Yavapai Family Advocacy Center strives to help clients take back their power

By Hilary Dartt • Photo by Trisha Shaffer

The Yavapai Family Advocacy Center’s (YFAC) mission statement reads: “to reduce trauma to victims of abuse by providing a safe and supportive environment and facilitating a team approach to advocacy, investigation, and prosecution.”

But the people behind the organization describe their work a bit differently; they say they guide their clients to find their voice, take back their power, and rediscover their worth and value (or discover them for the first time).

“The best part [of our work here] is watching somebody … become their own hero,” said Missy Sikora, Director of YFAC.

Carmen Steward, Advocate Supervisor, said, “This work is rewarding. It’s an honor to work with these victims, to help them, and to see the changes in them and their children, as well.”

“I’m empowering people,” said Ana Sanchez, a YFAC forensic interviewer who previously worked as a victim advocate. “At the beginning, they want you at the front. It’s like they’re saying, ‘You go do it. You have the power.’ Slowly, I take a step back and give them the power. I show them they have it too, and I help them get to it.”

YFAC is a program of Prevent Child Abuse Arizona and serves Yavapai County victims of interpersonal crime (including domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, elder abuse, and stalking, and in cases where a homicide or suicide occurred in the family).

Clients can walk in at the Prescott Valley location or call any time (24/7) to be connected with an advocate.

Missy said she hopes victims will realize: “You deserve better. You deserve respect, and you deserve to feel safe.”

YFAC headquarters is a locked facility designed with safety and comfort in mind; it’s a warm environment where, upon entry, staff offer people snacks and drinks.

When clients come in (whether law enforcement or Department of Child Safety personnel bring them in, or they walk in on their own), they’re assigned an advocate, who works with them for the duration of their case (including legal proceedings).

In what Missy described as a “client-guided” process, advocates listen to clients’ stories, share their available options, and help them determine what they want or need (whether it’s as simple as support or counseling, or they want to prosecute whoever victimized them).

The YFAC staff includes victim advocates, forensic interviewers, SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner), and therapists. It offers support groups for teens and adults, and an English as a Second Language class.

And, Ana said, “We educate ourselves on the resources we have in the community,” so that once a client calls or comes in, staff can connect them with what they need, even if it’s something YFAC doesn’t do.

Missy said, “Every year, the population of people we serve grows.” In fact, since she came on as director in 2016, the number of people YFAC has served more than doubled, from 550 to 1,300. Not only are community members more aware of YFAC, she said, but also, Yavapai County has followed the nationwide trend of training law enforcement officers to be more trauma-informed, so officers refer people to the center more often.

YFAC is one of 25 similar centers in Arizona and one of 1,000 in the U.S. The advocacy center model is powerful, she said, because each center acts as a safe place where all the helping professionals come to the victim. This instills the sense that the professionals—interviewers, counselors, SANE nurses, legal professionals, and law enforcement officers—care about the victims, and it also removes the stress of having to go to several different offices on what is likely one of the worst days of the victim’s life.

A major component of the empowerment YFAC strives for is education.

Missy said that, on average, people in abusive relationships will attempt to leave seven times before they’re successful or give up, and Carmen explained that many people don’t even realize they’re in an abusive situation because it’s their “norm.” They often call YFAC at the advice of friends or family members.

Similarly, it may take someone ten minutes just to pick up the phone and make the call to ask for help; that’s why, Ana said, the team at YFAC does everything in its power to make sure everyone who calls gets an answer to their question or a next step.

For some victims, Carmen said, a conversation with an advocate “is the first time they realize that not everyone lives this way.”

Through education on victimization and the cycle of violence, many victims come to their own realization that they’re in an abusive situation, and that’s when they find the power to start to change their lives.

“We never tell them what to do,” Carmen said. “We provide them with their options. Someone in their lives has always made the decisions for them. We’re not going to take the place of their abuser.”

Ana spent three years as a victim advocate before becoming a forensic interviewer two years ago, and after some time in her most recent position, she realized that positions enable her to be the voice for someone experiencing trauma.

“I’m providing people with a safe space and empowering them,” she said. “It’s the best thing ever to be able to be there for people in that way.”

“It’s a real gift to see people change and realize they have worth and value,” Missy said. “They deserve that.”

Yavapai Family Advocacy Center Services

YFAC is dedicated to reducing victims’ stress and trauma by performing forensic interviews and medical exams in a safe, supportive environment; providing advocacy services including support groups, court accompaniment, transportation assistance, support groups, and education; providing therapy services, helping create a safety plan; and providing legal support and services.

All YFAC services are free to victims; they’ll never receive a bill, and YFAC will not ask for their insurance information.

Although YFAC personnel are mandated reporters for crimes against children, adults who do not wish to involve law enforcement can contact the center directly.

For those who know something isn’t quite right in their relationship, YFAC’s website has a resource page to help determine whether it might be domestic violence or abuse: https://yfac.org/signs-of-abuse/

Victims of interpersonal crimes can walk into the YFAC’s Prescott Valley location, call 928.775.0669 any time, email [email protected], or visit yfac.org to get help or more information.