Interviews with working professionals most affected by the world’s current state.
“My name is Ashley, I am 27 years old.”
Q. What do you do professionally, Ashley?
I am a Children’s Advocate/Counselor and Adult Counselor for the WINGS Program Inc. I am a Licensed Clinical Social Work Candidate and ICDVP (Illinois Certified Domestic Violence Professional). I’ve been at WINGS for almost 4 years.
Q. How would you define domestic violence (DV)?
Many people I talk to define domestic violence as only physical or sexual abuse between a wife and husband. Domestic violence can occur between any household members which can be family members, people who are married or used to be married, people who share a home, apartment, or other common dwelling, people who have children together, people who are dating or engaged or used to date, same or different-sex couples, and individuals with disabilities and their assistants.
Many also label domestic violence as a problem for only lower-income families.
Domestic violence does not discriminate.
Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, religion, or gender can be a victim – or perpetrator – of domestic violence. Domestic violence is not limited to physical and sexual violence. It may involve verbal or emotional/psychological abuse, economic abuse, or spiritual abuse. Threats and intimidation may be used along with harassment. Gaining power and control is at the heart of domestic violence. The abuser wants to maintain power and control.
When domestic violence occurs, it harms more than just the victim. It has a significant effect on friends, family members, and especially children. Children who witness violence in the home are at a high risk. They are more likely to experience emotional, behavioral, and physical concerns. It can also affect their brain development. Children who are exposed to violence learn that violence is normal. They grow up with an increased likelihood of becoming not just abusers, but victims of domestic violence.
Our goal is to break that cycle of abuse in the family.
Q. What is a day in the life for you on a regular day (pre-quarantine)?
Every day is different and that’s one reason why I love it. Every day, I’m prepared to possibly help in a crisis, meet a new family actively fleeing domestic violence, or advocate for a child who has been abused.
Although some days can be stressful, I also get to experience seeing a caregiver smiling and laughing with their child, seeing confidence grow weekly with families, and get to see families continue their journey as survivors. Every day, we all work tirelessly to empower victims and survivors of domestic violence. We do our best to provide them with the tools they need to escape a dangerous situation and to move towards safety and self-sufficiency.
I mostly provide counseling and advocacy for families who reside in our Safe House shelter, in our shared homes, and I visit families in our apartments. Some days I will have figurines, action figures, dolls, etc. for expressive play therapy for the children I work with.
Some days teenagers write songs as a way to share their stories and feelings. We learn mindfulness techniques, create art pieces, and use other interventions that allow the children, teens, and adults to express themselves. Providing psycho-education on domestic violence and teen dating violence are essential parts of the work we do. We take a holistic “strength-based” approach that highlights, encourages, and develops each client’s strengths.
Q. How has your role been affected by COVID-19 most recently?
It was reported that domestic violence calls has increased. That being said, we are trying to do whatever it takes to help as many people as possible with providing a safe place to go. We also acknowledge that many victims of DV may not be able to call to get help due to their abuser being home more often. It may not be safe for them to reach out for help which is a pretty terrifying reality.
Every Friday, I feel pretty burnt out from the week. We are consistently at capacity. Once a family or individual moves out, someone moves in right away. We don’t really get a break. So once a family I’ve been working with moves out, I have to quickly prepare for another family who is fleeing from violence.
I haven’t been able to see the families I work with in person. I’ve had to learn how to provide counseling and advocacy through talking on the phone and through a video call platform. I spend hours planning and prepping new ways for the families to still express their stories, traumas, and feelings with me along with still trying to engage them in learning new coping techniques.
Q. How have procedures changed in your work since COVID-19 and the stay-at-home order?
Unless there are extenuating circumstances that require in person, counseling is to be held by phone or over video. Our Safe House families moved into a hotel so that they and staff can practice social distancing. Essential items such as masks, food, hygiene products, clothes, diapers, etc. are now dropped off in front of their hotel room door by our staff. We are pretty fortunate and grateful that WINGS receives these essential donations so that our families can always have their basic essential items. We also try to provide games, books, and art supplies for the families to engage with. It’s all so different.
