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Sue Canfield

Sue Canfield is the Volunteer Coordinator/Advocate at Lutheran Community Services Northwest
Interviewed by Allie Knechtel, May 2015

I think if I stepped back and looked at the work I do I would probably see peace, but I see it more with my coworkers in how well they work with the victims that we have the opportunity to work with. My goal is inner peace, and I think we have to start that way. We have to like who we are, and most of the folks we see at Lutheran Community Services don’t, so it’s a good place to try to develop. People have such low self-esteem that it’s hard to educate them that it’s okay to speak your mind or state your wishes or desires.  People are afraid to speak up for themselves. I think advocacy work has a lot to do with this type of peace, in that hopefully we are providing folks who have experienced violence the opportunity to regain their voice or their ability to make decisions for themselves.

Empowering people to make their own decisions without influencing them or denying them the rights to believe and feel what they want can give them strength. Everybody is strong, but so many times people get beat down and others take away that strength. In the work I do, I am so privileged to be able to work with folks that are way stronger than they ever believed. When I walk away from a victim I’m the lucky one because I had the opportunity to meet that person, and hopefully impart to them how strong they are and the worth that they have. It’s one person at a time, that’s all I can do. I don’t look at peace as a world thing because I can’t; I have no control over anything other than what I can do.

As advocates, we are there totally for that person. I think the most important piece of the work we do is we believe the victim. What they say is what they believe, and it is not for us to make that decision. It is for us to help process that, and figure out the best way to be able to get services or to help that individual. I can do that. I think it does start by believing. If you go in closed you are not going to be of any help. You have to be bold sometimes, change your thinking, and stand up for somebody. Peace for me is individuals who take the time to be good bystanders. When you see something wrong, whether with a stranger or people you know, you have to desire to step in and be able to stop the violence. That’s something anybody can do. So how do you start this? One person at a time is the best we can do. That’s what I would tell anybody who came to me. Be kind, start by believing, and take care of each other. But that is a huge undertaking.

I don’t know how we prevent sexual or domestic violence. I’ve been doing this for a long time and we haven’t made the strides. But awareness, yes. I see a lot more reporting, and I think that’s awareness of the fact that there are programs where you can get help. We’ve seen a real increase in the amount of work we’re doing, which is great. We are always asking the question “how do we reach more people?” Especially with topics like sexual assault, it’s not something that people just open their doors to. So it makes us very pleased when someone does call or come into the office, because we know that once we get them in, we are going to be able to help them. I really feel that. We’re trying to be more present in the community and to expand some of our services to encompass more groups of people. That may involve trying to be more present at court or in hospitals, trying to establish relationships with partners that we work the closest with. That is very important because we can’t do it by ourselves nor can they.

I see schools reporting higher numbers, which in the big picture is good. It recognizes there is a problem, and they’re trying to address that. I think it has to do with title nine, and with people providing financially to colleges saying “we want you to be keeping your campuses safe” and I’ve always thought colleges and universities are great places to start programs that cities or communities can utilize as well. They all should be doing this together.

I take pride in the people I meet at the hospital, or that I talk to on the phone that are in crisis. They don’t realize how strong they are. Often they actually know the answers to the questions they are asking. They just need some direction, or need somebody to say “you are not alone, I believe you and it’s not your fault.” I hope to be able to give them their voice back. It may not turn out as they want but they’ve had the opportunity to get through the process, know the resources, know who they can call, and know that their voice can be used and will be heard. That’s my peace.