It is important now more than ever to embrace and celebrate what connects us: our resilience. This month, we’re shining a spotlight on Erin Hamilton, Director of Advocacy Services at Resilience.
Read our interview with Erin below.
You are the Director of Advocacy Services at Resilience. Can you tell me about the program?
Our Advocacy team is so important to the work we do at Resilience. I’m new to the role, and I’m figuring out all the nuances of how the work both informs and is guided by our mission statement. In terms of the Advocacy program, we’re there to support survivors of sexual violence, and that is as broad and as specific as survivors want it to be. Resilience really is trying to end sexual violence. But in the way forward it also means that we have to support people who are currently experiencing sexual violence. Our Advocacy team is there to support survivors and center survivors’ experiences. Whether that’s in the legal system, in a medical setting such as an emergency room, at a police station, or in whatever creative ways survivors say they need support, our team is there to try and give them that support. If Resilience doesn’t offer that specific service, then we partner with other agencies throughout the city that provide that service and create those kinds of connections for survivors. Our team is always trying to understand and grow the meaning of what it looks like to have client-centered services here. That is because our team is really passionate and really dedicated to the mission at Resilience.
What brought you to this work? What inspires you to keep working with survivors?
My background is in restorative and transformative justice and violence prevention, so I came to this work through that avenue. Violence prevention and crisis intervention are kind of two sides of the same coin. As I started working with survivors, I realized that it was a passion that I had, to work directly with survivors and help them navigate all these complex systems. I also realized that I had always been working with survivors. In doing violence prevention and doing restorative and transformative justice, so many people have been harmed in some kind of way related to either domestic violence or sexual violence. So focusing my work more specifically with survivors felt like a really natural shift from something that I was already doing. I had worked in domestic violence agencies for a while, and when my wife and I moved back to Chicago I was really excited and energized to keep working with survivors. Resilience was the right fit in terms of the team and services. I was really excited to continue to be able to work with survivors in the Chicagoland area.
This month we’re highlighting LGBTQ+ Pride month. We know that there are many LGBTQ+ survivors in our community. What are some ways people can support LGBTQ+ survivors, who often face additional barriers to help?
I think a lot of the assumptions and misinformation about survivorship and what that looks like negatively impact people in LGBTQ+ community. One really simple thing people can do is just learn more about sexual violence. Figuring out what kind of biases are related to stereotypes we might have about survivorship can really help those in the LGBTQ+ community have a more supportive experience when they are experiencing sexual violence or violence of any kind.
Something else that folks can do is just not make assumptions. This is a fairly basic approach for any survivor of sexual violence, but especially true for LGBTQ+ folks. Things like not assuming what gender the partner was if it was a partner that sexually assaulted someone. Not assuming that someone is in a single-partner relationship. It’s just not making those kinds of assumptions about someone’s relationship dynamic, the gender of their partner, or their gender themselves is going to go a long way with helping people feel like whatever their experience is, it’s okay to talk about. There’s nothing standing in the way of them being able to tell their whole truth.
A third thing that people can do in day-to-day life is just be an open and safe ally. We are not meeting folks in the LGBTQ+ community only during Pride Month. We are seeing folks all year round, so always being a safe space for folks can go a long way when someone is having a crisis.
In 2021, at least 1 in 5 Resilience clients identified on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. In your opinion, why is it important to clearly highlight that Resilience supports LGBTQ+ survivors and the LGBTQ+ community at large?
Historically speaking, the LGBTQ+ community hasn’t benefited from public support, whether through public culture or through institutions. So it’s really important for communities that have been under-resourced or ignored, or criminalized, to name that support. Now with the current situation and the political climate, we see that LGBTQ+ folks are continuing to be criminalized and continued to be seen as other in many different contexts. I think it’s really important to speak specifically to that community and say we are a safe space, you don’t have to guess about whether or not you can come to Resilience, and it’s a statement that we’re going to keep making as long as it’s necessary. Unfortunately, it will probably be necessary for a long time. LGBTQ+ affirming, empowering, and celebrating isn’t just something that automatically happens for survivors. It’s not just something that happens in a vacuum during Pride Month. It’s something that Resilience wants to support every day of the year, and for not only survivors but the community at large and our staff, everyone who could ever be connected with us.
As we approach our new fiscal year next month, what do you and the Advocacy team hope to accomplish this year?
What our focus is going to be for the next year is figuring out what the new normal is now that we are trying to figure out how to live with this pandemic. Services in many different sectors have changed, so sometimes we’re able to do court hearings over Zoom or people don’t feel safe going into the emergency rooms if there is a surge. So our goal is to continue to work with our staff, with other providers, and with clients to figure out what feels safe and how we can make sure that services remain consistent, even if they might look a little bit different depending on the current situation. And, again, we really want to center our clients in those conversations, so we look to figure out how our services can be more fluid and more responsive to our client’s needs and the community’s needs.
What’s one fun fact about you?
I’m a huge women’s soccer fan. I love going to the Chicago Red Stars games. I went to the last Women’s World Cup in France. That’s a big part of my joy outside of work. I played soccer at DePaul when I went to school, and I have been a soccer player and a soccer fan.
What do you want people to know that you haven’t been asked about?
I want people to know that, in Illinois at least, I see progress. Over the last couple of years with COVID and the political climate, there are a lot of things to feel. There’s been so much that feels really ominous, and that’s important to speak to, and it’s important to talk about so we can fight against it, but I also feel like I want people to know that in Illinois the institutional advocacy that Resilience is doing and that other agencies are doing is moving the needle toward continuing to expand protections and privileges for survivors. Even though the day-to-day work can feel really challenging, that’s something that I always was able to kind of hold onto. It’s something that I think I’d like people to look at. Also, what does Illinois policy say? What is the law in Illinois? Because I think we talk about soft advocacy, what that looks like, but there’s hard and fast law, too, that I think a lot of people are under-educated about and could speak more to if they took a look.