Jewish Family Services advocate to serve survivors of abuse

Breanna West wants to open a conversation.

West, 23, is a 2019 graduate of Marquette University and started in March as a community advocate for Jewish Family Services. Her position was created to better serve community members who have been survivors of abuse.

West, an Atlanta native, said she came to Milwaukee to obtain her bachelor’s degree in sociology, with minors in psychology and culture, health and illness. Although she misses Atlanta, West said she stayed in Milwaukee because of the connections she made within the Jewish community, such as her participation in Hillel Milwaukee.

After about seven months working at a mental health hospital, West said she was looking for a position where she could put her sociology training to work. She wanted to get out into the community and help.

West said she has long wanted to help women who face domestic abuse. In her new position, West said she will provide emotional support for women, men and children who are victims of a crime and surviving abuse. “Their situation is urgent,” West said. “They’re in a dire situation. I’m there to offer resources.”

The work will be client-led, she said. She will be present to extend empathy, accompany clients to court, make connections with services like domestic abuse shelters and help them improve clients’ physical safety. West’s position was created with a grant JFS obtained through the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Office of Crime Victim Services. The award provides $333,180 a year for five years to expand mental health and counseling services for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and hate crimes.

The grant period began Oct. 1. Anne David, the director of clinical services at JFS, said the idea for the role came from discussions about the annual audit of antisemitic incidents in Wisconsin. Stakeholders discussed where people could access direct advocacy services following an act of violence.

Those discussions identified a gap in services for those who didn’t necessarily wish to see a therapist but wanted to know their options following an act of violence.

David said West was right for the job because of her experience within Milwaukee’s Jewish community and her take on the work. West previously worked for the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.

“What stood out for me was just the sensitive, thoughtful and direct nature in which she talked about the services that she’s going to be providing,” David said.

West’s work will also include extending the Safeguarding Healthy Families and Relationships, or SHOFAR, program, which started with the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. The initiative focuses on addressing child sexual abuse, sexual harassment and domestic violence.

Under that umbrella, West said she would offer public presentations at synagogues, women’s groups and Hillel Milwaukee about safety in relationships.

West said she aims to offer her services authentically so people can make decisions about their lives.

“I would hope that the Jewish community or anyone that comes through our doors will be able to talk about abuse,” she said. “The worst thing is for it to be hidden, and that’s why people feel so alone.”