July 25, 2018

New program pairs advocates, survivors of intimate partner violence for support

For survivors of intimate partner violence, the path from pain to power is challenging and often unclear. A new program, the Community Advocacy Project (CAP) — launched by Wayne State University’s Center for Urban Studies — aims to help them navigate that path as they regain control of their lives.

CAP partners advocates, who complete 40 hours of certified training, with Detroit-area survivors. Advocates — many of whom are WSU student volunteers majoring in criminal justice, social work, sociology, psychology, public health or women’s studies — provide assistance with safety planning, petitions for personal protection orders (PPOs), navigating legal processes, and connecting with resources such as counseling and shelter. Over the course of 10 weeks, advocates work with or on behalf of survivors in their homes or another preferred location.

For advocates like Kimberly McDowell, CAP provides invaluable firsthand experience and an opportunity to engage in social change and systems reform. McDowell, who is pursuing a master’s in social work after completing a bachelor’s in psychology from Wayne State, became one of CAP’s first advocates because she wanted to help change the perception of survivors.

“It’s one thing to read about a theory and statistics in a book, but it’s something else entirely to be sitting next to someone you can help with that knowledge,” she said. “CAP taught me how to apply the principles and theories I learned in class to real-life situations.”

One such principle, the empowerment theory, focuses on the power of positive thinking and its role in an individual’s ability to make changes and take control over their challenges. Applied effectively, this theory helps survivors identify and achieve short-term goals and, ultimately, inform their own healing and recovery.

“CAP is unique in that it aims to move beyond individual-level advocacy and create system change,” said Kate Oleksiak, CAP project coordinator, “We work, of course, to provide individualized support to the survivors, but in empowering them to regain control of their lives, we’re also working toward the larger goal of creating safer, more empowered communities.”

The program, which is funded by Michigan Crime Victim Services Commission, is one way that the Center for Urban Studies is working to locally address domestic/intimate partner violence, an issue that has remained largely unaffected by traditional interventions. More than 10,000 crimes involving domestic violence were reported to the Detroit Police Department in 2016. While the number of reported violent crimes in the city has decreased by an unprecedented 30 percent between 2008 and 2015, the number of reported crimes involving intimate partners has increased.

“There’s a need in Detroit, and our advocates are working to make an impact by meeting survivors wherever they’re at on the road to recovery — physically or emotionally,” said Oleksiask. 

Lane Lewis, who is also one of CAP’s first advocates, believes the program prepares students to be well-rounded professionals as they embark on their careers.

“Studying social work is an enlightening experience,” said Lewis, “but the reality of practicing social work is usually messier and requires maturity, situational awareness and decision-making skills that can only be gained through real-life, direct experiences.”