Truth and Advocacy

As good, ethical advocates, we must ALWAYS stick to the truth, and we must encourage our clients to stick to the truth. It’s OK, if a client does not remember something specific, for them to simply say, “I do not remember.”

It’s important for everyone to understand that complete truthfulness in reporting is vitally necessary, whether they are making a report or supporting a client in reporting.

Let’s talk first about perjury.

The criminal offense of perjury consists of making a false statement under oath, either in writing or verbally, that one knows is false, and that is material to the proceedings in which the statement is made. In a sense, a person must make a false statement with an intent to defraud…

In Ohio, and many (all?) states this is an extremely serious crime. It is a felony of the 3rd degree in Ohio. A felony is a serious charge which has long lasting ramifications on your life, and can easily include doing prison time.

As good, ethical advocates, we must ALWAYS stick to the truth, and we must encourage our clients to stick to the truth. It’s OK, if a client does not remember something specific, for them to simply say, “I do not remember.”

It’s clear that perjury is a serious crime.

This leads us to several important points.

1. Law enforcement can ask anything they need to ask during the course of an investigation.

This applies all the way from your county detective to the FBI. There is nothing that prohibits them from doing so.

If you are a survivor, you need not fear that they can’t ask the necessary and appropriate questions to bring out the facts of your case. They absolutely can, and they are generally trained to do so, and do it well.

2. If you can’t remember something, it’s perfectly acceptable and expected to simply tell the truth.

“I can’t remember that.” There is no need to be anxious about this. Good law enforcement and good prosecutors understand that trauma can and often does impacts memory. Trauma and time can also affect your memory. It is far better to simply say the truth–you don’t remember–than to hazard guesses or make things up to try to fill in holes in your story. Doing so can come back to bite you or the case badly.

3. You do NOT have to have an advocate help you report to law enforcement.

While it’s perfectly acceptable to allow a good, safe advocate to support you through the process of reporting to law enforcement, you do NOT have to have an advocate, nor do you NEED to use any advocate’s services. You are allowed to go directly to law enforcement. You do not need to have a prepared statement to take with you, although you may find it helpful to take notes along so you don’t forget things that are important to you. Again, law enforcement is trained to ask the right questions to get the facts.

If you are not in the area where your crime needs to be reported, it is often possible to work with the agency that has jurisdiction (legal responsibility) so that you can be interviewed by your local law enforcement, who will then forward the report to the proper agency. Sometimes law enforcement even travels, if necessary, to conduct interviews. Don’t let the fact that you aren’t in the same area stop you from making a report! These details can be worked out with law enforcement.

If you want an advocate to support you during the reporting process, make sure they are ethical, trauma-aware, and are staying in their own lane. Ask questions, and expect honest, transparent answers before you engage the services of an advocate. Ask if they have any previous clients who are willing to talk with you about their experience. YOU as a survivor are in charge of “driving the van” and it’s your right to ask questions and get good answers before using an advocate, just as you would with accessing any other type of service or business. Don’t be afraid to ask good questions!

As advocates, we will absolutely understand that this is important and legitimate and that it’s the client’s right to ask all the questions they want to ask before making a decision.

An ethical advocate will NEVER pressure you, rush you during the process, or try to guilt you into reporting, nor will they insist that you have to allow them to prepare a report ahead of time.

Things an ethical advocate may do include:

  • Helping figure out where a report should be made, IF you desire them to.
  • Finding out if there is a Sex Assault/Abuse Detective, and their contact information.
  • Finding out if there is a victim’s advocate who is a part of the judicial system who can support you during reporting, if this is something you are interested in.
  • OFFER to support you during the report, either in person or via phone IF you as a survivor desire so. They should never, ever make you feel that you must have this, in order to have a successful case, or that bad things will happen to you if you do not accept their support.
  • Help you access legitimate sources of information and support if you are interested in those–before, during and after the reporting process. They will steer you to licensed, reputable counselors, DV shelters, websites with accurate information, quality support groups, and other things you need. They will not simply help you report and then walk away from you, unless that is what YOU want them to do.
  • Freely network with other reputable advocates if you live in a different area and need more support. They will refer you to other advocates if that is in your best interests, whether due to distance, time constraints or any other issue that may mean another advocate could meet your needs better.
  • Work with a variety of professionals to make sure their client’s needs are met, while being careful to protect their client’s privacy. That means that, as advocates, we do not share any identifying details about cases without our client’s permission, even when seeking to get information and advice. We also protect their privacy on social media, among our friends, and more.

In short, a good advocate will remember that the work they do is not about themselves.

It’s all about the survivor.

It is very important as advocates that we make sure we are relating to survivors, other advocates–anyone, really–out of a healthy place, not out of places of trauma and pain. Make sure you aren’t triggered and making unwise decisions, harmful emails or unkind comments to others.

If we are triggered, it’s perfectly fine–in fact, it’s highly desirable!–for us to just step away till we can get our equilibrium back. Reach out to your trauma-educated, licensed counselor (do you have one? If not, I recommend it!), mentor, or other safe advocates if you need to process and reflect before responding.

Are we being honest about our own motivations for how we are doing things? It’s easy to still relate in toxic, harmful, manipulative ways if we have not spent enough time healing, learning and growing. If that is what we are doing, we continue the cycles of harm and trauma. This is not best practice. It can and does cause tremendous harm to survivors. It can also burn bridges with other healthy, best-practice advocates, allies, and even professionals who we should be working collaboratively with.

Additionally, we need to make sure we are actually following our own calling, using our own unique God-given talents. It’s important that we recognize that not all of us have the same skill sets, or calling, and that is OK. There’s definitely room for various abilities in advocacy work that is this big and needed.

The questions we always must ask ourselves honestly–and seek the input of others on–are these: Am I qualified for what I am trying to do? Am I operating within my own limitations and training? Is my own emotional health and stability at such a place that I can wisely and safely do this work?

If we (and others who are qualified and educated enough to speak about our work) can not answer these questions with a strong, ringing ‘YES’, then we need to step back and make some big changes. It’s OK to realize you need to be quieter while you educate yourself further. It’s OK to take a time of resting and doing more healing and growing. There is no shame for any of that. It’s the kindest gift we could give to ourselves, and ironically, to others.

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