In the field of domestic and sexual violence, an advocate’s work bridges the gap between a victim-survivor and service providers. They help their contacts recognize abuse, assess the risk of danger and to plan for safety. They offer peer support, crisis intervention and assistance locating resources. Ultimately, the work of an advocate can be lifesaving. 

The Impact and Vicarious Trauma 

Advocacy may sound like a rewarding job because saving lives is undeniably an honorable profession. That may be true, but the fact of the matter is the work of an advocate is steeped in trauma. Those who work in the field may even be victim-survivors and their work can be triggering. Nonetheless, advocates are committed to their work. Despite the risk of having to relive their own trauma — the desire to help others — is as important to them as it is to their contacts. 

Vicarious Trauma is work-related trauma exposure. It includes secondary stress, compassion fatigue and all the negative impacts of work-related trauma exposure. It is often experienced by people in the fields of child welfare and protection or domestic and sexual violence. It can leave advocates feeling overwhelmed with worry but hopeful they did enough to help. 

Resources, Support and Safety 

When it comes to Native Americans and Alaska Natives impacted by domestic and sexual violence, advocates are faced with resource disparities beyond compare. In StrongHearts’ database, there are 272 Native-centered service providers compared to more than 3,500 non-Native service providers. The picture is even bleaker when looking at shelters, where there are only 59 tribal shelters compared to more than 1,500 non-tribal shelters. 

When advocates realize that they are limited by available resources, they develop an even stronger desire to provide emotional support and lifesaving safety planning. In many cases, it’s all they can do. It’s what our relatives have done for centuries. 

Resilience, Transformation, Satisfaction 

By observing resilience in their clients and helping them to overcome challenges, advocates themselves can gain vicarious resilience, vicarious transformation and compassion satisfaction. 

Vicarious Resilience: Survivors are hearty and their ability to move forward and beyond their experience can encourage resilience in the work of advocacy.

Vicarious Transformation is about the engagement with survivors, what we learn and what we get out of it, and how it can transform us.

Compassion Satisfaction is about feeling good in the work of advocacy. It happens when advocates are able to help people efficiently and effectively. It may involve a policy change in the work environment that came as a result of an advocate's suggestion. 

The benefits of vicarious trauma are a sense of strength and resilience gained only through contact with survivors, what we learn through them, and the difference made not to one, but everyone impacted by domestic and sexual violence. 

Culture Is Key 

“Trauma resilience is a common bond between Native peoples,” said StrongHearts Chief Executive Officer Lori Jump (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians). “Our advocates have the shared goal to eradicate violence and to help our people find a path toward healing. Our people have come this far because it is our way not to leave anyone behind. Culture is key to ensuring a better future for the next generation.” 

About StrongHearts Native Helpline

StrongHearts Native Helpline is a 24/7/365 culturally-appropriate domestic, dating and sexual violence helpline for Native Americans, available by calling or texting 1-844-762-8483 or clicking on the chat icon at strongheartshelpline.org.

Source: “What Is Vicarious Trauma,” Michigan Victim Advocacy Network. https://mivan.org/paper-to-practice/#vicarious


More Stories Like This

‘We are in dark times’ | Reeling from Four Overdose Deaths in Four Days, Lummi Nation Calls for Urgent Action
IHS Awards $1.5 Million to Address Alzheimer's Disease 
Statement from IHS Director Roselyn Tso on the Availability of Updated COVID-19 Vaccines
Promote Hope for the Future: Addressing Suicide in Indigenous Youth
Ovarian Cancer Affects 20,000 Women a Year. Here's What You Need to Know.

The Native News Health Desk is made possible by a generous grant from the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation as well as sponsorship support from the American Dental Association. This grant funding and sponsorship support have no effect on editorial consideration in Native News Online. 
About The Author
Author: StrongHearts Native HelplineEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.