I had a whole post planned about feelings of guilt as an advocate and feeling like I failed a client.  But, it turns out, my feelings were 100% unjustified.

In a past post I mentioned that there was a client that I worked with who, after she left, my supervisor contacted her to offer a few suggestions on how to talk to the police since a report was filed of her assault and she didn’t want to go through the court process.  I had been carrying that around with me and feeling very stressed out, guilty, and anxious that the client would have seen that as a breech of confidentiality or betraying her trust, even though my supervisor explained that it is protocol for us to debrief with each other after each meeting.  I hadn’t heard from this client or seen her since, despite her saying she was planning on coming back and using our counseling services.  The fact that she hadn’t come back just added to my feelings.  Then, on Tuesday I was scheduled to go to our county attorney’s office for a forensic interview (basically where they do a less invasive and less traumatizing questioning to get information in case this case goes to trial).  I got there early and was sitting in the waiting room/lobby when that client walked in with the case detective.  (Sidenote: last time I had talked with the client, her case detective was the problematic officer who is inappropriate with the survivors, but this detective she is working with now is the head of the sex-crimes unit and is one of the best detectives available to us) She immediately lit up when she saw me and said ‘Hi’ and introduced me to the detective (even though we already knew each other).  When the detective went to speak with the attorney and interviewer, she and I had a chance to talk and touch base about where she was at.  Last we talked, she didn’t feel ready to go through this process so I was surprised to see her there.  But, it sounds like she was able to process it a little with her family and come to a point where she could see how it could help her long-term.  She said to me that “If I had known you were going to be here today I wouldn’t have been so scared or nervous”.  That statement alone made me feel 100% better and cancelled all my feelings of guilt and worry that she thought I betrayed her.  So, that was one really big positive for the week.

However, earlier this week a client who was working with my supervisor attempted suicide and came incredibly close.  She came in with friends to talk about how the school is making her be psychologically assessed to determine if she can stay in school.  I am the front-line of direct service so I was the one asked to talk to them.  As soon as I had heard what happened (earlier in the day) I was overwhelmed and noticed that it was affecting me so I was really nervous and anxious to do this meeting.  Luckily, I was able to bring in a more experienced co-worker and have her talk to the survivor and her friends as I wasn’t comfortable. 

It has been an interesting week.  I am going to a concert tonight for some self-care and I am immensely excited about it, it is very much needed.

I’m not going to write much right now because I’m still processing, but just had a few thoughts I didn’t want to lose.

Today has been hands down the hardest day since I started here.  Yesterday (Sunday) a client that has been working with my center tried to commit suicide.  She came extremely close to the point that she barely had a pulse when they found her. While this in itself is unsettling and hard, she came into the office today for help and I was the advocate there at the time.  I felt so overwhelmed and like I didn’t know how to handle it, but luckily I was able to pull in my coworker and allow her to take over.  From observing her in this difficult situation I want to remember to:

-Be honest, if something makes me uncomfortable/feeling like I am hiding something from a client, it’s best to let them know and be honest.
-BREATHE! Relax. if I am tense and doubting what I’m saying it’s only going to worry the client — have confidence in what I’m saying and know that I can do it.
-Remember my role and what I’m there for. Don’t try and be anything but that.
-Don’t shy away from the hard questions/topics. If there’s a concern or possible concern, bring it up and let them decide if they want to talk about it.

Today is a reminder that I am still learning and I don’t feel like I am the best advocate I can be.

So every morning when I get into the office I open 5 websites:
-WMUR news
-Filing Jointly (hilarious blog, seriously, check her out)
-The Bloggess (another great blog)
-Sometimes Sweet (I love her posts about being a parent/music/tattoos/life)
-Feminspire (basically an online magazine about women’s issues/interests…so basically everything)

Today on feminspire I was reading an article about a story on Fox News about“The War on Men” and it mentioned a forum/website for ‘men’s rights and Men’s Rights Activists’.  I decided to take a look…BAD DECISION.  It is so utterly offensive and disgustingly misogynistic. Now, I would call myself a feminist, but to me that doesn’t mean that men are evil or that women are better, I just believe that there should be no discrimination between genders (male OR female).  I find this website insulting both to me as a woman and to my profession. Some of my favorite quotes:

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“Feminism – a highly communicable form of mental illness” (the signature of a member whose name is “Woman Hater” and has a tagline of “Unapologetic Misogynist”)

Another member quotes Adolf Hitler in their signature.

“If she were serious about being a good wife…she’d be a pleasant, well-mannered housewife taking care of her family, and we’d never know she existed.” (I added the bold for emphasis)

—————————

All of these quotes are just from one thread.  If you’re feeling particularly enraged today and want to continue that feeling, please, go check out this site and let me know what you think.  Am I just overreacting?

