Through her law practice, Foley Immigration Law and nonprofit The Red Tent Initiative, Lakeland attorney, Alison Foley-Rothrock is using her voice to bust stigmas and give power to victims as a survivor, advocate and leader.
Alison grew up in the northeast and went to school in Rhode Island where she graduated with her bachelor’s degree and attended law school. “I wanted to be involved in law because I see it as an extension of politics. I’ve always been very political and motivated by ideas of justice and human rights,” said Foley-Rothrock. She has been dedicated to practicing immigration law since 2004. Prior to her law career, Alison looked into teaching and the arts, two things she loves, but decided she wanted to do something that would use her talents in a more impactful way.
Starting Her Own Practice
In 2006, a year and a half out of law school, after just finding out that she was pregnant with her first child, Alison’s position at a nonprofit she’d been working for was cut. The more she had been immersed in immigration law, the more she felt that helping immigrants, especially immigrant victims of crime, was exactly where she needed to be. The only way she could continue to do that and provide for her growing family was to go into private practice. Foley-Rothrock started her practice, Foley Immigration Law that year.
When Alison found herself going through a divorce with a toddler and another on the way, it the security of a steady paycheck led her to take a position at a nonprofit she had volunteered for. In 2010, Alison was offered a job to be in private practice, that would move her family to Clearwater, Florida. “The opportunity both to move south and to go back into private practice […] was too good to pass up,” she said. In November of 2011 when the attorney who had hired her, closed her firm, Foley-Rothrock continued in private practice for herself. She met her husband in 2014 and then fell in love with Lakeland shortly after, moving her family and practice.
The Red Tent Initiative
In 2015, motivated by her work with nonprofits and her own experiences, Foley-Rothrock started the Red Tent Initiative.
“One of the reasons I had always stuck with nonprofits was because I have a real passion for helping survivors of domestic violence and other types of crime, abuse, and exploitation,” she explained.
In working with clients at her practice, Alison realized one of their biggest needs was someone they could talk to who could relate to what they had been through. As a child, Alison herself grew up in an abusive home. In adulthood, she found herself in a series of toxic relationships.
“Part of my recovery from that was to learn to talk about it with other people and sort of shake off the shame and stigma that comes with being a survivor,”
she said. “Statistically speaking, domestic violence happens across all spectrums. The one group who are actually more vulnerable are people who are born in foreign countries and move to the U.S.” She noticed all of the overlaps within the immigration work she was doing. “I was seeing people who were having these layers of vulnerability and disadvantage – having been born in another country, maybe being undocumented, or not having U.S. citizenship yet, or maybe not speaking the language.”
“It was only when I experienced it myself and I tried to access services with all of the advantages that I do have – I speak the language, I’m a U.S. citizen, I’m educated, I had the main income in our household – still, it was really hard to pull myself away and find support,” she said. “When I did find support services available, I felt like the attitude of the people who worked in these services tended to be kind of condescending. They asked those same questions that made me feel like it was my fault,” Foley-Rothrock explained.
To Alison, this was a gap that needed to be bridged. When working with clients who were facing similar circumstances, Foley-Rothrock lifted the detached, inhuman veil that traditionally exists between lawyer and client. She discovered, “If I would tell them, ‘It happened to me too. I understand what you’re going through because I’ve been there,’ it really changed the whole dynamic between us.” The Red Tent Initiative came out of that idea that sharing survivor stories is a powerful thing. “It defies this idea that this is stuff that we don’t talk about, that the shame and stigma are for the victim to bare going forward, that they’re the ones who have to work through it, the totally false idea that victims are people that you don’t run into every day.”
The first Red Tent event was held on March 31, 2015. The date fell at the end of International Women’s History Month and the eve of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. “We felt like it was kind symbolic of how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go,” said the organization’s founder.
Foley-Rothrock invited influential women in the community to speak. She was surprised to hear survival stories from all of the women she had invited. Business owners, people who ran nonprofits, community leaders – they each had stories about domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. This inspired the attorney.
“If they could just talk about the fact that they’ve been survivors more, it might change the way we all look at survivors and change the way that people who are in situations where they are being victimized think about their own possibilities.” The Red Tent Initiative has since turned into a monthly event, showcasing local artists, musicians, spoken word poets, and visual artists to do a themed show telling the stories of survivors, and giving the floor to survivors to share their own stories.“We couple it with art to make it more impactful and to show the beauty of being a survivor and the strength of survivors and hopefully inspire people to take action,” said the Red Tent founder.
Funds collected by the organization are used to fill gaps in which social services aren’t able to meet – needs like assistance with safe houses, groceries, and car insurance.
The Red Tent Initiative is a radically inclusive network made up entirely of survivors and allies.
If you or someone you know is an exploitative or abusive situation, you can contact the Red Tent Initiative at (813) 424-0652 or through their website at redtentinitiative.org.
Alison was recognized by the City of Lakeland as a CityMaker in November 2018 by Mayor Bill Mutz for her work as an attorney and advocate. She admitted she felt a little cautious moving to Polk County, an area known for being conservative. Alison explained that she doesn’t fall within the borders of what might be deemed “socially acceptable” to a conservative community. She identifies as queer, her husband is transgender, she has multiracial children, practices immigration law, and advocates for awareness of topics that are uncomfortable for some to acknowledge. “To get an award that to me kind of symbolizes acceptance – not just acceptance but being embraced by this community – it was way more than a pat on the back,” she said. “That really meant a lot to me.”
Loud and Proud
As a queer-identifying person, Alison voiced that she thinks Polk County is moving in the right direction in regard to embracing the LGBTQ community. “I think it’s important for everyone to realize that everyone who might otherwise be seen as outsiders as not having potential, often become leaders in our communities. It’s important to me to be loud and proud as both someone who is in the LGBT community and a survivor because these are things that a lot of times carry shame and stigma, especially in conservative communities, it’s all the more important for me to put that out front,” said Foley-Rothrock. “If you want to be my friend and my supporter, you have to embrace the whole package. You can’t compartmentalize who I am in your mind, to make me more acceptable.”