Cover Image

Larger ImageView Larger

Moral Wages

The Emotional Dilemmas of Victim Advocacy and Counseling

Kenneth H. Kolb (Author)

Available worldwide
READ AN EXCERPT

Paperback, 232 pages
ISBN: 9780520282728
July 2014
$29.95, £22.95
Other Formats Available:
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.

Acknowledgments



1. Emotional Dilemmas


2. Moral Wages


3. Empowerment in Practice


4. Difficult Clients


5. The Allure of Legal Work


6. Men at Work


7. Managing Dilemmas and Retooling



Appendix: Fieldwork Methods


Notes


References


Index

Kenneth Kolb is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Furman University.
"I highly recommend this insightful, lyrically crafted study of work in an emotion-laden organization that deals with women victims of interpersonal violence."—Patricia Yancey Martin Men and Masculinities
"A useful contribution to qualitative literature on human service processes and encounters."—Gale Miller Symbolic Interaction
Moral Wages makes an important contribution to research on victim advocacy.”—Emily Cabaniss & Kris Macomber Qualitative Sociology
"Kolb has written a wonderful book that takes us inside agencies serving victims of sexual and domestic violence. With a clear-eyed yet empathetic perspective, he shows how advocates define and manage their identities in the face of ongoing, often conflicting pressures from clients, government bureaucracies, and their own principles and ideologies."
—Rose Corrigan, Drexel University

"In Moral Wages, Kenneth Kolb takes us into the world of domestic violence advocacy work, introducing us to voices of victim advocates. In the face of anemic state, local and federal resources these advocates work for “moral wages,” positive feelings not available in all lines of work. However, as Kolb documents, male allies benefit disproportionately from this symbolic reward system, thus providing us a cautionary tale highlighting the gendered dimensions of emotion work, even in organizations designed to address gender inequality."
—C.J. Pascoe, author of Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School

"Domestic violence shelters are staffed by dedicated women and men who perform gut-wrenching labor for few extrinsic rewards. So why do they do it? In this sensitive ethnography, Kenneth Kolb reveals that, more important to these workers than money and prestige are the symbolic rewards they receive. They get the right to believe they are good, virtuous, and moral beings. But these symbolic rewards are doled out unequally on the basis of gender. Kolb finds that men have to do less work than women do to receive their moral wages, revealing men’s advantages even in the predominately female world of compassionate labor."
—Christine Williams, University of Texas at Austin

"The research is very well done and yields many interesting findings, unlike anything else that is out there. It will be very good in the classroom, and it should have wide appeal for practitioners as well. There is a great deal of new information and new ideas in this study, and a book written from the perspective of a male advocate is a welcome addition to the field."
—Jennifer Dunn, Texas Tech University

2015 Section on Social Psychology's Outstanding Recent Contribution in Social Psychology Award, American Sociological Association

Chapter One

Emotional Dilemmas

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 co director 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.

Shelly'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 visit to SAFE the year before: October 13). Over the past months, I had heard the timeline of her case countless times. Shelly had come to SAFE because her relationship with her husband had steadily deteriorated. He had stopped working because of an injury and was waiting for disability checks to start arriving. He had become abusive with their daughter (pinning her against a wall when she would not turn down her radio), and Shelly did not know what to do.

Meg was the first advocate to work with Shelly. They discussed the benefits and risks associated with a "protective order"-a type of restraining order. Contrary to popular belief, the SAFE advocates were trained to be skeptical of legal solutions and spent a great deal of time warning clients about the potential downsides of bringing in cops and lawyers to help. In plain language, Meg laid out the risks to Shelly: "You could try for a protective order, that is certainly an option to you, but I just want to warn you, it's possible [a judge] could drop it, and he'd be able to come back to the home." Knowing all too well what her husband might do if enraged and emboldened , Shelly decided against a legal strategy. Instead, she went back home to see whether he would calm down. She rested her hopes on his earlier claim that he would leave the relationship once his disability payments started arriving.

Two weeks later, Shelly returned to the SAFE office. Her husband had grabbed her wrist and twisted her arm behind her back. Again, the subject of his rage was mundane: the TV remote control. Shelly walked into Meg's office, exhausted. "She was dressed in sweats and had her hair pulled back and no makeup. She seemed very tired . . . very tired . . . like she had just had enough." This time, she wanted a protective order. As an advocate, Meg was careful not to fill out the forms for Shelly; she did not have a license to practice law and pointed out the limits of her legal abilities to all of her clients. Meg handed Shelly a clipboard with the protective order paperwork and sat down next to her. She answered Shelly's questions about legal jargon and what a judge might say. Because Shelly expected that her husband would challenge the protective order in court, Meg arranged for a local lawyer to represent her probono. A year later, Meg could still recall who was in court that day, where they were sitting, and what they were wearing (for example, Shelly's father wore snakeskin boots). Shelly won her case and was granted the protective order for a year, meaning that her husband could not come near her, her home, or try to contact her. "I remember her being very relieved it was over and smiling. It was the first time I had seen her smile." They talked over the phone a few times over the next week, but Meg never saw her again.

Over the next week, Shelly's husband violated the terms of the order (and was arrested) twice: the first time for entering her home when no one was home and repeatedly firing a gun into the walls and ceiling; the second time, for contacting Shelly by phone. On both occasions, he posted bail ($10,000 for the second violation). At this point, Meg was trying to keep in continual contact with law enforcement and Shelly's lawyer, but there were gaps in communication. Shelly had stayed one night in SAFE's emergency shelter, but she had not told Meg. The shelter was located only a few miles from the main SAFE office, but staff members in the two locations often went days without seeing or speaking to each other. Unfamiliar with her case history, Christina, the shelter director, respected Shelly's decision to leave after one night. She thought it would be "disempowering" to force her to stay (even though she admitted she was tempted to tell Shelly not to leave).

A day later, the husband approached Shelly outside her workplace, killed her, and then turned the gun on himself. Meg learned of the news while in court helping another client obtain a protective order. They were before the same judge who had presided over Shelly's hearing.

In their private interviews with me, Meg and Christina speculated what they might have done differently had they known more details at the time. They knew that Shelly's husband's first arrest had been for firing a gun inside the home, but they did not know that he had been on the phone with her at the time when the shots rang out. They later learned that he had been trying to scare Shelly into believing that he had just killed himself while she was on the line. Additionally, local law enforcement suspected that he was suicidal, but they were unsure and thus did not place him under forced supervision. Had they known about the phone episode, they might have acted differently. Finally, while law enforcement officers in a different county were monitoring his whereabouts-they knew that he had moved into a hotel-they did not realize that he was staying in a room only a few hundred yards from Shelly's job.

In the staff meeting, Meg's tears about the year-old case had brought the discussion to a halt, and Kelly-her boss-quickly interjected to soothe her: "It was not your fault. . . . She was offered a lot of services. . . . Don't claim responsibility for something he did." Meg stopped crying, but more from fatigue than because of the words of comfort. In the previous year, she had heard all these lines before. In private, Meg told me that she still felt guilty. She wanted to believe that she had done everything she could have for this client, "but I can't do that in this case." To the rest of the staff at the meeting, she looked up from her tissue and apologized for bringing up Shelly's case once again: "I probably couldn't have prevented her death, and I know that . . . and I know I keep bringing her name up, but this week is the anniversary of when she came in." It was October 12.

Jesse was not ready to move on to the next topic on the meeting agenda, either. She had also worked on Shelly's case. Her part-time status was partly because of the budget cuts, but not entirely. She was still in college. Fifteen years younger than Meg, she offered the same services as the other advocates: she answered the hotline, met with walk-in clients, and accompanied clients to court as they interacted with the assistant district attorney's office. Yet, she complained that her on-the-job training did not prepare her for the pressure she felt when dealing with such a vulnerable clientele: "Every client who has come in since . . . I worry is going to be another Shelly. I worry whenever a client comes in with the same stalking history or tells you where to look for their body if they are killed." Tears started to well in Jesse's eyes, too. I saw that the tissue box on the table was empty and felt like I should do something to help her. Just a few weeks earlier, I had been joking with Jesse in this same room. Upon hearing about my plan to conduct research at SAFE, Jesse teased me that because I was a man I must be scared to be around a bunch of "man-hating feminazis." We had laughed a lot that afternoon. But now, sitting in the same chair, Jesse's mood was starkly different. I quietly got up from the table, grabbed a roll of toilet paper from the bathroom, and handed it to her. She smiled for a moment, continued to sob, and stared blankly at the floor.

Kelly offered Jesse roughly the same words of encouragement that she had to Meg, but she was also aware of the time and wanted to move through the meeting agenda. Shelly had not been the first SAFE client to be murdered. Kelly had been in this line of work for nearly three decades and remembered when legal, medical, and social service institutions were indifferent (at best) and hostile (at worst) to the needs of victims. She knew what Meg, Jesse, and Cathleen were going through. She prompted the rest of the staff to brainstorm possible solutions. "What can we do?," she asked the group.

Answers included diverting other staff (from the shelter or the counselors' office) to help the advocates or reducing the number of hours the agency was open to the public. Within moments after each suggestion, it became clear that each solution would have created another problem. The advocates welcomed more help to greet and process new clients but worried that those unfamiliar with their special duties might miss subtle clues that clients leave for the well-trained eye. They argued that a simple phone call to SAFE requesting the address for free legal services might be a subtle cry for help that the counselors or shelter staff members might not recognize. Additionally, even if they could process all the clients in their caseloads, where would they meet with them? The SAFE office had only a few private rooms for use at any given time. Kelly mentioned the possibility of changing its message to clients: "If we can't offer all of these services, should we be advertising them?" Despite being offered a way to reduce their workload, the advocates quickly said "No"; turning clients away was not an option. To them, shutting the door on women who need help was unthinkable. They wanted a different solution, but they did not know what it was. Meg asked bluntly, "Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?," to which Kelly responded, "Not any time soon."

This meeting said a lot about the emotional dilemmas of advocacy and counseling at SAFE. At every turn, it seemed like the staff faced impossible predicaments. They felt overwhelmed by their workloads, but they did not want to limit their availability to clients. They secretly wished that their clients would sometimes make different decisions (like stay in the shelter one more night), but telling them what to do would mean abandoning the "empowerment" philosophy in which they believed so strongly. They were leery of legal remedies, but they also saw courtrooms as one of the few places where they could help their clients in what they called "concrete" and "tangible" ways. They needed the help of (mostly) men in law enforcement and other organizations to assist their clients, but they also worried that opening their doors to any and all men might invite trouble.

Despite their remarkable ingenuity and problem-solving skills of the staff, these quandaries kept popping up, time after time. By the end of the meeting, the advocates reported feeling a little better; they felt relieved that at least others in the office now understood what they were going through. Yet, in the coming days and weeks, their anxieties would eventually return. Cognitive solutions-"Think about it this way"-or emotional ones-"Don't feel bad"-may work in the short term, but neither added new staff or more hours for existing staff. The reason for this was simple: the agency could not afford them.

Why Study Advocates and Counselors?

The current scholarship on domestic violence (DV) and sexual assault (SA) offers plenty of answers regarding how and why women like Shelly are abused, raped, and murdered every day, but it does so by focusing primarily on victims and their abusers. These studies typically ask questions such as, "Why is there so much abuse? How can it be stopped? Which policies deter violence better than others?" These questions are important. We need to know which services work better than others. However, this line of research largely sidesteps the workplace experiences of the people who deliver them: victim advocates and counselors. If we want to understand why some forms of help are more effective than others, then we should probably know more about those doing the helping.

The stories of advocates and counselors offer insight into DV and SA from a different perspective. In what ways do advocates and counselors find their work rewarding? In what ways do they find it disheartening? What kinds of relationships do they have with their clients? What challenges do they face at work, and how might their jobs set them up for these experiences? In this book, I relay events from their perspectives and put their experiences into a wider, sociological context.