Thanks

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I would do a brief post about being thankful.  I will be out of the office until Monday so I won’t be posting before then.

This year, I am thankful for a lot of things.
-I am thankful to have found a position that allows me to explore my field and figure out what parts I do and don’t like/what I’m good at
-I am thankful that I have a group of people who support me in what I am doing and who let vent about a difficult day at work
-I am thankful for my partner who is incredibly supportive of what I do and he stands by me 100%, and I am thankful that we have been able to be together for the past 2 1/2 years even while living in different states
-I am thankful for where I am at in life right now, I couldn’t be happier.  I am enjoying the opportunity to really explore my interests, passions, and spend time with people I care about.  I am completely content with our life right now, the only thing I would change would be my commute to work, and to have my boyfriend be in a more satisfying job and not have the stress of school.

This year, I have been able to take a step back and just appreciate where I’m at and everything around me.

Self Care…

I had a hard week last week, both at work and in my personal life.  I struggle with high levels of anxiety, but it comes and goes so I never can really predict it.  When I was in college it would get so bad that I couldn’t breathe and my chest was in knots.  Now, it’s not quite so bad, but I can feel it building until it almost gets to that point.  Anyway, last week (Tuesday?) my anxiety really took over and I was having a hard time.  My boyfriend had some friends over and I couldn’t bring myself to socialize because I was so uncomfortable and anxious so I ended up just hiding in the bedroom with one of the cats.  To me, that’s not okay.  I appreciate that it helped reduce my anxiety level and that he kept coming in and checking on me and was worrying, but I don’t want to be that person who just hides whenever people are over.  I didn’t really know what was causing me to be so anxious, but I think I finally figured it out.

I worked with an individual last week who had been sexually assaulted the previous weekend.  After they told me their story I did everything I could to be supportive and helpful, but their situation was tricky as they had been pressured into filing a police report by the roommate and parents.  This normally could be a good thing, but they explicitly expressed that they didn’t want to go through the court process and couldn’t handle the trial and everything that came with charges being pressed.  However, they had just seen their assailant in class and felt as though they needed to tell the detective assigned to the case (which is a whole other story…).  I tried to warn them that because sexual assault results in criminal charges, it is the state who is pressing charges against the assailant and not them as an individual.  This means that once the police have a certain amount of information that can lead to an arrest, they must make it.  I was concerned that because they said they didn’t want to go through this process, that they would end up being cornered and forced to do something they weren’t ready for.  Now, I start off every session now with the disclaimer that “everything you choose to tell me will remain confidential, what we talk about is completely up to you and what you are comfortable with.”  As I have talked about in previous posts, I always check in with other staff members after a one-on-one to process and debrief.  For this particular individual I thought it was especially important because my supervisor has a better relationship with campus police than I do and may be able to offer better guidance to the individual or talk to the police and see where the case stands.  After I talked to my supervisor and the executive director they felt that the student should be contacted to offer a few further suggestions about what might happen and things they could do.  I wasn’t 100% comfortable being the one to contact her has they had not seemed comfortable giving me their contact information, so my supervisor said she would contact them.  At this point I was beginning to be uncomfortable with them being contacted because I was worried it would be seen as a breach of confidentiality and that the student would feel betrayed and wouldn’t want our support or services anymore.  I realized days later, that I was carrying that worry and stress of wondering how the student would perceive that contact and that was causing my high anxiety levels.

Since the beginning, I have had self-care preached to me repeatedly.  I got the message, that it is important to take care of yourself because what we do is hard, and we need to be in a good place in order to help these individuals.  I always thought I would be fine and could handle it, but this week I really struggled and am trying to find good self-care techniques.  Even writing this, I feel a slight tightness in my chest and the fluttering feeling in my stomach that is the warning sign for me to relax and take time for myself.  Right now I’m relying on reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and various blogs (www.thebloggess.com, www.filing-jointly.com and www.sometimessweet.com are my daily reads) and Netflix/Hulu to get me through.  I’m trying to find new ways to do self-care, and I really should get back into the gym, but it’s so hard when I get up at 5:30am and don’t get home until 6pm to get motivated to go work out.  I need to work on that.

This four-day weekend couldn’t have come at a better time.  I’m looking forward to spending more time with family, friends and my partner without the stress and anxiety of work for a few days.

