“Meet People Where They Are”: Where Am I Meeting Them?

May 5, 2021

“Meet your client where they are.” A phrase we’ve all come to hear, but most have yet to master putting into practice. While there are many interpretations of this mantra, I think in our work it means asking our clients what their needs are, what kind of support they need, where they want to start, and moving forward from there. For example, if a survivor discloses to you, but says they’re not ready to share this with their family/ friends yet, following this up with their reporting options may not be what they’re looking for at that moment. It sounds like they’re just trying to figure out how to cope with and process the experience themselves. Your response should be to meet them in that moment. Try to avoid going down a checklist of options that you learned in training and being hyper focused on being professional. Remember, advocacy is not about you. It’s about supporting the person in front of you. Providing support is about empathy and human connection.

A few of us recently attended a training all about trade-offs. A part of this training that really resonated with me and had me looking back on my work with survivors was thinking of trade-offs as deciding what is worth it. I reflected on the survivors who turned down safe shelter in small, rural towns and wanted to stay in the same city (and sometimes the same home) as the person causing them harm. At the time, I didn’t understand this. I thought why would someone choose the potential for more harm over a safe place? With this new perspective, I sat back and thought about the trade-offs the survivor would be making by moving. They may be in safe shelter, but they’re leaving behind their social support. They may have to find a new job to support themselves and their children, which will be much harder without a car and a lack of public transportation. The survivors who made the choice not to leave town, may have decided that financial security, access to resources, and social support made it worth staying even at the risk of more harm.

What we think is “worth it” is important and most of us have already made these decisions based on our values and needs and it’s different for everyone. The lesson here being that what is worth it to you, may not be worth it to the survivor you’re serving and it is not an advocate’s job to change that or dissect that. The advocate has been tasked with listening to what the survivor holds as most valuable, respecting the trade-offs they’re willing to make, and working within that context to help them get what they need to move forward in their healing journey.


Blog post courtesy of Leah Tugwell Poole, Rural Sexual Assault Services Specialist