Moral Wages: The Emotional Dilemmas of Victim Advocacy and Counseling

Moral Wages: The Emotional Dilemmas of Victim Advocacy and Counseling

Moral Wages: The Emotional Dilemmas of Victim Advocacy and Counseling

Moral Wages: The Emotional Dilemmas of Victim Advocacy and Counseling

Synopsis

Moral Wages offers the reader a vivid depiction of what it is like to work inside an agency that assists victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Based on over a year of fieldwork by a man in a setting many presume to be hostile to men, this ethnographic account is unlike most research on the topic of violence against women. Instead of focusing on the victims or perpetrators of abuse, Moral Wages focuses exclusively on the service providers in the middle. It shows how victim advocates and counselors--who don't enjoy extrinsic benefits like pay, power, and prestige--are sustained by a different kind of compensation. As long as they can overcome a number of workplace dilemmas, they earn a special type of emotional reward reserved for those who help others in need: moral wages. As their struggles mount, though, it becomes clear that their jobs often put them in impossible situations--requiring them to aid and feel for vulnerable clients, yet giving them few and feeble tools to combat a persistent social problem.

Excerpt

Staff meetings at safe (Stopping Abuse in Family Environments) were typically dry affairs—an agenda of items to cover, a list of tasks to be divvied up, various reports from different offices—but this one felt different. Kelly, a codirector at safe, had just introduced a new topic—“service gaps”—and posed a question to the group: “What can we do to keep clients from falling through the cracks?” Cathleen, a victim advocate, spoke first: “I’ve been having nightmares about not helping women out. I wish the other staff [in the office] knew we were operating at a bare minimum.” the counselors who worked upstairs responded with sympathy to Cathleen’s plea but did not have an answer to her problem. safe had just had 20 percent of its annual budget cut because a source of state funding had dried up. As a result, two of the three advocates on staff had been reduced to part time—leaving Cathleen as the only full-time advocate. “If I’m the only one who is full time, if no one else is around, I feel like it is all my responsibility, and that sucks.” Compounding the problem, even though safe staffing had been reduced, the incoming flow of calls and walk-in clients continued unabated. Jesse, one of the advocates whose hours had been cut, explained that less time in the office only meant more stress: “I don’t have enough time to do all my work. … It takes a toll.”

Meg, another advocate, was also worried. She paused for a moment and then started to cry. She apologized for her tears and explained, “I still feel responsible for Shelly.” She was referring to a safe client who had been murdered the year before. This case occurred long before the recent budget cuts and was seemingly unrelated to the recent staffing problems, but everyone at the meeting understood the connection.

Shelby’s case was well known in the safe office. Jesse and Meg worked with her and remembered the details well (including the date of Shelly’s first . . .

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