Today has been very slow, but I am completely okay with it because the rest of the week has been very hectic.  This post is going to include a little more of my personal life than I usually share, but I will try to keep it focused on work. This is what my week looked like (and the reason I am 100% okay with a slow day)

Monday (which also happened to be my birthday):
-slow day until I was on my lunch break and halfway through my sandwich a Direct Service (someone who needs to talk) came in.  I was working with them from about 1:15 and then at 2:30 they decided they wanted to go to court for a protective order, so I went with them to that, but unfortunately the courts are understaffed and there wasn’t a judge there that day so they had to fax the petition to another court and wait to hear back.  The courts close at 4:00, and it was 4:30-4:45 before we heard back that the protective order was granted.  I then had to return to campus, make copies of the paperwork, do a mini-strategizing session for the hearing (this Wednesday the 14th) and then leave a message for my supervisor because I wasn’t going to be in the next morning. I usually leave the office at 4:30pm but didn’t get in my car and head home until approximately 5:45pm.

Tuesday:
-I went to court with a client I have been working with since the beginning of October.  During a domestic violence incident, the police arrested the victim and this was the arraignment for those charges.  I arrived in court at 7:40am and met with the client to discuss what was going to happen, what they were nervous about, ways to calm down and not get too anxious etc.  At 8:00 we went into the court room where their lawyer was supposed to meet them as court went in-session at 8:00.  The lawyer didn’t arrive until 8:20am and caused my client to be the last person to speak with the state prosecutor, thus the last person to be arraigned.  (For those unfamiliar, arraignments are like a cattle-call where they have many people come in for one session and each has to go up individually and say whether they plead guilty or not guilty and then either find out what fine/consequence they have or set a trial date). In the middle of all of this, the abuser showed up to receive more property that was left at the apartment.  We had not known that they were going to be there, which was unsettling and I worked with the client to process that.  All in all, I left court at 10:45am, but luckily my supervisor gave me the afternoon off since I had been in late the day before and gone in early that morning.  Also, it was my significant other’s birthday and got to spend time together. That night we had several friends over to the apartment to celebrate our birthdays, which ended in my significant other getting very intoxicated and me only getting 3-4 hours of sleep.

Wednesday:
-Because our crisis center is on a college campus, we rely (like many/all other centers) for volunteers to staff our crisis line and serve as advocates.  In order to find volunteers, my center offers a credited course open to students.  They are required to participate in a 30+ hours training (per state coalition requirements) during class-time as well as document their reactions/feelings/thoughts to the material.  The class meets Mondays and Wednesdays, with a different topic each time.  This day the topic was the conduct and mediation process on campus (i.e. how students who are found guilty of violating the student code of conduct can be charged/banned from campus) and I was in charge as my supervisor was unavailable.  Towards the end of the class, I received a text from the office saying we were paged by the hospital saying there was a survivor there for a sexual assault exam and that I should head over there (it is protocol for the hospitals to page the local crisis center before meeting with the survivor).  I got to the hospital at approximately 11:15/11:30 and checked in with the nurse who does the exam.  She said the survivor knew I was there, had spoken with our office over the weekend and was unsure if they wanted contact with me today.  This is usually what happens and I didn’t think anything of it and said I would be in the waiting room if they should want to speak with me.  After 2 hours, a staff member came and told me that the survivor did not want to have contact with me, but that I could pass on information.  For every hospital/police call we take, we bring a little envelope of information on our services/resources etc.  I came back from that and did some general work in the office for the rest of the day. Of the whole day, I would say I was in the office for about 3-4 hours (instead of the usual 8-9).

Thursday:
-Each month we host a “volunteer appreciate day” during which time there are refreshments and craft activities for self-care and all students who work with our office are invited.  This month being Thanksgiving, we did turkey themed crafts.  I managed to burn myself with a hot glue gun so badly that I have a blister. Moral of the story: I am not allowed to use hot glue guns.  While the day was not filled with direct service, it was a busy day with lots of people in and out of the office.

Today:
-So far I have not really done anything except replenishing our supplies for tabling (each week we have an information table in the university center to spread the word about our office and educate the students) and go to lunch with a friend.

Next week is a short week for me, which I will gladly take. Monday the office is closed in observation of Veteran’s day, and Friday I have a meeting off-site all day. 

Happy Weekend!

Gratitude and success

I almost started crying at my other job this weekend (I work at a restaurant).  There is a client I have been working with for a few weeks, helping with a restraining order, the court process and everything that comes with.  Unfortunately, during a domestic violence incident the police came and arrested the victim as the abuser.  Tomorrow is the arraignment to plead guilty or innocent, and their lawyer has been unresponsive for the past few days and they are understandably very nervous.  I called them last week to check in and make sure they still watned me to accompany them to court tomorrow.  After the call, they said they would email me all of the information for the court when they got home.  I got the email on Saturday and it was the most rewarding thing I have ever seen. The last paragraph was them thanking me/my agency for our assistance and support.  My favorite part is “Words can not express how grateful I am. I am not sure if I could be so strong during this process without you and (the agency”.

