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Victim Impact


A life-shattering event shocks the body and mind and leaves a person changed. The feelings and impact in the aftermath of such an event are known as trauma. Trauma experienced after a sexual assault is directly related to the individual's unique life experience, the circumstances of the sexual assault(s) itself and the support, or lack thereof, that the victim is provided in the aftermath of the assault. In the case of sexual assault, there is a myth that the level of trauma is related only to penetration, violence, the use of a weapon or the number of assaults. These however, are not the only underlying causes of the trauma, though they may be factors used by the criminal justice system to determine charging and/or sentencing. The following is a list of factors specific to the assault and/or the response to the assault that cause trauma:

BETRAYAL causes trauma. There is an expectation that people, especially those whom we know, trust and/or love, will not hurt us. When anyone who violates these expectations by harming us, it generates feelings of betrayal. Betrayal by sexual assault can cause a victim to experience decreased feelings of trust for certain people, groups of people or all people. It is important to keep in mind that betrayal, even by someone not well known to a victim, can lead to a victim questioning her confidence in assessing the safety, integrity or intentions of another person.

EXTREME FEAR or TERROR causes trauma. Terror and extreme fear can be described as the inability to stop or control an event that can cause, or does cause, emotional or physical harm, injury or death to oneself or others. The effect of this trauma can be for life, and the terror may be re-experienced when victims are  triggered or re-stimulated by sounds, smells, activities, individuals or circumstances that can result in reliving the assault or the feelings that were experienced at the time of the assault.

BLITZ or SURPRISE ATTACKS cause trauma. Whether an assault is perpetrated by a stranger hiding in the bushes in the literal sense of a blitz attack or by someone known to the victim, the assault itself is very often a surprise. It is perhaps more obvious how a stranger sexual assault is a surprise or blitz attack; however, if we consider that we do not accept rides, go on dates or put our trust in individuals whom we believe may rape us, we can begin to understand how non-stranger sexual assault is also a surprise. The traumatic result of a blitz or surprise attack is an altered sense of  safety. Victims may question their ability to assess or determine whether another person is safe or trustworthy as much as they question their ability to protect themselves in general.

SELF-BLAME causes trauma. Often no one is harder on a victim than she is on herself. If this is true in general, it will remain true in the aftermath of a sexual assault. More than likely, victims will believe the broadly held socio-cultural values that assign rape and sexual assault as a natural consequence of risky behaviors. Unfortunately, self-blame takes away one of the biggest possible avenues of support—the victim herself. It also gives the message that the victim did something wrong or that there is something wrong with her. Reframing or changing this message and belief can lessen the trauma.

INVALIDATION causes trauma. If a victim's experience is minimized by herself or others, it gives a confusing message to the victim. Her body, mind and spirit know that she has experienced great pain and trauma. Being told that it is "no big deal" leads to the confusion of hearing one thing but feeling or experiencing another. Minimizing or invalidating the pain or experience can give the message that the victim not only doesn't deserve support but may deserve punishment. A victim often internalizes invalidation and uses it to avoid processing the pain and/or to avoid nurturing and taking care of herself. 

Common Reactions to Sexual/Domestic Violence

Humiliation Sexual assault itself is an act of humiliation. One of its key components is to force unwanted sexual contact. For most, talking about anything sexual is difficult enough to have to talk about being sexually forced, exploited or coerced to an often-skeptical audience can greatly increase the victim's feelings of humiliation and embarrassment.

Shame and Self-Blame Most victims blame themselves, all or in part, for the assault. They blame themselves for something they did or didn't do, for what they wore, whether they fought back, or if they were drinking or using drugs. Victims often blame themselves if they were engaging in illegal or risky behavior prior to the assault.

Guilt Guilt comes from a person's sense that she could have and should have done something to protect herself or prevent the assault.

Fear It is important to remember that most sexual assault victims feel a level of terror during the attack. This fear will stay with the victim for a long period of time. Since most sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, the victim often feels unsure of who is worthy of trust, and her fear of everyone increases. It is also important to recognize that the victim may still be in the presence of or in close proximity to her rapist.

Concern for the Rapist In some cases, a victim may express concern about what will happen to the rapist if the incident is reported to the police. The victim may know, care about, be dependent upon the perpetrator (as in the case of a husband) and/or have an aversion to involvement in the criminal justice system.

Grief An assault is a profound loss and is often characterized by intense sadness. A victim may feel her life has been shattered to such an extent that she will never recover. A grief reaction often involves tearfulness, weeping and disorientation.

Depression Deep feelings of emptiness, remorse and unhappiness may affect a victim following a sexual assault. This reaction may result in a victim feeling hopeless, immobilized and unable to make decisions. Depression often makes a victim feel like everything is going wrong and nothing will ever be resolved.

Denial Some victims respond to the trauma of an assault by minimizing it, avoiding talking about the experience or by blocking it out of their consciousness altogether

Anger and Irritability For some victims, being sexually assaulted results in tremendous rage. While anger is a natural and healthy response, it may be misdirected towards the advocate, the law enforcement official, the prosecutor, or others who may be trying to offer assistance. A victim’s anger is one of the most difficult emotions for responders to feel comfortable accepting or addressing.

Common Symptoms Experienced by Sexual Assault Victims

Victims of rape and sexual assault have consistently described certain common symptoms that include but are not limited to those listed above. It is clear that the suffering of victims is mitigated by the quality and quantity of validation and support they receive from their own support systems and from professionals with whom they come into contact. As for all types of trauma, memories of the assault will remain and may always cause pain; it is not something the victim gets over. What does mitigate the impact in the aftermath is how much support a victim receives from professionals, friends, coworkers, and family members. Not everyone exhibits outward signs of pain and trauma. Because each victim of sexual assault has her own unique history, experience, culture, coping and support systems, each victim's response is unique to her. There is no "one way" or "right way" to feel or to respond to rape. It is as varied as the victim herself. Immediately following the assault, the victim may feel a heightened sense of fear: fear of the rapist returning, fear of men, fear of being alone, fear of sleeping, or fear of the dark. Specific fears related to the assault may develop. For instance, someone assaulted in her bedroom may fear sleeping in bedrooms. For some victims, a fear may turn into a phobia. Victims must often cope with outside influences and interactions with self and others. The victim may feel depressed and experience a general sense of loss. Former feelings of well being, security, and control over one's life have been taken away from the victim by the rapist. The victim may deny that the rape has affected her and may assure everyone that she is fine. The victim may silence her feelings to avoid pain or in reaction to a belief that people are tired of hearing about the assault or her feelings. The victim may withdraw from social relationships or personal interactions with friends and relatives. The victim may spend her waking hours distracting herself from feeling or thinking. The victim may also change eating and sleeping patterns and experience heightened levels of anger. It is common for a sexual assault to disrupt the victim's typical routine. Although a victim may continue to work or go to school, she may be unable to do more than what is essential. Others may work all the time or volunteer for every activity or assignment possible in order to block how they are feeling or to block memories of the assault. Some victims quit all activities and stay at home and only venture out if accompanied by someone else. Sexual assault is a life-changing experience.


Some changes a victim may experience:

  • Personal sense of security and/or safety may be damaged.
  • Increased distrust of existing relationships and/or hesitation to initiate new relationships.
  • Sexual relationships may suffer (some victims report that they are unable to reestablish typical sexual patterns after the assault because of inhibited sexual response, feelings of discomfort, or flashbacks of the rape during intercourse).
  • Self-imposed restrictions on life/activities that interfere or interrupt the lifestyle they had before the assault, as the world is now perceived as more threatening.
  • Phobias or excessive fears such as fear of crowds, of being alone, of the dark, of sleeping.
  • Specific fears related to the characteristics of the assailant, such as a mustache, curly hair, the smell of alcohol or cigarettes, type of clothing or car.
  • Distrust of all men, strangers, or of everyone. Victims may also experience physical responses to the trauma of a sexual assault. These responses may include:
  • Sleeping all of the time
  • Vivid dreams, recurrent nightmares, insomnia, sleeplessness
  • Pain in the area(s) of the assault (mouth, throat, vagina or anus)
  • Physiological reactions such as tension, headaches, fatigue, general feeling of soreness or localized pain in the chest, throat, arms or legs.
  • Appetite disturbances such as nausea, vomiting, not eating, overeating


Through the healing process, a victim may start to integrate the assault into her life so that the incident is no longer the central focus of each day. The victim may deal with any harmful effects of coping strategies adopted earlier. For example, if the victim self-medicated through the daily use of sleeping pills, she might be working to sleep or relax without those aids. Victims may be "triggered" by sensory stimuli or feelings that result in reliving the traumatic event. The victim may also experience "flashbacks" of visual memories (like watching a movie) of the event in her mind; and may feel the exact same level of fear or terror while reliving the event. These symptoms represent what any sexual assault victim might experience in the recovery process. These symptoms have also been put into phases referred to as Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS). However, RTS is not recognized as a separate diagnosis or category of symptoms from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). RTS is neither a recommended defense in a courtroom nor is it officially recognized as a subcategory of PTSD in the DSM-IV. RTS can also constrict an advocate's understanding of the range of symptoms and experiences a victim of sexual assault may have. What is most important to know is that a victim's reactions to a sexual assault can vary dramatically and that there is no right way to react. A victim's reaction may be in stark contrast to what you believe a victim's response should be. Think of what your biases and stereotypes of victims are and where they likely came from. When a victim reacts in a way that is surprising to you or outside of what you think is typical, remember that there is no one reaction and that a range and inconsistency of emotions is often what is most consistent.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) involves a pattern of symptoms that some individuals develop after experiencing a traumatic event such as sexual assault. Symptoms of PTSD include repeated thoughts of the assault; memories and nightmares; avoidance of thoughts, feelings, and situations related to the assault; and increased arousal (e.g., difficulty sleeping and concentrating, jumpiness, irritability). One study that examined PTSD symptoms among women who were raped found that 94% of women experienced these symptoms during the two weeks immediately following the rape. Nine months later, about 30% of the women were still reporting this pattern of symptoms. The National Women's Study reported that almost 1/3 of all rape victims develop PTSD sometime during their lives and 11% of rape victims currently suffer from the disorder. PTSD is the most common diagnostic category used to describe symptoms arising from emotionally traumatic experiences. This disorder presumes that the person experienced a traumatic event involving actual or threatened death or injury to herself or others where she felt fear, helplessness or horror. Three symptom clusters, if they persist for more than a month after the traumatic event and cause clinically significant distress or impairment, make up the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.


The three main symptom clusters of PTSD are:

  1. Intrusions, such as flashbacks or nightmares, where the traumatic event is re-experienced.
  2. Avoidance, when the person tries to reduce exposure to people or things that might bring on the intrusive symptoms.
  3. Hyper-arousal, meaning physiologic signs of increased arousal, such as hyper vigilance or increased startle response.

Prevalence rates of PTSD

Adult Americans (lifetime) 7.8%

Men (lifetime) 5%

Gulf War Veterans 10%

Women (lifetime) 10.4%

Iraqi War Veterans 12-20%

American Vietnam Veterans 30.9%

Female rape victims 60%

Bosnian refugees 75%


Trauma symptoms are probably adaptive and originally evolved to help us recognize and avoid other dangerous situations quickly - before it was too late. Sometimes these symptoms resolve within a few days or weeks of a disturbing experience; not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. When many symptoms persist for weeks or months or when they are extreme, professional help may be needed. However, if symptoms persist for several months without treatment and avoidance becomes the best available method to cope with the trauma, the chosen coping strategy (avoidance) can actually interfere with seeking professional help. Postponing needed intervention for a year or more and allowing avoidance defenses to develop, could make it much more difficult to process the trauma. While PTSD is the "prototypical" traumatic disorder, some people - or some stressors - present variations on this theme. Depression, anxiety, and dissociation are three other disorders that may sometimes arise after traumatic experiences. Individual differences affect both the severity and the type of symptoms experienced. For example, almost everyone dissociates to some degree. As you might expect, risk for PTSD increases with exposure to trauma. In other words, chronic or multiple traumatic experiences - like marital rape or ritual abuse - are likely to be more difficult to overcome than most single instances. There is also evidence that early traumatic experiences (e.g., during childhood), especially if these are prolonged or repeated, may increase the risk of developing PTSD after traumatic exposure as an adult.



Dissociation is the disconnection from full awareness of self, time and/or external circumstances. A complex neuropsychological process, dissociation exists along a continuum from normal everyday experiences to disorders that interfere with everyday functioning. Common examples of normal dissociation are highway hypnosis (a trance-like feeling that develops as the miles go by), "getting lost" in a book or a movie so that one loses a sense of passing time and surroundings, and daydreaming. Experiences like sudden loss of memory and blurry consciousness of time can occur in the aftermath of a sexual assault. More serious dissociative disorders are a commonly occurring defense against childhood sexual abuse. The essential feature of dissociative disorders is a disturbance or alteration in the normally integrative functions of identity, memory, or consciousness. If the disturbance occurs primarily in memory, Dissociative Amnesia or Fugue may result. In these situations, the victim cannot recall important personal events. Dissociative Amnesia with acute loss of memory may result from wartime trauma, a severe accident, or rape. Dissociative Fugue is indicated by not only loss of memory, but also travel to a new location and the assumption of a new identity. Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, is an identity disturbance where the victim develops additional "personalities" for the purpose of coping. PTSD, although not officially a dissociative disorder, can be thought of as part of the dissociative spectrum. Dramatic presentations in film and on television of people with dissociative disorders (especially DID) have proliferated in recent years, as more individuals with this coping pattern have been identified. Some presentations offer a distorted picture; reinforcing misconceptions and making this survival response seem bizarre and foreign. In fact, DID is not clearly observable most of the time, and most people with DID only selectively disclose their dissociation coping styles and/or their extensive trauma histories.


PTSD and Relationships

Trauma victims with PTSD often experience problems in their intimate and family relationships. PTSD involves symptoms that interfere with trust, emotional closeness, communication, responsible assertiveness, and effective problem solving:

  • Loss of interest in social or sexual activities, and feeling distant from others, as well as feeling emotionally numb. Partners, friends, or family members may feel hurt, alienated, or discouraged, and then become angry or distant toward the victim.
  • Feeling irritable, on guard, easily startled, worried, or anxious may lead victims to be unable to relax, socialize, or be intimate without being tense or demanding. Significant others may feel pressured, tense, and controlled as a result.
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep and severe nightmares prevent both the victim and partner from sleeping restfully, and may make sleeping together difficult.
  • Trauma memories, trauma reminders or flashbacks, and the attempt to avoid such memories or reminders, can make living with a victim feel like living in a war zone or living in constant threat of vague but terrible danger. Living with an individual who has PTSD does not automatically cause PTSD; but it can produce "vicarious" or "secondary" traumatization, which is almost like having PTSD.
  • Reliving trauma memories, avoiding trauma reminders, and struggling with fear and anger greatly interferes with victims' abilities to concentrate, listen carefully, and make cooperative decisions - so problems often go unresolved for a long time. Significant others may come to feel that dialogue and teamwork are impossible.
  • Victims of childhood sexual and physical abuse (and other factors leading to PTSD) often report feeling a lasting sense of terror, horror, vulnerability and betrayal that interferes with relationships.
  • Feeling close, trusting, and emotionally or sexually intimate may seem a dangerous "letting down of my guard" because of past traumas - although the victim often actually feels a strong bond of love or friendship in current healthy relationships. Having been victimized and exposed to rage and violence, victims often struggle with intense anger and impulses that usually are suppressed by avoiding closeness or by adopting an attitude of criticism or dissatisfaction with loved ones and friends. Intimate relationships may have episodes of verbal or physical violence.
  • Victims may be overly dependent upon or overprotective of partners, family members, friends, or support persons (such as health care providers or therapist).
  • Alcohol abuse and substance addiction - as an attempt to cope with PTSD -can destroy intimacy or friendships.
  • In the first weeks and months following the traumatic event, victims often feel an unexpected sense of anger, detachment, or anxiety in intimate, family, and friendship relationships. Most are able to resume their prior level of intimacy and involvement in relationships, but the 5-10% who develop PTSD often experience lasting problems with relatedness and intimacy.

How to Support Victims/Survivors

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship

between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the

darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

—Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You, 2004

The Role of the Advocate

Your role as an advocate includes providing support to victims of sexual assault who come to you for assistance or who are referred to you by another means. The advocate’s role is to provide knowledgeable, compassionate and supportive intervention to the victim in an effort to mitigate the effects of the assault. Advocates also help victims navigate the criminal justice, medical and social services systems and work to ensure victim rights and dignity are respected and upheld by these systems. Advocates, above all other responders, are responsible for keeping the best interests of the victim in mind.


The Victim’s Choices Determine Advocacy Strategy

Like other specialized disciplines, advocates have the same need for skills and information that enable them to be effective and to provide high quality services. When thinking about advocacy and the role of an advocate, consider this question: what should sexual assault victims/survivors be able to expect from advocates? The following list details some of the many skills, characteristics and information necessary for advocates:


Empathy & Compassion-One of the key responsibilities of advocates is to perceive what the survivor is experiencing and communicate that perception. This does not mean that the advocate has to have been sexually assaulted in order to be empathic. However, the advocate will be able to understand the trauma of the experience. Because it can be difficult to identify completely with individuals whose life circumstances, socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, sexuality, and gender identity are different from one's own, it is important not to overemphasize similarity. Rather, the focus should be on exhibiting interest, concern and compassion for the victim's particular situation.

Respect-Given the traumatic nature of sexual assault, respect is an essential element in the advocate-victim relationship. It requires advocates to exhibit genuine appreciation for the victim, her experiences and her behavior. This includes protecting the victim's rights to make her own decisions, acknowledging her assessment and account of the situation, and supporting her ability to overcome the crisis without being overprotective and without holding the client in a negative regard.

Warmth-Being treated warmly by an advocate has a comforting, reassuring affect on the victim of sexual assault. Warmth carries with it a sense of care, concern and closeness that results in trust. It is possible to exhibit warmth non-verbally. It is good to remember that non-verbal cues such as body language, eye contact and facial expressions can be effective ways to communicate appropriate messages.

Genuine-It is important for advocates to be themselves when intervening with victims of sexual assault, taking care not to assume behaviors or express opinions that are not authentic. Being "real" allows the advocate to relax and focus on the victim, rather than on her own behavior or appearance. Genuineness conveys to the victim the advocate’s trustworthiness and desire to assist.

Concrete Choices-One of the common reactions to rape is a feeling of disorientation, which can emphasize feelings of powerlessness and confusion. Therefore, effective advocacy will include offering choices to a victim so she might regain her own sense of personal power ("who would you like to call?"). It is also important to be as clear and specific as possible when interacting with a victim. This does not mean being directive (giving unsolicited advice or instruction), but rather providing detailed information in relevant, understandable terms. This concept is related to the need for immediacy - discussing issues in the here and now.

Competency in addressing Cultural Factors, Social Conditions and Personal Identities- It is important for advocates to understand how cultural factors, social conditions and identities impact upon a victim's experience of sexual assault. The relationship will be significantly strengthened if the advocate can demonstrate knowledge and respond sensitively to victims from various social and cultural groups. This includes being aware of who the victim is and learning something about her background/experience and how social issues affect her life. It is important not to make assumptions based on generalizations and stereotypes. If necessary, check with the victim about her background to understand better ways in which her culture, religion and/or identity influence her life and the way she perceives the assault.


Responsibilities of the Advocate-It is the responsibility of the advocate to develop the relationship with the sexual assault victim to build trust, establish rapport and maintain communication. This is not to say that advocates should not respect the wishes of a victim who no longer chooses to participate in the system or attend a support group. Rather, an advocate does not wait for a victim to ask for assistance, support or services but is actively developing ways to meet the needs of each individual victim and offer that support in the form of options, information and referrals. There are a number of ways that advocates can help victims recover and gain a sense of control in the aftermath of the assault:

Validate and Believe-Sexual assault advocates will validate a victim's feelings by reiterating what the victim says and offering supportive feedback. The goal of support is to communicate to the victim that the sexual assault was not her fault, she did not deserve to be assaulted, and she is not to blame -in any way - for what happened. The advocate’s role is to support the victim and communicate her belief in the victim and support for the victim's needs. One way to do this is to refrain from interrogating the victim, allow her to tell what she will; information is gathered on a need-to-know basis. If the advocate is in need of particular information and is unsure, based on what the victim has disclosed, the advocate can phrase the question in such a way that she is taking responsibility for not knowing  rather than implying that the victim was inconsistent or untruthful. For example, the advocate might say, I know that you have shared a great deal with me and must be exhausted, and I am sorry but I don't remember if you said you had anyone waiting for you at home, can we talk about this for a minute?

Dispel Untruths and Misconceptions-The advocate can support and empower the victim by talking about society’s myths and misconceptions regarding sexual assault. This can be done with sensitivity to the victim’s feelings and emotional state. It would not be an appropriate time to dispel myths, for example, if the victim is crying intensely or is dealing with a specific concern. This is most often done when the victim begins blaming herself for the assault or expresses feeling of guilt or shame.

Normalize-Victims often feel that there is something wrong with them, and that their reactions are abnormal. Effective advocacy includes sharing the information that there are no "wrong" ways to feel after a sexual assault and that a victim's feelings (whatever they are) are commonly experienced AND entirely expected due to the trauma of the assault.

Be Responsible It is vital for advocates to keep appointments with victims and follow through with the information, assistance and resources promised. Victims may distrust the system and people working within it- it is the advocate's responsibility to ensure that victims understand exactly what they can expect from the advocate. Finally, be clear about confidentiality and explain the procedures anddon't risk a situation where the victim might feel betrayed after disclosing information to you.

Create a Safe Environment-It is the responsibility of the advocate to ensure that interactions with the victim are safe and feel safe for the victim. It is important to be clear about physical touching; any touch or closeness must be appropriate and occur only with clear permission from the victim. This also includes ensuring that the physical/visual space in which you work together does not feel unsafe for the victim (small enclosed room, uncomfortable furniture, disturbing pictures or information readily visible, etc.).

Offer Options not Advice-Victims may be struggling with important and complex decisions. An advocate's responsibilities include identifying all the options available and helping the victim decide which option is best. It is important that this is done in a nonjudgmental way, with the advocate acting as a sounding board and not providing her personal opinions.

Let the Victim Express a Full Range of Feelings- It is vital for advocates to be comfortable with the entire continuum of emotions -- and their expression (this includes anger). This might include crying, laughing, animated talking, yelling, expressing anger, shaking, silence, etc. The goal is to be attentive and compassionate but not personally involved in these emotions.

Sensitivity-A victim and an advocate may have differences in cultural backgrounds, gender, sexual orientation, age, race, religion, nationality, gender identity or socioeconomic status. Effective advocacy includes learning as much as possible about the diversity of cultures of the potential population that you serve. This includes thinking about how those differences might have an influence on the impact and healing for a victim. It is important to remember that individuals from a particular background, culture, or race may not all have the same reaction and response to the assault as is true for the dominant culture as well. It is important that advocates do not employ stereotypes or make assumptions about any victim. If you do not know or are unsure about anything, ask the victim. A victim is much more likely to feel respected by you if you have a willingness to acknowledge your ignorance or lack of knowledge about a particular culture or issue than if you employ stereotypes and make assumptions that are inaccurate, hurtful and/or derogatory. If necessary, ask about the survivor's background or identity to better understand ways in which her culture influenced her life and the way she perceives her rape. It is okay to let the victim know that you recognize that differences exist and may very well be relevant to her experience and healing.

Help Build a Long-Term Support Network-One area of tremendous concern for many victims is disclosing the assault to their family, friends, and potential advisors, such as spiritual leaders. An advocate can assist the victim in identifying who she wants to disclose to and how much  who is safe to tell. If wanted, advocates may also help victims to prepare for making disclosures and help them to prepare for responses that are blaming, non-supportive and alienating. Peer support groups can be an excellent resource for victims who have limited family or friends who are safe to disclose to. This can help the victim to feel less isolated and build support networks.

Help Develop Constructive Ways of Coping -Advocates know that it is not uncommon for victims to develop defense mechanisms or coping patterns that may be harmful to themselves. This can include the use of drugs or alcohol, abusing prescriptions, overeating or not eating, sleeping all of the time or not sleeping at all, or taking extreme risks or engaging in potentially harmful and unhealthy behavior. At some point these defense mechanisms will stop working and the feelings behind them will begin to emerge. Validating the victim and helping her to understand her desire to avoid or suppress her feelings is important. The advocate can then assist the victim in identifying positive or healthy coping skills, exercise, support groups, talking with friends, counseling, etc. Advocates will have information and referrals for when victims might be in need of services from additional providers like drug and alcohol treatment. Additionally, if a victim declines referrals for professional services that the advocate cannot provide, the advocate will respect the choices of the victim. The role of the advocate is to provide support, information and assistance to victims not to insist that they attend a particular support group or enroll in a treatment program; doing so may alienate the victim from the advocate.

Provide Information, Education and Referral -Advocates communicate information about the criminal justice system, the medical system, community resources and sexual assault. It is critical that advocates provide victims with accurate and up-to-date information and referrals. Additionally, when making a referral, it is a much better practice for advocates to gather information and assist in making appointments or accessing services rather than making a "cold" referral or just handing a contact number to the victim.

Advocate on Behalf of the Victim — Based on the choices and needs of the victim, advocates work with individuals, agencies, and systems to ensure that the rights of the victim are honored and respected and that victims have full access to services and assistance. Advocates may need to advocate on behalf of victims to ensure that they have the option of being present during a trial, or access to a stalking order through the courts or law enforcement.

Interrupt in Victim Blaming — One of the more challenging roles of advocates is to interrupt victim blaming and educate the community and responders about the myths and misconceptions that are often associated with sexual assault. Victim blaming refers to the attitudes or beliefs that hold victims responsible, even in part, for being sexually assaulted. Victim blaming typically utilizes the arguments that if the victim had not made a particular choice, engaged in a particular activity, or acted in a particular way, she or he would not have been assaulted. This type of second-guessing is usually one that victims are already doing to themselves—hearing any variation of this theme from others adds to the trauma already being experienced.

