Karidat operates seven different programs and among them is a “Victim Advocacy” program. in addition to operating the only do- mestic violence shelter in the CNMI, Karidat also provides individuals who are victimized by intimate partners (male or female) an advocate as they navigate their way through the court system.
I sat down this week with our staff “Victim Advocate” to learn more about his work.
“Our clients at Guma Esperansa have the benefit of many different advocates on their behalf,” he told me. “it is an environment of support all around. The staff of the shelter provides moral and mate- rial support during the time of their stay, and access to counseling of a psychological nature. Maybe they will help figuring out how to go about finding housing or a job. Some guests arrive with children and some don’t; every situation is a little different.”
But the Victim Advocate does not work at Guma esperansa; he works out of our Chalan Piao office. So where does he come in to this process?
“When it comes to getting a Temporary Restraining order (TRO) from the courts, that’s what i help with,” he explained. “some of my clients come to me as referrals from Guma esperansa, but most do not. most are not living in the shelter, but they need help in knowing how to file for the TRO, and then what to expect once they have their court date.”
“When i accompany clients to their court hearings, many say that it makes them feel safer,” he continued. “They tell me so. maybe they go into court nervous but some even feel comforted that they are with an advocate—especially a male advocate! it’s not common for a Victim Advocate to be male, but it turns out that it makes some victims just feel better!”
Having accompanied him to court myself on a few occasions, i asked him why he does not often speak at all. What does he consider to be his main role? “I might speak if the judge specifically asks me something, but i like to empower our clients so i usually don’t say anything.”
So it is ahead of time, in the days leading up to the hearing, when the work gets started. having completed a written statement to accom- pany their application for the TRO, a victim might be asked to clarify certain aspects of the story in person. it is in the days just before the hearing, clients prepare to have their say in court.
“And then when it’s their turn on the stand, i say, ‘Just tell the truth and don’t worry about the rest.’ ”
It is often the case that clients will call several times ahead of a court hearing in order to get some moral support. They want to know…What should i expect? What am i going to be asked to do? Where do i sit and where do i stand? And so on.
“For them,” says the Advocate, “the hearing is often the first time to face their accuser, and it is understandable that they feel nervous. sometimes the respondent (the one accused of violence) will use that time to intimidate the victim and there is always an element of the unexpected.”
But i tell them this is their time to shine. i say, “You are capable of standing up for yourself. You can do this. it is time to speak out and tell your story.”
And that is just the beginning.
“It’s after the first hearing that the vital work gets started. Cases may last days after the first initial hearing, and some even years. During all the hearings and months in between it is really important for victims to continue their recovery process.
Some will need their friends and families to help out, some might need countless hours of counseling, sheltering, or just continue dialogue with the advocate.”
It takes a lot of courage and perseverance to stand up to an abuser and so it can make all the difference in the world to have an “army of allies” at your back. Karidat offers a dedicated and experienced one through our Advocacy Program. he has been accompanying people on their journeys to recovery and greater independence for years and he “knows the ropes,” as it were.
If you, or someone you know, would like our advocate to ac- company you to court or talk you through the TRO process, give us a call. Break the cycle: 234-6981 or 234-5248.