Advocating for change involves monitoring key policy issues, disseminating information, coordinating communications, and mobilizing others around domestic violence issues. You may work directly with a local coalition or organization to do, or you can start your own grassroots effort. Advocating is essential for drawing light to an issue and getting laws changed.
Here are some things you can do to help change laws in your city, state, region, and country:
Act as a watchdog:
A watchdog individual or organization serves to protect a community and its members. By gathering and publicizing information and – sometimes – taking direct action (see Conducting a Direct Action Campaign), it can expose and address issues related to the public interest. For more information, see Acting as a Watchdog, and Seeking Enforcement of Existing Laws or Policies.
Court monitoring is an important ‘check’ in the legal system to ensure courts are held accountable for their actions and decisions. Maintaining a public presence during hearings allows for this to happen. Court monitors are specially trained volunteers that attend hearings, record the results, and make them available to the public. This program increases awareness in the community about domestic violence/ sexual assault issues and pushes for change in legislation. Here are some resources to help get you started volunteering or as a court monitor or to help you start a court monitoring system in your community:
WATCH Website – Bringing a public eye to justice
Article: Watchful eye – Court monitors track domestic violence cases
Develop a plan to get issues on the public agenda:
The local agenda refers to whatever a community sees as necessary to address. You’ll want to educate people about the issue and generate local concern to influence public opinion and ultimately make it easier to affect policy. Here are some related tools from the Community Tool Box (a free resource for supporting community work):
Advocating for Change
Influencing Policy Development
Developing a Plan for Getting Community Health and Development Issues on the Public Agenda
Gaining Public Support for Addressing Community Health and Development Issues
Lobby and contact public officials: Lobbying is a very important way to get legislators attention. It is so vital, that people are even professional lobbyists and do that full time. Lobbying is a very important part of volunteering and changing legislation in the domestic violence field. Contacting officials is important. The more letters, phone calls, emails, and faxes that legislators receive, the more they are going to pay attention to an issue. In order to lobby successfully, you must get the media involved. Legislators are sensitive to how media portrays them and if they see that people are calling them out for not paying enough attention to an issue, they will most definitely take notice. Public interest must be stressed when lobbying. If people do not feel that they are being represented in an issue, then they will not care as much about it. Domestic violence affects people from all walks of life… different genders, ethnicities, socioeconomic classes, sexual orientations, etc. For more, see: Writing Letters to Elected Officials and Using Personal Testimony.
Meet with legislators:
Meeting with the actual legislators and/or their staff is also important. If you do land a meeting with a legislator or even their staff, make sure to be well prepared, dressed appropriately, and be concise. These people are extremely busy so a powerful and concise yet ‘short’ presentation will be the most beneficial for a first meeting. You can also attend one of their public functions or invite them to visit the organization you are working with. For more, see: General Rules for Organizing Legislative Advocacy and Developing and Maintaining Ongoing Relationships with Legislators and their Aides.
Engage the media:
Encourage the media to cover and report on issues of violence against women, and create your own media! For how-to information, see Preparing Guest Columns and Editorials, Preparing Press Releases, Arranging a Press Conference, andElectronic Advocacy.
To learn more about domestic violence laws and get involved:
Legal Momentum – The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund: Legal Momentum is the nation’s oldest legal defense and education fund dedicated to advancing the rights of all women and girls. For more than 40 years, Legal Momentum has made historic contributions through litigation and public policy advocacy to advance economic and personal security for women. Legal Momentum envisions a society in which all women and girls are economically secure, empowered to make their own choices, and can live and work free of discrimination and violence. In this society, all women enjoy the conditions, opportunities, and support that enable them to realize their human rights and freedoms.
Women’s Law was founded to help survivors of domestic violence, and provides state-specific legal information and resources for survivors.
The United States Department of Justice – Office on Violence Against Women provides federal leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to reduce violence against women and administer justice for and strengthen services to victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
The National Network to End Domestic Violence is a social change organization dedicated to creating a social, political and economic environment in which violence against women no longer exists. They release a Domestic Violence Counts report and have various supports for taking legislative action.
The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence designs, provides, and customizes training and consultation, influences policy, promotes collaboration, and enhances diversity with the goal of ending domestic and sexual violence.
The Community Tool Box provides free how-to resources for mobilizing to bring about change and improvement.