Reframing- An effective strategy for advocates to utilize in supporting victims and addressing victim blaming is to reframe the experience for the victim, family, friends and responders. An example of reframing is to identify the specific way the victim is being blamed, such as for drinking alcohol. Natural Consequences — The next step is to identify what the natural consequences are for drinking alcohol—or even for drinking too much alcohol. The possible natural consequences are headache, making a fool of oneself, throwing up, perhaps falling down, etc. These are consequences that might be faced by every person that drinks too much alcohol. 

Logical Conclusions-The next reframing technique is to ask if everyone who drinks too much is sexually assaulted. The answer of course is no. The next question is, why not? The answer is that there is not a sexual offender in place—with a plan—every time and place that a person drinks too much. There will only ever be a sexual assault if there is a sexual offender present.

Knowledge: What should advocates know cold vs. be able to find out?


Know Cold:

• Victims Rights

• Criminal Justice System Procedures and Processes

• Civil Legal Options and Rights—Orders for Protection

• Resources in the Community—Housing, Food, Childcare, Emergency $$, etc.

• Medical Procedures/Evidence Collection

• What else?

Be Able to Find Out:

• Dates/Times/Locations—CJ System

• Specific parameters of the law including:

o Criminal Statutes

o Sentencing/Mandatory Minimums

o Sex Offender Registration

o Statute of Limitations

• Out-of-Area Resources—shelters, services, transportation, etc.

• What else?


The term EMPOWERMENT is often used in conjunction with advocacy and support. What exactly is meant by empowerment and how do we empower a victim? The goal of empowerment is to strive to provide victims with good information in a compassionate and respectful manner so that victims feel encouraged to make the choices that are best for them, as identified by them.

Empowerment Is:

• Respecting boundaries and confidentiality

• Honoring choices

• Believing and validating her experiences

• Understanding the role of culture

• Promoting access to services

Empowerment Is Not:

• Trying to “save” or “help” the victim

• Confusing your needs with hers

• Being punitive

• Being stoic or unemotional

• Sympathy

• Giving advice or telling her what to do

Victims should be able to expect that advocates will:

• Listen to the victim/survivor and identify what is needed and wanted;

• Identify and obtain the information and resources that will be necessary; and

• Provide compassionate, empowering support.

Intervening by Reframing

The above scenario is an example of reframing. Reframing is an effective tool for responding to victim blaming comments, suggestions or questions. Reframing allows the individual who is engaging in the victim blaming behavior to reach a different conclusion without conceding the fundamental point: that the victim engaged in a high risk activity or behavior or even made a poor choice. While that may be true, rape and sexual violence are neither a natural consequence of poor choices nor are they appropriate punishments.

The notion of risky behavior (or poor choices) can also be reframed. Most people engage in some level of calculated risk on a monthly, weekly and sometimes daily basis, and most of the time those calculated risks do not result in harm to ourselves or others.

On the other hand, calculated risk sometimes does result in harm or consequence. For example, many people routinely drive without their seatbelts fastened, despite it being against the law in all 50 states. This would seem to be a reasonable risk based on our collective experience that individual car accidents are relatively infrequent. On the other hand, we also collectively know that wearing a seatbelt will decrease risk of injury or death in the event of a car accident. Is the person who chooses not to wear a seatbelt at fault for being injured in the event of a car accident or is the driver of the car that caused the accident ultimately responsible for the injury? In the end, no harm would have come to the person not wearing a seatbelt had there not been an accident. It is not the wearing or not wearing of a seatbelt that causes an accident but rather drivers themselves. While wearing a seatbelt can prevent the likelihood of injury, it cannot stop an accident from occurring.

Victim Blaming

·        She was dancing provocatively and wearing revealing clothes that invited or provoked the assault.

·        She started the kissing and touching, how was he to know she didn't want to continue?

·        She agreed to stay over, and even slept in the same bed with him.

·        It was a miscommunication. "How was he supposed to know she didn't want to have sex if she didn't say no?"

·        "She has lied about things before."



·        If you leave your front door unlocked and have a welcome mat on your front stoop, does that invite a robber to rob your home?

·        If you order one cup of coffee does that mean you cannot decline subsequent refills?

·        Every time you sleep in a bed with someone do you have sex?

·        If you are playing catch with someone and without saying anything that person turns and walks away from the game, do you still throw the ball?

·        Once a liar always a liar? Or do most people have the capacity for truth AND deception?

While the circumstances surrounding or leading up to a sexual assault may be relevant for the purpose of investigation or prosecution, they are not relevant to culpability of the victim. For instance, whether the victim and the offender were drinking may be important pieces of the investigation in terms of identifying the ability to consent or planning on the part of the offender. A criminal investigation will need to identify premeditation, force or threat of force, inability to consent and so on. However, the behaviors, actions or choices of the victim are not relevant, because regardless of the circumstances, the sexual offender is the sole responsible individual.

Roots of Victim Blaming-The roots of victim blaming most often originate in socio-cultural values and beliefs that support the mainstream world view. Victim blaming can also result from a desire to create a sense of individual safety. Finally, victim blaming can come from being exposed to the pain and suffering of others.

“Innocent Victim” versus “Rape-able Offenses” – This is a socio-cultural value that divides victims into two categories: innocent and culpable. An innocent victim is someone who is naïve and sexually inexperienced, someone who was the victim of a random act of violence. If you are an innocent victim, the community will rally around you to provide support and demand justice on your behalf. A culpable victim is someone who went to a club, got drunk and went home with someone she just met. If you are a culpable victim, the community may claim that "you deserved it."

“Good Victim” versus the “Discreditable Victim This is another socio-cultural value that divides victims into two categories: those whom we want to help and those whom we would rather not deal with. A "discreditable" victim often needs multiple services, has what is considered a complex case or simply is not well liked or deemed creditable. "Discreditable" victims can include sex workers, the poor or homeless, individuals with drug addiction or mental health issues and so on.

Preserving the myth of personal safety This socio-cultural value is intended to provide a sense of safety for women and the community. Becoming aware of an assault, whether through the media or another means, can create fear and anxiety for one's own personal safety. Victim blaming enables the community to focus on the behaviors, actions and choices of the victim and to assign culpability for the assault based on those behaviors, actions and choices. The myth of personal safety is preserved by embracing the notion that you can avoid being raped or sexually assaulted if you simply avoid those behaviors, actions and choices.

Vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue  Victim blaming may be a sign of burnout for a responder or provider who is no longer able to feel empathy and compassion for someone who has been harmed.

