Following the high profile gang rape of a young woman at Richmond High School in October 2009, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, author of  “Trauma Stewardship: An Everday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others,”  and the Joyful Heart Foundation, reached out to offer support to the advocates at Community Violence Soulutions (CVS).  Advocates at rape crisis centers throughout the State, and Nation, see and hear about cases similar to this on a daily bases, but with the media attention this case received, it was sure to be even more overwhelming for all the advocates at this particular rape crisis center, being that they serve the Richmond, CA  Community.  As CVS does on a daily bases, rape crisis center advocates respond in person or by phone to numerous survivors of sexual violence.  Survivors reach out to advocates at rape crisis centers because they know that there, they will find a safe place to receive support and begin their journey towards healing.
As advocates, however, how or where do they find support when experiencing, second-hand, so much trauma? Do they ever think about how this daily exposure to trauma affects them? Laura van Dernoot Lipsky addressed these questions during a retreat for CVS advocates-staff and volunteers.  She addressed the common effects of the work trauma advocates do, on their lives and the importance of taking care of one’s self as they do this work.  Terming this, “Trauma Exposure Response,” Laura addressed some effects that advocates may experience to include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • A sense of never being able to do enough
  • Hypervigilance
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Anger and Cynicism
  • Dissociative moments
  • Numbing
  • Diminished creativity

Laura focused on how these responses lead to high levels of burnout and loss of “passion for the work” for those working in rape crisis centers. To give advocates a better understanding of the importance of “taking care of self while caring for others,” she compared the work rape crisis center advocates do to what Martin Luther King referred to as “a single garment of destiny” in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:

All [of us] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny

The work rape, and domestic violence, crisis center advocates do is part of a larger work  for Social Justice and Anti-Oppression.  We all hold a part of that garment and if we are not taking care of ourselves while we are taking care of others, then our part of the garment will unravel and the garment as a whole can fall apart. Advocates owe it to themselves, their loved ones and to survivors to take care of themselves because you cannot truly help others unless you help yourself.  Whether it’s taking a yoga class or taking a minute or two of your day to do some simple breathing exercises at your desk, take some time to focus on YOU. You can also incorporate some simple techniques during regular staff meetings at your agencies. What are you doing to take care of yourself?  Feel free to share ideas in the comment section below.
To every advocate at every rape and domestic violence crisis center, we THANK YOU and HONOR you for all the work you do!
You can also find more suggestions for simple self-care ideas at the websites below.
Overdoing and Breaking the Routine
The Art of Relaxation
Breathing Exercises
Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief