The Whole U highlighted UW’s advocacy services in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. But before you refer someone to one of UW’s advocates, you may want to know who they are. Meet Natalie Dolci (pictured left), who works with faculty, staff, and students at UW Tacoma and UW Bothell, and Dana Cuomo (pictured right) who primarily works with students, including graduate students.
Advocates empower victims and bystanders by letting them know what resources are available. I interviewed them to learn more.
The Whole U: How did you become an Advocate?
Dana: I did my Master’s work at Penn State. It was a dual degree in Geography Studies & Women’s Studies and studied human trafficking. While I was doing that, I started volunteering at the community-based domestic violence and rape center. I volunteered for two years taking hotline calls, working in the office, and going to hospitals with victims. After doing direct service for three years, I decided to go back to school and get my Ph.D. I studied the policing and prosecution response to partner violence. I consider myself a domestic violence scholar-activist.
Natalie: My interest began in my undergraduate career when I did an internship with a domestic violence shelter. I felt really honored to be a part of someone’s path out of a dangerous situation. I then got my Master’s in Social Work and my practicum sites were at agencies that worked with survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, and human trafficking. The more clients I worked with, the more inspired I became by their resilience and by how intervention and support can help survivors to lead lives uninterrupted by abuse. I have been working in the field of gender-based violence ever since. Now, working at UWPD, I like seeing how training and collaboration can help systems move towards a victim-centered response.
TWU: What’s the biggest misconception about your work?
Dana: That we only work with women. Sexual assault and violence can happen to anyone.
I also think there’s a misconception that we tell people what to do. But in reality, I utilize an empowerment model that starts by listening to what the needs are of the person I’m working with. I don’t have a prescribed plan, and every time I meet with someone I’m very attuned to the nuances of their situation. There is no stock model for how to do advocacy. It’s a fluid relationship that is constantly responding to what’s happening in the situation or the relationship.
I work with people who intend to leave a relationship, but I also work with people who intend to stay in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. We can talk about setting boundaries and safety planning. There are a lot of reasons a person might choose to stay in a relationship. For example, they may have children together, so even if they leave the person they may need to continue to have a relationship with them. I bring no judgment to the work that I do. The client has a very logical reason for their decisions.
Natalie: I think the biggest misconception about my role is that you’re required to make a police report if you come and meet with me. I’m not a police officer, I’m a social worker and my job is to help with safety planning, options, and information. I like to support someone’s self-determination. If they decide making a report is in their best interests, then that is how we will proceed.
I think people who have experienced sexual assault, stalking or relationship violence often feel very isolated and as if there are no options. I like to make sure clients know that there are options and resources in our community.
TWU: What’s something that makes you proud to be an advocate?
Dana: I find it fulfilling to provide information about the tactics that abusers use in a relationship to maintain power and control, and to see a survivor applying that information and knowledge to their situation. Providing advocacy includes providing educational information. We want to make sure they have the most accurate information because we know that abusers are constantly feeding untrue information.
Natalie: I am proud to be an advocate because I know that people are more than their traumatic experiences. The men and women I work with all have goals and passions that they want to focus on. I think it’s very difficult for a person to reach their potential when they are being held back by broken systems and trauma. I believe advocates can help survivors by providing needed support and working to make systems more user-friendly. I believe that the work advocates do can help survivors navigate these painful situations and get back to the things that give them joy.
TWU: This work must be very difficult. How do you cope with that?
Dana: We talk a lot about self-care in this type of work. I work really hard to make sure that I’m supported in my own life. And because my work is confidential, I need to be very deliberate in how I receive support. It’s important for me not to take my work home, so I commute by bike to clear my mind and connect with the great outdoors. I even won an award for most rides during Ride in the Rain!
Natalie: I try to carve out time for play. I have wonderful people in my life and we like to hike, cook, travel, and have adventures. I think it’s important to have joyful and spontaneous experiences.
TWU: What do you like to do outside of work?
Dana: I’m new to the Pacific Northwest, so right now there’s been a lot of regional exploration. My partner is also a cyclist, so a lot of it revolves around long bike rides to new places. I like to travel and be outside.
Natalie: There are so many beautiful spots in this region, I feel I’m always exploring. I love hiking, camping, pilates, good food, live music, and spending time with the awesome humans — and dog — in my support system.
TWU: Is there anything else you’d like faculty and staff to know?
Dana: You can always call ahead and consult with me, and you can meet me in advance of referring a student. I had a staff member who wanted to meet with me before referring a student, and I was happy to do that. It just speaks to how much faculty and staff care about their students.
Natalie: I don’t want them to hesitate. If you’re in doubt, reach out and consult with us. It’s why we are here.