This email made my weekend, and made me feel like I was doing something right.  This was the client that made me question boundaries/how I approach clients and has really been a good learning experience for me.  It is great to know that even though I don’t have all the answers and struggle at times, I am still making a difference and helping someone.  This is exactly the reason I got involved in the work and I couldn’t ask for more.

Boundaries…

One thing I have struggled with a little is boundaries, more so in that I am deathly afraid to cross them.  For survivors of abuse, boundaries are especially important because it is a huge step to take power back and be able to say what you are and are not comfortable with.  I am so worried about crossing that boundary and having someone I’m working with say/do something they are not okay with.  Specifically, I have not been asking about follow-ups or getting their basic information (i.e. name) because I do not want them to feel like I’m pushing them.  Now, while I think it is good that I’m hyper aware of those things and am taking steps to actively let them decide what is okay, it can inhibit my ability to help them in some ways.  For example, I met with someone last week and when they left, they said they would be back in that day or later in the week to follow up and get help constructing an email.  However, all I knew was their first name and we did not talk about a time they would come back or how/if I could contact them to follow up.  So, they did not come back to follow up and I have not been able to contact them, which makes me feel like I am not helping them as much as I could.  I talked to my co-workers about appropriate ways to handle this and what to do in the future (and it helped me that my supervisor reassured me that she often forgets this part as well).  So, one thing that we talked about is once I feel things are wrapping up to ask them how they would like to proceed, let them know when I am in the office and ask if they would like to be the one to contact me as needed, or if they would prefer I contact them every so often (an established period) to check in etc.  That way, I get the information I need as to how to handle the follow-up, but they are the one deciding what they are comfortable with.  I kind of followed through with that today, but only half.  I had a lengthy one-on-one with a student and their roommate about the student’s struggling with self-esteem and anger as a consequence of past assaults; after what seemed to be a good meeting, I asked what would be helpful for them and if they would be comfortable with me contacting them, or if they would like to initiate contact as needed.  They were not comfortable with me contacting them, in fact they didn’t even give me their name, but said they would be back next week to check in and talk more.  I gave them my card with my name, email and direct line in case something should come up before then.  Overall, I feel like it was a big step because I at least remembered to have that conversation with them and let them decide the next step.  Part of me still wishes that I had a more concrete answer or decision so I knew what to expect, but I know it isn’t about me and what is important is that they felt supported enough to feel comfortable coming back; clearly I did something right.

I’m realizing (re-realizing) that I am very critical of myself and will always feel like I could have done a better job.  But that’s what this is for, for me to document those thoughts so I can work on things and become a better advocate.  In today’s one-on-one I felt like I was repeating myself a lot and that I wasn’t being helpful, but at the end the person was like “okay I’ll try some of those things and see if they help” and it made me realize that okay, what I’m saying is helpful and I am able to offer something.

One thing that my office/co-workers are really good about is processing after meetings.  After the one-on-one, two of my co-workers were there for me to process with and kind of debrief about what happened.  Processing is both good and bad; it helps me recognize what I did well and the good things I did, but it also points out the things I missed and what I could/should have said.  For example, in today’s meeting with the survivor and their roommate, the survivor mentioned that they had been in counseling but had since stopped, and mentioned that money was a factor.  I moved on and talked about the ways that this office and I could work with them to help.  My co-worker pointed out that the survivor could be a good candidate for Victim’s Compensation because the assault had been reported to the police, and therefore they could be eligible to have private counseling paid for.  While I am appreciative that people here help me realize these things and suggest options to me, it is frustrating because I know about the resources and feel like I should have been able to come up with that on my own, and am disappointed in myself that I didn’t. I just have to remind myself that my co-workers have been working in the field for years and have much more experience and familiarity/comfort with the resources than I do.

All in good time…

(note: sorry for all the “they” “survivor”, I am trying to maintain confidentiality but fear that it inhibits the readability of the posts).