Victim-service providers are often depicted as especially caring and compassionate-somehow different from the rest of us. But, in many ways, their experiences are typical and ordinary: the result of a group of people claiming a common identity, working under similar conditions, seeking to solve routine puzzles with limited tools. They interpreted their successes as individual achievements (which made them feel good), but this meant they also saw their failures as a product of their personal shortcomings (which had the opposite effect). My analysis focuses on the bigger picture. I argue that their self-doubts, worry, guilt, and confusion were not because they had somehow failed to learn how "to cope." I also refute the notion that their stress and tears were signs that they should have somehow worked harder or studied their training manuals even more thoroughly. The real reason they kept facing the same dilemmas again and again is that they worked in an emotionally risky arena, often with few and ineffective solutions for their clients and themselves. Their experiences were unique, because SAFE was its own place, but they were also patterned, because they were fighting the same fight as hundreds of other agencies like it. By focusing on the experiences of victim-service providers, I can show how emotional dilemmas can be structured into particular kinds of work.

This book is not the first to study battered women's shelters or victim support agencies (Loseke 1992; Dunn 2002; Martin 2005), but it is unique in that it captures how the inner lives (emotional experiences and identity) of those who work there are shaped by wider forces beyond their control. The jobs of victim advocates and counselors-as we know them today-did not exist fifty years ago. They were an outgrowth of a second-wave feminist movement concern that women who had been abused were being mistreated by the primary institutions (legal, medical, and social service) that have traditionally served their needs. The women who founded places like SAFE decades ago believed there was a better way, and they set out to design and administer a qualitatively different kind of help. This meant different services and different standards. This had consequences for the people receiving services (the victims) as well as those providing them. The questions I ask focus on how those decisions and patterns set in motion long ago intersect with the individual lives of advocates and counselors today. For example, how might the policies put in place to ensure that victims are not told what to do unintentionally make the job of the service provider both easier and harder? I observed a wide range of emotional experiences among staff members at SAFE (sympathy, guilt, frustration, compassion, and elation); how might those feelings be built into the demands of their jobs?

To accomplish this task, I rely primarily on evidence gathered from their experiences at the micro level. This means that while I make note of some broad-scale (macro) changes in how abuse has been treated over the years, I largely focus on how those shifts shape the subjective experiences of individuals within one particular agency (SAFE). My claims are based on observations and in-depth interviews of staff over a period of fourteen months, as well as my time training and volunteering at a neighboring agency over a period of four months. I conducted fieldwork in places where DV and SA work "officially" takes place, including the SAFE office, courtroom hallways, hospital rooms, emergency shelters, and sheriff's department lobbies, as well as the everyday venues where coworkers "hang out" together-restaurants, car trips, coffee shops. At the very least, I hope to offer readers a revealing snapshot of a job that can be simultaneously challenging, frustrating, and gratifying.

The Evolution of DV and SA Agencies in the United States

To understand the emotional dilemmas of victim advocates and counselors, it is helpful to put the workplace where I conducted research into perspective. SAFE helps victims of DV and SA. At the time of my research, June 2005 to August 2006, the agency had an annual budget of nearly $1 million (with 80 percent from municipal, state, and federal grants and 20 percent from private donations) and served a local population of roughly sixty thousand people within a seven-hundred-square-mile area in the southeastern United States. Compared to its peers, SAFE offered a more comprehensive menu of services (see figure 1). In the main office, staff members offered a crisis hotline, walk-in support services, court advocacy, individual counseling, and support groups. SAFE's emergency shelter was located off-site in an unpublished location where staff also held support groups and helped residents solve immediate problems. Additionally, some SAFE staff members spent most of their time away from the office: these programs included a "batterers' intervention program" for abusers; in-home family counseling, community awareness projects, and a youth educational program operated in coordination with the local school system. In this book, I focus primarily on the work of the victim advocates and counselors who were housed in the main office and the shelter.

