What Takes Place During an IVLP Exchange?
On February 3, an international delegation of 23 emerging leaders from 20 African countries met with TESSA to discuss how the organization serves victims of domestic violence.
For the last 45 years, TESSA has been serving the Pikes Peak Region by providing both rural and urban advocacy to victims of Inter-Personal Violence, Sexual Assault, and Human Trafficking. The name "TESSA" was strategically chosen to be simple and interchangeable as a person's name so that victims can simply call and say they're talking to their friend "Tessa" without raising suspicion.
Rica Molet, the Community Engagement Manager for TESSA, provided the delegation with a general overview of the organization.
TESSA's advocacy and support services include 24/7 safe-line communications so that victims can call at any time of day or night and receive help. The organization also has the only Safe House that operates year-round and serves victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. This full-service Safe House not only provides housing, but case management, childcare, and other resources for women and children.
In El Paso County alone, TESSA serves around 18,000 individuals a year.
Rural advocate Melanie Grimes spoke on behalf of TESSA's rural programming specifically. Advocates who serve this region act as full-time "case managers," assisting clients during the entirety of their journey into freedom from domestic violence.
She outlined the context of rural communities, explaining that their challenges are different than their urban counterpart. Rural communities are small and positioned far away from the central TESSA offices in Colorado Springs. Therefore, victims from these rural areas are less likely to utilize the services available because of responsibilities and high gas prices. This demographic also has management responsibilities such as land and livestock, which make leaving their abuser or community much more difficult. So, TESSA advocates meet their clients emotionally, and geographically where they are. Grimes explained that victims in rural communities have typically been isolated by their abuser, so advocates must provide heavy hands-on support to ensure clients are not alone in this process.
All services at TESSA are "client-driven," which means the victims themselves guide their support and advocacy process.
The delegation was highly engaged with this discussion. One delegate from Sierra Leone shared their own experience with violence and assault and asked for advice on managing personal mental health in this profession.
Molet and Grimes used a bowl-of-water analogy to encourage the delegation to maintain enough energy for the day. The water in the bowl represents all the energy they can give to clients, so they must "fill their bowl up with water" by doing things that bring them joy so that they can give and refill when needed. TESSA provides its advocates with counseling services and self-care plans for additional support. They understand the importance of such support because without it, advocates will experience burnout or trauma themselves. One cannot help others if they are likewise in that space.
Another delegate from Tongo wanted to know how TESSA's best practices and programs "empowered" the victims they serve.
Molet and Grimes responded by explaining that truly listening to each client, meeting them where they are, and giving them the power to choose between the options presented to them is offering true empowerment. Because the victim's agency was stolen from them throughout their experience, TESSA wants to give that empowerment back to them and agency back to them through listening and offering options.
Molet was amazed by the meeting with delegates and expressed her appreciation to hear and learn from her colleagues abroad, "I learned that in some ways no matter what country we talk to, we have similar hardships or issues," Molet said. "It's eye-opening that we aren't the only ones, and we can reach out for help and advice and brainstorm from others."
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