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Clothing is a Lifeline

Updated: Jan 26, 2023

According to the National Coalition to End Domestic Violence, on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States (NCADV: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence). If you do the math that means in one year more than 10 million women and men are abused. Those numbers are unimaginable, but it’s the reality of so many. Some of these might be people you know.

Violence is something that many families hide, but not by choice in some cases. Abusers can be manipulative and charming one day to show the victims that they still care, but then the next, they commit acts of violence against their family. In many cultures, you don’t talk about things like domestic violence, or sexual assault. It’s considered bad manners to do so, to air out your dirty laundry so to speak. I know this, because it happened within my

family, and within the families of so many people I know.

When it comes to violence, we only think of the intervention aspect, the racing to get the victim out of the house or into a shelter or a safe place.

Every survivor’s escape is different.

As a sexual assault and domestic violence victim advocate I helped through crisis intervention and prevention. An example of crisis intervention is when a person is assaulted or abused, and as advocates we immediately get called to respond to the hospital.

Once at the hospital, I would find the Sexual Assault Nursing Examiner (SANE) in the Emergency Room. From there, I would be taken to the room where the survivor is being kept. Once in the privacy of the hospital room, I would introduce myself, and explain what I was doing there. I’d ask the survivor if it was okay for me to stay with them and keep them

company while we wait for any friends or family to arrive. If yes, then I’d explain the services my agency provides and that, if open to it, we can provide them with shelter as soon as they’re released from the hospital. They can say no to both of these options, and it is absolutely okay.

The importance of that exchange is that the survivoris in control and they got to choose what happens next to them. Giving back that control to the survivor is the best thing you can do to initially help them, after, of course, their basic needs are met. The next step is if the client wants you to stay and they want the SANE exam, you will stay with them and provide emotional support, because the exam is not an easy thing to experience.

Prevention is what work can be done before the assault or abuse ever occurs. An example of this is by presenting about sexual assault and domestic violence in the community. I presented to Emergency Services in four different cities in East Central, Indiana.

Additionally, I created professional relationships with other agencies that provided the type of resources that could help my clients. One final component of my job was working in a prosecutor’s office to help survivors file protective orders against their abusers. What happens after they escape? Once they accept the option of staying in a shelter, they don’t magically become healthy and whole again. In fact, many survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault need to hear, “Hey, it’s okay to feel that and it’s normal to feel that way; but it’s not safe for you stay there.” We try to help by educating each survivor on the cycle of violence and its 3 different stages and tools that will help them to break that cycle for good.

For women and men in emergency shelters, the battle to get their life back in order, is just as hard, if not harder than leaving their abuser in the first place. While every survivor is different in terms of barriers they have to overcome, as an advocate, I found the need for professional wear/clothing to be extremely disheartening. Especially the expectation for women to have access to such clothing. Before I jump ahead, let me explain the key components that survivors need to thrive: housing, job searching, and emotional stability (typically from therapy). These three all work together to help survivors on their healing journey.

And clothing can make these components a little easier to approach.

As far as housing, many shelters have partnerships with their state called Rapid Re-housing. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Rapid re-housing is a solution to homelessness designed to help individuals and families to quickly exit homelessness and return to permanent housing. It is offered without preconditions (such as employment, income, absence of criminal record, or sobriety) and the resources and services provided are typically tailored to the unique needs of the household (Rapid Re-Housing Works). At the shelter I helped work, we had a rapid-rehousing program that helped so many men, women, and children.

For job searching, there are case workers and victim advocates like myself, who worked with the clients to find jobs. We would work with the client to create goals, determine what jobs they qualify for, and then also what jobs they would prefer to work. Many of the clients I worked with were not picky, but rather grateful for the opportunity to support themselves financially. If the client were unable to work because of a disability due to a medical issue, we would help them apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). That would enable them to find housing and pay their bills with the check they would receive each month. We would help them apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which helps families feed their families each month as well.

Lastly, emotional stability is the one of the hardest components that a client will have to overcome. Within the first couple days of arriving at the shelter, many go through a roller coaster of emotions, ranging from happiness, to sadness, to anger, and then to shame for not leaving sooner. Having therapists on staff, such as licensed social workers and/or counselors is such a great way to help these clients begin their paths to healing. This is especially necessary when the client is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse. Having licensed addictions counselors is necessary because a big struggle for clients is when they are going through withdrawals in the shelter.

Within each session, the client will get to speak to a trained professional, to begin dealing with all of their emotions. This isn’t something easily solved with one session. This is something they will have to continue to develop as they go through the healing process. No two survivors will have the same healing process as everyone else.

Housing, job searching, and emotional security are all things a client needs to accomplish for them to thrive. However, the sad reality is, many places (leasing offices for housing and employers during interviews) are judgmental, so this is a barrier for clients who do not have professional clothing. One way they can find a good job is by presenting themselves in a professional way, and this is where interviewing clothing comes into play. However, for the women staying in shelters, finding nice, professional clothing is hard. Many shelters only provide basic clothing like jeans, sweatpants, shirts, pajamas, and undergarments (bras, socks, and underwear). Though they are always looking for nice items that they can keep for their client’s, especially for job interviews.

Even then when they have items, they get handed out fast, which is why shelters continue to always be accepting for donations. Shelters are always needing bras (in all sizes), underwear (men, women, and children), and SHOES! Many survivors of violence leave in a hurry, and so they don’t have the basic necessities to bring with them as they escape from their home. To make a change, we can look through our gently worn professional clothing, and consider changing those boxes marked “garage sale” to “donate.” It’s incredibly easy to donate your clothes to a local domestic violence and sexual assault shelter.

If you are unable to donate your clothes or don’t have any to give, social media is a great tool in helping shelters and organizations fighting violence and helping survivors. Make the people you know aware of the clothing that is needed. Recognize the possibilities of what a retweet, like, or share could do. For example, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has a general list of what shelter’s need, that’s an easy thing to share, a quick retweet and the word is able to get out. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has is active as well, and you can help raise awareness by following and sharing. You can also find the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center on Facebook.

Some other ways you can help is by working with the programs and services that are already there! Don’t stress about trying to fix problems that are too big for one person, but rather work collaboratively with others with the same passion as you. Violence against men and women is not something that will end overnight, to be honest, I’m not sure when it will. I do know though, that love is stronger than the hate that fuels violence, and as long as we love

one another, there is nothing we cannot overcome. People show love by helping survivors through their every action, no matter how small.


Written by Sarah Leone

“NCADV: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.”

“Rapid Re-Housing Works.” National Alliance to End Homelessness, April 4, 2019.

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