Although outsiders might view advocates and counselors together, insiders at SAFE knew the difference. The counselors had ample training (they either had professional degrees or were working toward them) and met with clients by appointment, making their work schedules largely predictable. In contrast, the advocates were largely trained on the job and had no control over when the crisis hotline would ring or a walk-in would arrive at SAFE's door. Unlike the counselors, the advocates did not know whether a call or a doorbell ring meant a familiar client checking in with a routine question or a new person with a graphic history of abuse to learn and investigate. Despite the unpredictability of their work, they had to quickly assess whether a client was past the crisis stage. If so, the client was referred upstairs, where counselors helped her through the later stages of the healing and recovery process. If a client's wounds (physical and emotional) were still too raw, she stayed with the advocates downstairs.

SAFE was held in high regard in the local social service community. This was no small accomplishment. SAFE was located in a conservative part of a conservative state that was slowly becoming more progressive with the influx of residents from larger cities located nearby. As a result, staff members had to negotiate with outsiders whose opinions of DV and SA varied widely-from the conservative "old guard" to the more liberal "transplants." This posed challenges for outreach and fundraising activities, but they managed it very well. SAFE won a regional award for outstanding service the year I conducted research. This was especially significant considering the budget cuts previously noted.

Despite improvements since the mid-1990s, DV and SA remain persistent social problems nationwide. Even though the frequency of reports of these crimes has declined (albeit at a slower pace than the reduction of the overall crime rate), roughly one in four women will experience some form of violence from an intimate partner in her lifetime (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000). According to police reports analyzed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2005, 1,181 women in the United States were murdered by their intimate male partners (Catalano 2007). Also, between 2009 and 2010, based on a two-year rolling average, 775,650 women were victims of rape, attempted rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, or simple assault by their current or former intimate partners (Catalano 2012). Yet, because of the high number of unreported or misclassified incidents, these figures do not tell the whole story. According to a survey conducted by the National Center for Injury and Prevention Control (which includes unreported crimes), the problem is much worse. Of all women alive in the year 2010, an estimated 21.84 million had been raped in their lifetimes, with 1.27 million of those instances occurring in the year 2009 alone (Black et al. 2011: 18). Additionally, in that same year, an estimated 4.74 million women had suffered physical violence (not including rape) at the hand of intimate partners, with 39.17 million similarly victimized at some point in the past (Black et al. 2011: 38). As a result, there is no evidence to suggest that places like SAFE will suffer from lack of demand any time soon.

Places like SAFE began springing up across the United States alongside the second-wave feminist movement of the 1960s and '70s (Martin 2005). In 1964, one of the first such agencies, Haven House, was established in California (Schecter 1982). By 1974, the first reference to "wife abuse" appeared in the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature (Loseke 1992:14). Also in 1974, the National Organization for Women established its first anti-rape task forces (Martin 2005: 97). Although these organizations have been growing steadily, identifying exactly how many there are presents some methodological challenges. On the one hand, they want to advertise their services to victims in need, but on the other hand, too much visibility can attract attention from unwanted visitors-such as abusers seeking the location of emergency shelters. As a result, an adequate census of places like SAFE has not been conducted.

Despite these limitations in measurement, past scholarship has estimated that between 1975 and 1978, up to three hundred such organizations existed (Tierney 1982). Since then, their numbers have grown. By 1996, there were more than twelve hundred rape crisis centers (Martin 2005:99), and according to the National Directory of Domestic Violence Programs, there were 2,031 DV-related programs and shelters in the United States in 2008 (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence 2008). The growth among agencies like SAFE will likely continue as long as victim advocates and counselors continue to disagree with the wider public over the root causes of abuse and the best strategies to help victims.

In contrast to the ways abuse is typically treated in popular discourse, places like SAFE see abuse as a social-not an individual-problem. First and foremost, victim advocates and counselors blame the general devaluation of women in society today. They recognize that some abusers are psychotic or pathological, but they view those as exceptions rather than the norm. For the most part, they believe that violence against women "is a particular form of domination based on social relationships of unequal power" and a mechanism for men's social control of women (Schechter 1982:34). Without changing the culture, advocates and counselors argue, abuse will always exist. From their perspective, arresting all the abusers in the world would be a futile endeavor: the deep-seated patriarchal assumptions in our culture would only produce another generation to take their place. As a result, they often complain that hospitals, law enforcement agencies, and departments of social services (DSS) only address abuse in superficial ways. They believe that-no matter how well intentioned-these institutions cannot tackle a pervasive social problem as long as they treat the symptoms of the problem rather than cure the underlying disease.

To do this, the founders of places like SAFE set about to create an entirely new approach. They developed "coordinated-community response" plans (Pence and Paymar 1993) to educate the public and create intervention programs to reform abusers. They fought for reforms to change the ways victims were treated by doctors, police officers, lawyers, judges, and social workers. They also adopted a supportive, nondirective approach to helping individual victims. For example, advocates and counselors do not always tell their clients to call the police. Rather, they prefer a wait-and-see approach (like Meg did in Shelly's case), gently guiding their clients to identify all the potential consequences of bringing in the criminal justice system. Once police and district attorneys get involved, victims may have little or no say in how their cases will proceed. Because places like SAFE define abuse as the denial of power and control over one's life, all their services are geared toward helping clients make their own decisions according to what the client sees as the best path to safety and recovery. They argue that this approach, what they call their "empowerment philosophy," is what makes their services different-and better.

Casting themselves as an alternative to traditional institutions has also meant creating new types of workplaces. In the beginnings of the movement, the first DV and SA organizations adopted different policies and management styles, in contrast to intimidating police departments, sterile emergency rooms, and hectic DSS waiting rooms. For clients, they created places that felt safe and secure. For staff, they devised policies that made the workplace more egalitarian, "collectivist, nonhierarchical, nonbureaucratic, and free of professional and technical elitism" (Martin 2005: 96-97).

However, for all their efforts to create a different type of workplace, DV and SA agencies have a mixed record when attending to the needs of women of color. SAFE employed a predominately all-white staff, and this is still the norm for most agencies like it (Martin 2005). As a result, they are still susceptible to accusations that feminist organizations are primarily the domain of middle-class heterosexual women who have the economic and social resources to engage in social movements (Matthews 1989). This is a persistent criticism: throughout the civil rights movement, poor women and women of color often felt excluded from feminist struggles (Cole and Guy-Sheftall 2003). Also, because past campaigns against violence against women disproportionately targeted men of color, "incidents that linked race and rape caused further disjuncture between white feminists and blacks in the current feminist movement" (Matthews 1989: 520). As a result, racial diversity within places like SAFE has been elusive: "Women of color had reason to distrust both the campaign against rape and the larger women's movement. . . . Significant shortcomings mar the movement's successes, especially as it claims to represent all women" (Bevacqua 2000:200). In general, the victim advocates and counselors at SAFE were aware of this critique of the history of their movement, and the codirectors made specific efforts in hiring to increase the ethnic and racial diversity of its workforce; but still, in the agency where I conducted research, most of the staff in the main office and most of their clients were white or (less frequently) Latina.

One of the most notable changes to occur over time is that places like SAFE have become increasingly reliant on funding from federal, state, and municipal granting agencies. These funding opportunities, while attractive, also come with many strings attached. As political scientist and legal scholar Kristin Bumiller has argued (2009), the neoliberal reforms that took hold in the United States in the late 1970s and early '80s have had a profound effect on the ways places like SAFE operate. During this time, state and federal governments simultaneously shrank public budgets devoted to solving social problems while also tightening the regulations and conditions necessary for those in need of help to receive welfare assistance. These reforms also ushered in an explosive growth in the criminal justice and penal system. Since then, agencies like SAFE have started to reconsider their long-standing "ambiguous stance toward the state" (Matthews 1994: xii). By accepting these monies, previously small-scale, grass-roots efforts had to agree to make changes to the way they delivered services, reported outcomes, and coordinated with other organizations.

