In May, we offered our volunteers an ongoing education meeting on the topic of assessment skills. We feel that in order to best support survivors, we must strengthen our ability to assess who we are talking to and what forms of support we can offer. The domestic violence field has a history of marginalizing folks from queer and transgender communities and relying on gender as an indicator of who the survivor is. When we provide inclusive services and work with survivors from many communities, we must utilize a more dynamic approach to assessment. This also helps us set aside assumptions we might feel tempted to make about the person we are talking to based on their voice or their behaviors, as well as assumptions about the gender identity or sexual orientation of their partner.
Beyond improving our ability to work with queer and transgender communities, we also want to strengthen our ability to see the big picture of a survivor’s situation. We typically just get a snapshot of what’s going on, which can make it really difficult–if not impossible–to understand what the intention behind certain behaviors is. When we ask questions about what led up to or followed a violent situation, we are better able to understand whether this situation falls into the scope of our services and what sort of support and referrals would be appropriate. As a group, we talked through assessment skills rooted in our core team’s training with the Northwest Network of bisexual, trans, lesbian and gay survivors of abuse. We also worked through some role play, giving folks a chance to try on these new skills. Volunteers were excited to shake up the way we assess each person’s situation and to check out any assumptions or biases we may bring to this work.