an active bystander if you see someone experiencing abuse. This can be accomplished by using the 3 D’s of bystander intervention: Direct (confront the situation if you feel confident and safe enough to do so), Distract (Cause a distraction that will diffuse the situation and allow the victim an escape), and Delegate (seek help from a friend, professional or appropriate authority).
You may choose to get involved by volunteering or donating to domestic violence agencies in Rhode Island, like our Domestic Violence Program here at Crossroads.
Community support and action is critical in ending the cycle of abuse. So, any way you choose to participate in helping those experiencing domestic violence is a step towards ending violence in our community.