25 Jun Reaching Underserved Populations: An Ongoing Process of Listening, Learning, and Improving
Chances are, if we were to ask you to imagine a “survivor of domestic violence,” a very specific image would pop into your head. She’s probably a woman, probably young to middle aged, probably in a relationship with a man, and probably being physically abused.
And you’d be justified in that mental picture. It is absolutely the widely accepted narrative of what domestic violence looks like. It’s what we see on television, what we hear in the news, and even what we see in the marketing created by many DV agencies nationwide.
The problem isn’t that this depiction is inaccurate—there are many survivors for whom that image is completely true to life—the problem is that it’s somewhat limited. For every survivor whose experience does match the description above, there’s another whose experience does not. If we build our response to violence based on assumptions about what DV looks like and who it affects, then we’re leaving out whole groups of people whose experiences don’t neatly mirror that expectation.
This is what we mean when we talk about “underserved populations”—those groups of people for whom finding help is especially difficult because help was not designed with them in mind. WTLC has made a commitment to continually examine our programs and services for unintentional barriers that prevent survivors from accessing care, and actively working to dismantle these barriers to ensure recovery is available to all survivors in our community.
Imagine a survivor who uses a wheelchair, whose partner isolates him from friends and family and controls his finances, mobility, and medical care. What would be some barriers that might prevent him from getting help? He might be afraid that people won’t believe him because he isn’t being physically harmed, or because they assume a man can’t be abused by a woman. Additionally, if an organization’s facilities are physically inaccessible to him—no ramps, narrow doorways, small bathrooms, etc.—he might be unable to comfortably or safely access services. WTLC works with survivors of all genders and all types of abuse, including physical, financial, and emotional. We have additionally spent the past three years working to increase the physical accessibility of our facilities, installing ramps, renovating restrooms, and adapting doors to be easier to use for everyone.
Imagine a transgender woman who is seeking shelter because her girlfriend is physically abusive. What would be some barriers that might prevent her from getting help? She might be afraid that a shelter wouldn’t understand or accept her gender identity, might treat her differently than the other women in the program, and might even assume that she’s the abuser in her relationship. WTLC is committed to providing a safe, welcoming, and accepting environment for LGBTQ survivors. We believe that each survivor is an expert in their own experiences and needs, and so we trust them when they explain to us what those experiences and needs are. This includes recognizing that transgender survivors are especially vulnerable to continued abuse even while receiving domestic violence services, and prioritizing their safety while they are in our programs.
Imagine an undocumented survivor who speaks limited English and whose partner controls all of her paperwork. What would be some barriers that might prevent her from getting help? She might be afraid that she couldn’t communicate with a domestic violence advocate, or that reaching out for help would put her at risk of deportation or incarceration. To address these issues, WTLC ensures our services are safe and confidential to survivors with immigration concerns, and we provide immigration-based legal advocacy to those who need it. 90% of direct service staff speak a second language in addition to English, and we partner with outside translation and interpretation services for all languages beyond our staff’s capabilities, ensuring survivors receive services in whatever language they’re most comfortable speaking.
Reaching underserved populations is an ongoing process of listening, learning, and acting on opportunities for improvement. We recognize that we continue to have work to do in this area, but we are dedicated to always working to identify and address barriers preventing survivors from accessing recovery services, centering survivors’ voices within our organization and allowing their feedback to guide our work.