Q. How has this affected you personally?
Like many of us, I miss social interaction greatly. I would typically always be on the go, traveling from place to place to see the families I work with. If I wasn’t working, I would be out for brunch, taking walks by the lake, and always trying to find something to do or see.
It’s been an adjustment.
I always used those outings as a way for self-care. It’s been difficult staying in my apartment all day after hearing hours and hours’ worth of trauma and abuse over the phone & video calls. I’ve had to purposely plan time for self-care so that I can continue to do the work I do efficiently and so I can be okay mentally & emotionally during this time.
Q. When did the gravity of the pandemic hit you?
Not being able to see my mom during this all made this situation hit me.
She dropped off some masks for me a few weeks ago and not being able to hug her, crushed me. I remember her driving away and just feeling a heavy weight to my chest as it made me feel the magnitude of this situation. I remember walking into my bedroom and just crying.
I finally processed the fact that I can’t hug my family or friends. These emotions spiraled me into processing that my clients and neighbors are losing their jobs and many are fearful of getting sick. My heart raced as I knew that many domestic violence victims are stuck in the home with their abuser and that the families I work with who are fleeing, are experiencing the emotions that were already felt with fleeing their abuser along with the fear of this pandemic.
My mind began racing while tears fell down my face as the reality hit on how serious this all is. This moment motivated me more to help in any way possible as I knew this was only the beginning.
Q. How do you take care of yourself while on the front lines of this pandemic?
I try to keep myself on a routine and try to give myself something to look forward to. Whether that be planning a home workout, setting up a time to call a family member or friend, or watching a new show on Netflix.
My partner and I recently adopted a kitten last week, so he has been our joy and has helped tremendously with self-care.
Q. What’s a “good day” for you at work?
When I see a mom hug her child for her first time. Or I see a child making themselves a superhero mask expressing that they are as strong as Spiderman or Superman. I’ll run into an adult in the hallway and they may stop me to say that they painted and finally felt calm for the first time in years.
On amazing days, I will say goodbye to an individual or family as they move into safe housing, stronger than ever.
Although I am still very busy, those interactions turn my days into great days, and make this job worth all the sweat and stress. Also, being able to be with staff and have each other for support makes a day wonderful.
Q. What can readers do to be more aware, or assist if they suspect DV is occurring?
If someone you know is experiencing DV or if you suspect it, it can be difficult to know what to do. You may want to “save” them from the relationship, but it’s usually not that easy and we have to be mindful of safety.
After all, there are many reasons why people stay in abusive relationships, and leaving can be a very dangerous time for a victim. If someone shares with you that they are in an abusive relationship, listen and be supportive, be non-judgmental, and try to empower them. If someone shares that want to leave an abusive relationship, you can give them the DV hotline (877-863-6338) and encourage them to make a safety plan.
When someone calls the DV hotline, someone will be there to assist with safety planning and can help find a safe location for them to go to. During this pandemic, the IL DV hotline is providing transportation for the individual or family experiencing DV.
Although it is difficult to see someone you care about get hurt, ultimately they are the one who has to make the decisions about what they want to do. It’s important to support them no matter what they decide and help them find a way to safety.
I encourage people to check out the DV hotline website. It provides a lot of great information on domestic violence and how to assist in certain situations.
Q. What helps you stay positive? What gives you hope?
Seeing people smile and seeing the progress in many of the people I engage with. Seeing a child speak his first word, seeing a caregiver embrace his or her child with joy and love, seeing someone take back their life, seeing someone’s confidence grow, seeing a beautiful art piece that shows such strength, and overall just hearing from so many powerful and strong survivors of all ages gives me hope.
Feel free to leave Ashley a comment below!
- Illinois DV Hotline number: (877) 863-6338
- National DV Hotline website
- DV Live Chat
- For teens and young adults (They can text: loveis to 22522)
- Free & low fee online therapy for COVID-19 front line workers
- NY Times: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide