Ana January started working with the West St. Paul Police Department in November 2016 as a community advocate. January works for 360 Communities, a nonprofit that has partnered with groups across Dakota County to support victims of domestic and sexual violence.
Put simply, January helps victims navigate the system. She advocates for them and helps connect them to resources.
“One of the best ways to support victims is to believe them.”Ana January
You can also watch these videos for more on January’s work:
Can you explain your role and why it’s so important to have an advocate?
360 Communities is a large nonprofit agency serving primarily Dakota County. We offer nine programs/services with a focus on violence prevention and intervention, school success, and access to community resources. Our mission is “we deliver safety and stability that improves lives.” Our staff are located in over 40 locations across the county, to ensure people have access to a circle of support wherever they are.
My role as an outreach advocate was created in partnership with the West St. Paul police to help victims of domestic and sexual violence access services and safety in the city of West St. Paul. Part of my role is to focus on the Latino population in the city and help bridge the language and culture barrier, specifically as it relates to victims of domestic and sexual violence.
Many of the people I work with first learn about and access victim advocacy when I follow up with them after the police have been involved. For a lot of victims, calling 911 opens up many complicated paths through the civil justice system, criminal justice system, and child protection system—all of which I provide support through. I have been on home visits with law enforcement and child protection workers, provided emotional support during forensic exams for sexual assault victims, sat with victims during an interview with an investigator or prosecutor, attended court with victims for order for protection hearings and helped them with victim impact statements. These processes can take a very long time and the likelihood of a victim participating in these systems increases and their chances of returning to an abusive relationship decreases when they have an advocate working with them.
How has the presence of an advocate changed things in West St. Paul?
A large part of advocacy is assisting people with achieving their goals. Many of my clients face multiple barriers, and I have been able to help them accomplish goals related to housing, financial stability, children’s needs, safety, and more. Since most of my clients live in West St. Paul, I believe my efforts have strengthened and changed the community for the better. I have been especially successful with helping the Latino community in West St. Paul. I have been very resourceful in helping people find resources or coming up with options, when sometimes the resources and options can be limited.
Another thing I’ve noticed is the police receive more training and are more involved because of having an advocate present in the department and we are working together more.
This seems like a challenging time to be an immigrant and working with the police. How have you navigated that complexity and what have you learned in the process?
360 Communities takes pride in the relationships and partnerships we have in the community and we know we cannot do our work without the support of one another. When I first started at the police department, I made a point to be present with the officers, talk to them, laugh with them, and ignore all of the stereotypes and stigma I had heard in order to build a trusting relationship. One of the biggest things I’ve learned while working with the police has been to find the common interest we both share and build on our strengths from there. My role is much different than a police officer, but we both have the same goals of victim safety and offender accountability when it comes to domestic violence and sexual assault, and that’s a big part of what makes this relationship successful.
With the #MeToo movement we’ve seen how pervasive sexual assault can be, yet we still don’t like to admit that it happens in our communities. How has that conversation changed in recent years? What can we do to ensure that victims are willing to come forward and perpetrators are held accountable?
We have seen an increase in the amount of calls we get to our sexual assault crisis line since the #MeToo movement. We have also seen more people coming forward and reaching out for help. We believe the #MeToo movement has allowed survivors to not feel alone. We also believe that it is starting to change the conversation about sexual violence as not OK and something we will not tolerate.
A popular saying is “violence thrives in silence.” The more we talk about these issues, the more they are not accepted, the more victims will come forward, and the more we will be able to hold perpetrators accountable.
Domestic violence and abuse are often situations that are below the radar and often difficult (if not dangerous) to confront. How can people support and help victims?
One of the best ways to support victims is to believe them if/when they disclose domestic violence. The response the victim gets from others will shape their entire experience. Often times people do not feel equipped to respond to domestic violence victims as they don’t know what to say or they don’t want to say the “wrong thing,” therefore, another way to help support victims is to educate yourself on the dynamics of domestic abuse.
Part of your job is to help police bridge the language and culture barrier with the Latino community. How can the rest of West St. Paul bridge that gap and be more inclusive?
One thing could be to learn more about the culture—attend events, talk with neighbors, read books, etc. This will help people gain an understanding of what people have been through or what has impacted their experience in life. Even though I am Latina myself, I am not automatically trusted by my clients. One of the things I’ve found to be very impactful is being involved in the community. I attend events like the Garlough Community Collaborative, ROMA landlord meetings, El Dia, NAMI in the Park, Cops in the Park, and others. This has opened up so many doors for me in getting to know the community and building strong relationships. I believe the same would be true for others who are looking to bridge the gap and be more inclusive.
Thanks to Ana January for sharing her thoughts and working to make West St. Paul a better, safer community.