Intersections of oppression We live in a socio-cultural framework that creates divisions based on what is the "norm" and what is not. This framework grants opportunity, access and power to people who fit into the "norm" or dominant group over those who do not. When individuals who are not a part of a dominant group or "norm" are sexually assaulted, victim blaming attitudes may be expressed based solely on the individual's association with a marginalized or oppressed group. We can see manifestations of victim blaming rooted in:

o Sexism    o Racism    o Able-ism    o Age-ism    o Hetero-sexism

o Class-ism    o Dominant Religion (Christianity)    o xenophobia


It may be helpful to identify the nature or "root" of victim blaming you encounter in order to most effectively intervene. If a disclosure is doubted or dismissed because the individual reporting has a developmental disability, the reframing might include looking at the ways in which a sexual offender would perceive someone with a developmental disability to be vulnerable, accessible and lacking in credibility. By acknowledging that people with developmental disabilities may be perceived as lacking in credibility, we can also address how this perception can impede a consistent, thorough, and professional response.

Victims should be able to expect that regardless of their ability, age, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religion, race, ethnicity, nationality or whether they are likeable or made poor choices, we treat them with respect, dignity, and compassion and provide them a consistent, thorough, and professional response.

The above information taken from The  Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force Advocacy Manual 2010


There are some basic steps that a person can take to increase personal safety and help children be safer in the event of domestic violence.  These steps are not foolproof and while one might not be able to do all these steps, taking even a few of these steps can ensure safety preparedness to a great degree.

·       Teach children or encourage neighbors to call police during an attack.

·       Keep a set of car keys hidden, preferably outside.

·       Keep a suitcase packed and hidden in case you need to leave in a hurry.  You might also want to leave this with a friend or family.

·       Keep copies of all important records: I.D., children’s birth certificates, social security cards, school and vaccination records, checkbook, ATM cards, welfare I.D., children's favorite toys, items of special sentimental value.

·       Establish your own checking account.

·       Keep enough cash for a motel; plan for a place to go in an emergency.

·       Maintain close contact with family and friends.

·       Understand the cycle of violence and protect yourself when you recognize that another violent episode could occur.  Try to avoid the bathroom, garage, kitchen, near weapons or in rooms without an outside door.

·       If you call police, get name and badge number of the officer in case you need a record of the attack.  Ask for the officer’s card.

·       Consider obtaining a Restraining Order, ordering the batterer not to harass or come around you.

·       Do not leave the safety plan where the batterer can find it.

·       If necessary, pretend you are not making plans to leave.

·       24 hour crisis line number is: 1-800-833-1161  or  278-0241

·       If your abuser violates the restraining order, you can call the police and the District Attorney’s office at 276-7111.


When Talking Someone who has been Abused



Give advice

Change the subject

Ask trivial questions

Intellectualize a problem

Become emotional

Make decisions for the person who’s abused

Be evasive or elusive

Handle everything yourself

Ask WHY questions

Display pity

Indulge in silly witticism

Become artificial or stilted

Become insensitive or cold

Cut or block her communication

Be judgmental or rejecting

Allow silences to become too long

Become negative or depressed

Cut a conversation short

Develop a relationship

Listen carefully

Deal with feelings

Encourage her/him to talk

Remain calm

Encourage self-determination

Be honest and natural

Let her/him make decisions

Ask WHAT & HOW questions

Feel with her/him

Use humor appropriately

Be spontaneous

Become warm and sensitive

Keep communication open

Accept her/him as a person

Share opinions when asked

Remain optimistic, positive

Let her/him know your door is always open


1.      I’m sorry this has happened to you.

Acknowledge what has been said, that you have heard it and are listening.  Acknowledge the courage it takes to disclose abuse and the strength it takes to survive.  Your opportunity to EMPATHIZE.

2.      No one deserves to be abused.

VALIDATE what has happened.  This is a universal statement and an opportunity to connect with the survivor.

3.      It’s not your fault.

Don't minimize the violence or blame the victim.  The batterer is accountable and responsible for his/her choices and behaviors.

4.      You are not alone.

"I'm glad you shared this with me."  Battering is a widespread problem and yet we often feel so alone.  There are so many others who have been through this. We can counteract the paralyzing isolation so often at the heart of the abuse.  By GENERALIZING, we help the survivor understand the battering is not about who they are or what they did, but about their partner's attempt to maintain power and control.

5.      There is help.

Talking about this can really help.  It's a first step.  Here is some information that you might find helpful, either now or in the future.  You are courageous for surviving this. EMPOWER the survivor by offering information choices, safe space and support.

Tips for Shelter Workers, Advocates and Counselors

The next tool, which is actually an assumption put into practice, is that since we believe we all have  equal power, we can all do an equal share of the work.  That means that no one “Rescues” anyone else.  Basically, a Rescue is doing more for someone than she does for herself or doing something you do not want to do.

Since part of our cooperative agreement means no Rescues, if a group member asks people to tell her good things, no one will say things she does not feel.  Or if someone lies back and waits for others to decide what she should do, we will ask her to work harder in her own behalf.

Because people have been taught so thoroughly to experience themselves and each other as powerless, the idea of equal responsibility and effort is a vital concept in problem solving.  It is a basic and strong note of confidence.  Built into the work is a statement that says we believe a person has power and we want her to experience it fully.  Thus it is understood that when a person makes a contract she is going to work on it just as hard as the rest of the group.  This attitude is the antithesis of that often promoted by the medical psychiatric establishment, which has insisted on treating people as helpless consumers, who must go to experts and professionals to be saved.

Most people who come to group seeking help feel a lack of power in some way.  They often feel convinced that they are unable to change that situation.  They think they need someone to do it for or to them.  I have come to believe that the most important thing to teach in a problem-solving group is that people do have power and that when they join together they can reclaim it. But for people to feel better and get what they want, they must act.  No one can do a person’s work for her.  A group can encourage and help her to improve her life and protect her when things get rough.  But the ultimate responsibility for wanting a change, and deciding to get it, and acting on that decision, lies with her.  Only she can decide to stop colluding with things outside her that are oppressive.  She must cry out her pain and use her rage to fight for her freedom.  Only she can be there twenty-four hours a day to make sure that she carries out her plan.  By making a contract with the group, the member commits herself to accomplish her goal while enlisting the aid and support of the group.

People cannot do the work of living for each other.  People must ask for what they want and make contracts about what they are going to work on.

 “Rescue” describes a crippling and pervasive common problem.  It is our belief that it is not possible to save someone who views herself as powerless and unable to help herself.  People mistakenly think they can do it for others, and their guilt makes them feel that they should especially do it when the person, someone who feels she is a Victim, is asking for a Rescue.  Instead of being a compassionate and kind gesture, an attempt to Rescue someone is actually an oppressive and presumptuous act because it colludes with her apathy and sense of weakness.  Rather than enabling people to take power and ask for what they want, Rescuing reinforces people’s passivity and helplessness.  The message is “here, let me help you – you can’t do it, but I can.”

- Excerpted from “Solving Problems Together” Hogie Wycoff, Grove Press, New York 1980 (pages 90-92).


