Emotional and Psychological Effects of Rape Advocacy
Sexual assault against women is an ongoing epidemic of violence in the United States. Rape survivors undergo various psychological traumas due to their victimization (e.g., PTSD, depression, rape trauma syndrome, low self-esteem, and suicidal tendencies). Rape advocates play a vital role in assisting rape victims and ameliorating the negative effects of rape (Prins & Ruzek, 2002). However, assisting rape victims often leads to strong emotions on the part of rape advocates and may in and of itself have psychological effects (Campbell, 2002; Hesse, 2002; Wasco & Campbell, 2002). These emotions have a variety of effects including: vicarious trauma, PTSD, loss of safety, sense of helplessness, loss of independence, loss of esteem, and blocking against feelings of intimacy. The present study will expand the research base on the positive and challenging emotions experienced by rape advocates while exploring the overall effects on advocates when counseling rape victims. First, the present study explored the ways that rape advocates benefit from interacting and counseling rape victims. Second, this study examined how advocates dealt with challenging emotions and the effects of vicarious trauma. In addition, many rape survivors are currently advocates at rape crisis centers. Thus, this study also explored the ways that rape survivor advocates are uniquely affected by providing such advocacy; the effects on rape survivor advocates were compared to those of advocates who are not survivors of rape. After interviewing six rape advocates and using qualitative coding methods to analyze these interviews, several recurrent themes were found in relation to the three questions of interest. The results from all six interviews revealed that rape advocates experience both beneficial (i.e., feelings of personal benefit, feelings of contributing to a broader range of society, and feelings of contributing to a victim/woman) and challenging (i.e., feelings of personal stress and trauma, and feelings of disappointment and frustration with institutional/societal factors when trying to help a victim/survivor) emotions and effects when working with rape victims/survivors. In addition, similarities and differences were found among the rape crisis advocates and rape survivor advocates since both groups mentioned having experienced some form of vicarious/secondary trauma. The information found from the interviews will be used to broaden the understanding of knowledge on the effects of rape advocacy work. In addition, this study will help others distinguish similarities and differences between rape survivor advocates and advocates who do not identify themselves as victims of rape.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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