People who work with survivors of sexual and/or domestic violence are motivated for many, many reasons. Sometimes, their motivation comes from their own experiences of sexual/domestic violence and abuse. For me, my experiences of abuse was a key motivator in volunteering for Rape Crisis – I wanted to help challenge a culture that allows/minimises/normalises the abuse of women and children.
When working in areas that expose you to acute distress – mental health services, violence support services, social work – sometimes, as a worker or volunteer you can experience burnout. Having support systems – such as good clinical supervision – can help in some ways, but sometimes the nature of the work can make its mark. This can develop in several different ways:
- Developing temporary/longstanding mental ill health (stress, depression, anxiety , post-traumatic stress disorder)
- Developing Compassion Fatigue
- Developing Vicarious Trauma
- Your behaviour may shift from helpful and supportive to abusive and damaging.
All of the above are very natural responses to distress. For those of us that work with people who experience trauma and distress – whether we are survivors or not – we may react similarly.
However, if you are in a position of power, if you are a care-giver, if you advocate on behalf of others, it is important that you attend to your well-being as the consequences are dangerous.
This has been played out recently on twitter. A woman who offers support and advocacy to survivors of domestic violence has exhibited behaviour that I and many others consider dangerous, damaging and abusive. Despite many voicing their concerns to her, she continues to exhibit this behaviour. As a result, many of us – including domestic violence support agencies – have decided to pursue safeguarding action regarding her behaviour.
I do not doubt that this woman believes that she is helping. But it seems to me that her desire to be heard, to help, is now at any cost and if her behaviour harms others, so be it. This is deeply disturbing.
From my perspective:
- If YOU disempower a woman who is attempting to take control of her life, that is abusive
- If YOU try to control a woman who is a survivor of domestic violence, that is abusive
- If YOU try to intimidate a woman who is asking you to stop controlling her, that is abusive
- If YOU put scare quotes around the word victim, when you claim to be an advocate for survivors, that is abusive
- If YOU breach a woman’s confidentiality, by printing identifiable information in the public domain, that is abusive.
- If YOU threaten to reveal even more confidential information, that is abusive
I am talking to YOU. And if any part of you recognises any of these behaviours in yourself, please get help and support – for your sake and for others. If YOU continue to behave like this, the consequences will be devastating.
To all survivors, you need to know that this behaviour is not common-place. There are many wonderful organisations that can help you. I have included these organisations below.
I believe you.
Violence and abuse support services:
www.rapecrisis.org.uk – Rape and sexual violence support services for women and children
www.womensaid.org.uk – Domestic Violence support service for women and children
www.broken-rainbow.org.uk – Provides support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* (LGBT) people experiencing domestic violence.
napac.org.uk – Support, advice and guidance for adult survivors of any form of childhood abuse – sexual, physical or emotional
www.respond.org.uk – Respond provides a range of services to people with learning disabilities, including both victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse
www.ashianasheffield.org – Aims to help prevent murder and serious harm to black, Asian, minority ethnic and refugee women in England, Wales and Scotland as a result of domestic abuse and forced marriage and honour-based violence. Also supports children and young people.
Mental health and emotional well-being support services:
www.mind.org.uk – mental health charity for people affected by mental ill health
samaritans.org – 24-hour support for anyone experiencing distress, despair or suicidal thoughts.
Services for reporting professional abuse:
www.popan.org.uk – WITNESS is a charity that aims to promote safe boundaries between professionals and the public to prevent abuse.
Professional Boundaries (guide) – A guide for people who have experienced abuse of power by professionals