 Advocates who respond to crisis may provide advocacy with medical facilities and/or police departments. If you are a crisis responder you must first check in with your back-up before responding.  You may only respond to a safe place IE: the hospital or a scene where police are present. If they police leave a scene, so must you. 

When advocating between clients and systems you will be giving clients information on how the process is going to work. If you see that the process isn't working as it should be, you need to feel comfortable enough to advocate for the client and ask questions and seek necessary remedies so that their rights are in tact and they are treated with respect.


HOSPITAL-Sexual Assault-

  • Has the client requested our presence, do they want us there?
    • Explain our function and ask if they would like us to stay
  • Does the client want to file a report?
    • Advocate with police if necessary
  • Does the client want an SAFE Kit done? (sexual assault forensic exam)
    • Make sure that they know that the kit cannot be collected after 72 hours.
  • Have they been given Crime Victim's Compensation information? 
    • (if not, you provide)
  • Has the attorney generals SAVE fund information been provided?
    • (if not, ask)
  • Have prophylaxis been offered?
    • (if not, ask)
  • Has Plan B (emergency contraception) been offered?
    • (if not, ask)
If the client does not want to report, give them information on why they may want to report and let them talk about why they do not want to report. Also, let them know that a SAFE kit can be collected "anonymously" in the event she chooses to prosecute in the future.  

If they choose not to collect evidence or file a police report and cannot or do not want to talk to the police, you can then advocate between the police (if they have responded) and let them know the client does not wish to report.

For more information on SAFE kit and what to expect at the hospital see pages 85-92 of the SA manual.


When police in our service area respond to a domestic violence call they always send two officers. They assess the situation and make any necessary arrests. They then give the victim a Domestic Violence Services crisis line card and/or take them to the shelter/office at their request.


  1. Always call your back-up before you respond
  2. When you have completed crisis response-call your back-up and let them know you are safe (safety check)
  3. Talk to your back-up about your response, what worked, what didn't and what follow up needs to be done
If you encounter problems at any time, call your back-up and they will be there to help you

Adapted From The Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force
Advocacy Manual 2010

Working with survivors of sexual assault (domestic violence) can be both rewarding and painful. As advocates, we are privileged to witness and support the powerful transformation from victim to survivor. We are also exposed to the traumatic consequences of human cruelty on a daily basis and must take special care of ourselves and each other in order to stay healthy and effective in our work. This is especially true if we have experienced violence or abuse in our own lives. Sustainable advocacy requires individual and organizational attention.

Secondary Trauma
Supporting sexual assault survivors, as well as survivors of other violent crimes, can lead to stress and can trigger unresolved trauma for advocates. This is an important issue to monitor; an advocate who is negatively impacted by her work may not be an effective advocate for survivors. The following is a "self-test" for advocates to determine the impact of working with victims of trauma on themselves and to decide how they are coping with their own feelings and experiences.

Compassion Satisfaction and Fatigue Subscales -Revision III2
Helping others puts you in direct contact with other people's lives. As you probably have experienced, your compassion for those you help has both positive and negative aspects. These questions examine your experiences, both positive and negative, as a helper. Consider each of the following questions about you and your current situation. Write in the number that honestly reflects how frequently you have experienced these characteristics in the last 30 days.

0=Never 1=Rarely 2=A Few Times 3=Somewhat Often 4=Often 5=Very Often
_______1. I am happy.
_______2. I am preoccupied with more than one person I help.
_______3. I get satisfaction from being able to help people.
_______4. I feel connected to others.
_______5. I jump or am startled by unexpected sounds.
_______6. I feel invigorated after working with those I help.
_______7. I find it difficult to separate my personal life from my life as a helper.
_______8. I am losing sleep over a person I help's traumatic experiences.
_______9. I think that I might have been "infected" by the traumatic stress of those I help.
_______10. I feel trapped by my work as a helper.
_______11. Because of my helping, I feel "on edge" about various things.
_______12. I like my work as a helper.
_______13. I feel depressed as a result of my work as a helper.
_______14. I feel as though I am experiencing the trauma of someone I have helped.
_______15. I have beliefs that sustain me.
_______16. I am pleased with how I am able to keep up with helping techniques and protocols.
_______17. I am the person I always wanted to be.
_______18. My work makes me feel satisfied.
_______19. Because of my work as a helper, I feel exhausted.
_______20. I have happy thoughts and feelings about those I help and how I could help them.
_______21. I feel overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to deal with.
_______22. I believe I can make a difference through my work.
_______23. I avoid activities/situations because they remind me of experiences of people I help.
_______24. I plan to be a helper for a long time.
_______25. As a result of my helping, I have intrusive, frightening thoughts.
_______26. I feel "bogged down" by the system.
_______27. I have thoughts that I am a "success" as a helper.
_______28. I can't recall important parts of my work with trauma victims.
_______29. I am an unduly sensitive person.
_______30. I am happy that I chose to do this work.

Self-scoring directions:
1. Be certain you respond to all items.

2. On some items the scores need to be reversed. Next to your response write the reverse of that score. (i.e. 0=0, 1=5, 2=4, 3=3) Reverse the scores on these 5 items: 1, 4, 15, 17 and 29. 0 is not reversed as its value is always null.

3. Mark the items for scoring:
Put an x by the following 10 items: 3, 6, 12, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 27, 30
Put a ü by the following 10 items: 1, 4, 8, 10, 15, 17, 19, 21, 26, 29
Put a Ο (circle) by the following 10 items: 2, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 23, 25, 28

4. Add the numbers you wrote next to the items for each set of items:
Your potential for Compassion Satisfaction (x):

The average score is 37. About 25% of people score higher than 41 and about 25% of people score below 32. If you are in the higher range, you probably derive a good deal of professional satisfaction from your position. If your scores are below 32, you may either find problems with your job, or there may be some other reason—for example, you might derive your satisfaction from activities other than your job.

Your risk for Burnout (ü):
The average score on the burnout scale is 23. About 25% of people score above 28 and about 25% of people score below 19. If your score is below 19, this probably reflects positive feelings about your ability to be effective in your work. If you score above 28, you may wish to think about what at work makes you feel like you are not effective in your position. Your score may reflect your mood; perhaps you were having a -bad day- or are in need of some time off. If the high score persists or if it is reflective of other worries, it may be a cause for concern.

Your risk for Compassion Fatigue (Ο):
The average score on this scale is 13. About 25% of people score below 8 and about 25% of people score above 17. If your score is above 17, you may want to take some time to think about what at work may be difficult for you or if there is some other reason for the elevated score. While higher scores do not mean that you do have a problem, they are an indication that you may want to examine how you feel about your work and your work environment. You may wish to discuss this with your supervisor, a colleague, or a health care professional.