Politics and Reality

I was never one to really pay attention to politics or policies that were being put into place, I just kind of accepted them as reality and figured that there were people far more educated and knowing than me putting them in place so I shouldn’t question it.  However, that changed around my sophomore/junior year in college.  This is when I really got heavily involved in violence prevention and research, taking courses such as a seminar in Dating and Sexual Violence, research in Family Violence, a CAPSTONE project (i.e. I did data analysis looking at rape myth acceptance and knowledge of the issues on my campus) etc.  These courses really brought my attention to the significant gap between research/the anti-violence movement and policy.  Now, I am fully aware that enacting new policies takes a lot of time and effort and things cannot change as quickly as we might like.  But the fact that up until 1981 (If my information is correct from http://www.nhcadsv.org) legally one could not sexually assault one’s partner (in my home state) just screams to me a lack of acknowledgement of these issues and illustrates the fact that policymakers are not giving as much consideration as we would like to laws/policies pertaining to domestic and sexual violence.  Also, the majority of services to survivors of these types of violence is funded through the Violence Against Women Act, most recently updated in 1994, which is currently under fire on the state level.  It is frustrating for someone like me who a) has participated and read substantial amounts of research on these subjects and can attest to the wide body of research showing the benefits of these services and b) works at a crisis center serving survivors of sexual assault and relationship violence and sees on a daily basis the impact these services have, to feel like all of this work and research is being done basically for nothing if it does not make an impact on the policies. 

With the upcoming presidential election, I have been following it much closer than I have in the past.   Because I have become so involved in this movement myself more aware of politics, not just surrounding violence, but also human rights policies in general.  For me, it is important what a candidate thinks on issues such as abortion and equal pay for women.  While I think these issues are important in and of themselves, they also shine light on the way a candidate sees women, which can and will impact their position on funding policies such as the Violence Against Women Act.  If a candidate feels that a woman should not have the right to choose what to do with her body (i.e. pro-life) and/or feels that men’s work is more valuable than women’s, that is problematic to me because it suggests that that candidate sees women as inferior and perpetuates the systemic view that males are more important and women are lesser people.  It is this view of women and their role that perpetuates rape culture and plays a part in allowing sexual assaults to continue at the rate they are.  Now, I am not in any way saying that male power is the only reason sexual assaults happen, or domestic violence happens, but I believe it plays a part.  Going off a stereotype here: if a husband sees his wife as less important than himself, he may (I am not saying that he will) be more inclined to abuse his wife verbally/emotionally/physically etc.  

In case you haven’t picked up on it already, I am an avid supporter of violence prevention and education.  I think that this is especially important in the world of politics because it can have such a wide and lasting impact.  If we (those involved in this movement) were to educate policymakers on the research that exists as well as evidence from our own experiences, I think we could make an impact and perhaps help change policies such as mandatory arrest policies that can often cause problems for victims of violence.

So please, in these upcoming elections give some consideration to these issues and think about what impact the candidate would have on the lives of everyone: men, women, survivors or domestic violence, or victims of sexual assault.

Alcohol and Sexual Assault

I have noticed that the crisis center I work at, again it is on a college campus, tends to get the most reports of sexual assault after a time that is notorious for partying (i.e. first week back from  break, homecoming etc.).  I think this highlights an important issue that is very complex and can be very loaded.  To me, this highlights the correlation between sexual assault and alcohol.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am NOT saying that alcohol causes sexual assault.  In fact, I think that alcohol is used as an excuse to justify the assault and to blame the victim.  For example, I have great issues with the statement that people (read: girls) will ‘cry rape’ if they wake up after a night of drinking to realize that they have had a sexual encounter that they regret.  To me, this minimizes the issue of sexual assault, particularly when alcohol is involved.  In reality, when considering the number of false rape reports (as well as unfounded reports), it is extremely small compared to reports of sexual assault that are considered to be “real” or founded* (i.e. a police investigation found that there was evidence to support the claims).

However, I don’t necessarily agree with the statement that all sexual activity when someone is intoxicated is rape (that is my re-wording of the statement that you cannot consent to sexual activity while intoxicated).  I think saying that oversimplifies the issue and takes two key factors out, namely, the role alcohol played in the situation , and any existing (or lack of) feelings/desires between the people.  For me personally (and other disagree) I believe it is sexual assault if: alcohol is used as a tool to take advantage of somebody else and/or if the sexual contact would not have taken place under other circumstances.

I think it is sad and unfortunate the number of sexual assaults that take place at this university (and others) that involve alcohol.  I think David Lisak’s research really shines some light on this issue and would really recommend it to anyone who is interested.  Lisak does some very interesting research with fraternities and other groups known to have a reputation for perpetrating sexual assault and looks at the circumstances surrounding the assaults.  He has coined the term the “Undetected Rapist” and pointed out the very purposeful targeting and manipulating of victims and the very intentional use of alcohol in their assaults.  He talks about it in this video:
http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=5592427n.  This video gets at so many other good things (particularly surrounding the police investigation) but I won’t get into that right now…

This video (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124272157) is also interesting.

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*DiCanio, M. (1993). The encyclopedia of violence: origins, attitudes, consequences. New York: Facts on File.

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