Debriefing for Advocates

What is Debriefing?
Debriefing is an essential skill for advocates. Debriefing is a unique form of communication that has been developed by people involved in direct service work; crisis and outreach workers, counselors, advocates and others to support and educate one another and to help provide the best possible services to clients. Debriefing may sometimes appear to be just talking, but it is much more than that. Debriefing is a process in which advocates share important information, sharpen and hone their communication and advocacy skills, demonstrate their accountability to clients, and provide one another with validation and emotional support.

Why Debrief?
I. Professional Self-Care
Many people involved in direct service work find that outreach, crisis intervention, and advocacy are the most rewarding work they have ever done, but this work can also be stressful, emotionally draining, and frustrating. Dominant North American culture teaches us that we should be strong, self-reliant, have control over our emotions, and should not need support from others. Survivors struggle with these damaging cultural beliefs – and overcome them – each time they make the choice to pick up the phone or drop by an advocacy program and seek support from a trained volunteer or advocate.

Advocates also struggle with these deeply ingrained social expectations. Learning to overcome the social mandate of silence around sexual assault and our emotions is an elemental part of our work as advocates, and as with all anti-oppression work, we must begin with ourselves. Advocates receive extensive training to deal with the large volume of crisis work we handle, but we are not robots, and we are not able to be a reliable source of support and strength for our clients on a long term basis if we do not receive support for ourselves.

II. Protecting Client Confidentiality
Debriefing is an important way to protect confidentiality. Absolute confidentiality must be maintained in working with survivors of sexual and domestic violence, who need and deserve nothing less. Advocates do not discuss client issues at home or with partners, friends and family members. Not being able to talk about the emotionally charged events of our work day can feel isolating. Debriefing with other professionals in a safe setting is a way to release the emotions that build up around our work and avoid taking it home.

III. Becoming A Better Advocate
Debriefing is an essential way to improve advocacy skills. Learning from one another through debriefing is one of the most effective ways to enhance our skills and build a strong team. 

During debriefing:
• Advocates practice their communication and active listening skills.

• Advocates have the opportunity to learn from one another’s experiences.

• Advocates exchange ideas about resources available and beneficial skills and techniques to   use when dealing with a particular issue or type of case. Clients receive better services when an entire team of skilled advocates pools their knowledge in support of the case.

• Advocates have the opportunity to receive respectful feedback about their advocacy skills and approach and to give constructive feedback to their team members.

• Advocates become aware of and work to change any unwanted judgments and biases they may hold that create a barrier to providing effective advocacy to all survivors.

• Advocates express their feelings and are validated by others who do the same work, allowing an opportunity to release stress and reduce the effects of burnout.

• Advocates share strategies for self-care.

By doing all of the above, advocates learn to trust and support one another and maintain a strong, cohesive team.

Advocates debrief every day. Every contact with a client should be debriefed immediately afterward. If it is impossible to debrief immediately following the contact, do so at the next possible opportunity. No matter how much experience you have, it is still important to debrief regularly.

Debriefing one-on-one with another advocate and debriefing as a team are both important. If the contact was a limited or one-time contact, using the client’s name can be avoided. When working on an ongoing advocacy case, it may be important to pass on necessary information to other staff members and relief workers who might also provide support. Team debriefing is a way to pass on valuable information, support the whole team, and honor the work that we all do. There are two areas to be covered during debriefing.

I. Educational Debriefing
This type of debriefing includes discussion about the "nuts and bolts" of the advocacy contact:

Describe what happened. What did you observe and experience? What were the client's needs, and how did you assess them? What actions did you take? What resources, strategies, agencies or individuals were helpful or not helpful? What did you learn during the experience? This is an opportunity to pass on important client information and share any new information or techniques you have learned.

Ask for feedback. It may be helpful to pose a specific question and ask team members to discuss in turn how they have handled a similar situation; for example, "The client's partner/friends/family were present and were pressuring the client to follow their wishes (e.g., report the incident, move out of her apartment). What have you found is an effective way to deal with that?", "The client is a homeless single adult with disabilities, and I referred him to the following places for shelter; are there any referrals that I missed?" This is an opportunity to learn from the experiences of other advocates, and the client benefits through accessing the shared knowledge and resources of the whole team.

II. Emotional Debriefing
This type of debriefing will address how the advocate feels, and/or strong emotions, attitudes or beliefs that came up for her during an advocacy contact. Try to be clear about when you are moving into the emotional part of debriefing, and state that you are doing so. This is a time to talk in more depth about how you felt emotionally about your interaction with the client. It is also a time to learn more about yourself, the way you process experiences, and the views you hold. There are probably few experiences more powerful and validating than emotional debriefing with another advocate who understands the work and the feelings that can surface.
During emotional debriefing, talk about the emotions you experienced from the time that you became aware of them, all the way through the contact. Were there specific events that triggered your feelings in an especially powerful way? How did you cope with the feelings at the time? How did you feel after the contact was over, and how did you deal with those feelings? How might your feelings have affected your interaction with the client and others? How are you feeling now? Emotional debriefing is a good time for advocates to request and share self-care tips, validation, empathy and encouragement. During debriefing, use active listening skills, provide emotional support, and respect the process and one another. Do not be judgmental of yourself or others. As long as we continue to work on our own issues, holding ourselves and each other accountable individually and as a team, there is no room for judgment.

What if I Don’t Want/Need to Debrief?
You may be tempted to minimize debriefing or to only debrief when you feel you "need" to. Some people involved in direct service work may feel the emotional need to debrief more or less frequently than others. It's important to remember that advocacy staff and volunteers come together from diverse backgrounds and circumstances, experience varying degrees of privilege and oppression in their personal and professional lives and bring with them different needs for support. Remember that many of us are survivors ourselves and each of us may experience different aspects of the work as either triggering or empowering. It's difficult to overcome the cultural mandates that tell us that seeking support means weakness. Failure to debrief brings these damaging beliefs into our workplace and perpetuates them.

For team members whose work focuses on providing outreach and advocacy to oppressed groups or to clients who have little access to other resources or support, advocacy can be particularly challenging and draining and support from the team may be more crucial for them than for advocates who serve more privileged clients. No advocate deserves to feel stigmatized for wanting support.

Debriefing in a professional setting also protects our clients confidentiality by reducing the risk that an advocates unresolved feelings will surface later, causing inappropriate debriefing with friends or family. Take these issues into account and make it a point to DEBRIEF REGULARLY.

Caring for ourselves and each other in this work is not a luxury; it is our responsibility. It is vitally important that we make time for personal connection, share experiences and information, debrief stressful situations and trauma stories, and set and keep high standards for health and well-being in our organizations and lives. By sustaining ourselves, we can provide better services and support to survivors, and we can keep doing this important work.