Rather than force places like SAFE to make "compromises and structural changes," under duress, Bumiller (2009:4) argues that public funding entities achieved the same result via the guidelines written into their grant opportunities. Today, to establish their credibility with clients and the community, they are now more likely to cite their "law enforcement-friendly attitudes and practices" (Corrigan 2013:30) as well as their academic credentials, professional licenses, and organizational efficiency (Barner and Carney 2011). The codirectors at SAFE were aware of this general trend and tried their best to stay true to their second-wave feminist roots. However, they perceived that some changes were inevitable. As one member of SAFE's board described this historical evolution to me, "This agency is a movement type agency, and [we] haven't lost that focus. . . . But it's not like the old days when we just had bake sales." In sum, those who managed and ran SAFE understood the risks of partnering with people (police, lawyers, judges) whom "the movement" had before characterized as potential adversaries, but they believed that if the money could be used to help their clients, it was worth it.

The cooperative stance that agencies like SAFE have since adopted toward the criminal justice system has yielded both costs and benefits. As women's studies scholar Maria Bevacqua (2000) has argued, the movement was able to capitalize on the "tough on crime" political rhetoric of the past few decades to pass tougher legislation to combat DV and SA. In this sense, the politics of law and order that oversaw a massive expansion of the prison population in the United States in the 1980s and '90s served to help the battered women's and anti-rape movement achieve some of its goals. The irony of this unlikely political alliance has not gone unnoticed. "The paradox of the law-and-order approach as both bane and boon to anti-rape organizing was not lost on movement activists . . . who view rape as the symbolic and real domination of women by men" and not "just another crime" (Bevacqua 2000: 121). Legislators and policy makers who might have been otherwise disinterested in violence against women suddenly came to see rape crisis centers and battered women's shelters as potential collaborators in identifying and incarcerating lawbreakers. To this day, agencies that assist victims of DV and SA still grapple with the implications of their partnership with the criminal justice system.

Another notable change during the past three decades is that those who work inside places like SAFE have slowly distanced themselves from second-wave feminist language and identity. Even though elements of second-wave feminism can be found in their policies and procedures (such as their emphasis on restoring women's power and control within intimate relationships), staff members are less likely to identify themselves or label their services as explicitly feminist (Corrigan 2013). This rhetorical shift is not a new phenomenon. Past research has shown that advocates and counselors have long been drawn to the idea of "individualism and personal growth as the proper step toward eliminating" violence against women rather than spending all their energy "calling for collective action" (Andersen and Renzetti 1980: 336). This was generally the case at SAFE. Although the advocates and counselors were able to articulate the relationship between gender inequality and violence against women on a societal level, they still understood their primary purpose as helping individual clients solve immediate problems. Sociologist Amanda Gengler reported similar findings in her recent study of a battered women's shelter: "While the language of feminism is still frequently invoked, much of the political activism inherent in the goals and operating principles of these early organizations has faded as staff focus on short-term individual change rather than long-term social change" (Gengler 2012:501).

Places like SAFE have not been the only ones to change, though. The institutions that battered women's shelters and rape crisis centers were created to replace (or offer an alternative to) have also undergone a significant transformation. Although the criminal justice system is far from perfect, advocates and counselors at SAFE often pointed to local task forces and advisory boards as examples of newfound communication and cooperation. For each story about misinformed sheriff's deputies, unfeeling doctors, and unnecessarily rigid caseworkers at the office of Child Protective Services; staff members could also offer counterexamples of contacts in these institutions who "got it"-such as sympathetic lawyers or local nurses. Although this does not mean that those who work in places like SAFE now see hospitals, courtrooms, police stations, or the DSS as safe spaces for their clients, the advocates and counselors I studied did believe that things were changing-slowly-for the better. Despite the litany of abuses their clients had suffered in these other institutions in the past, SAFE advocates and counselors voiced a qualified optimism that future reforms will enable these counterparts to one day effectively cater to the special needs of DV and SA victims.

For all the changes and transformations that agencies like SAFE have gone through over the past three decades, though, some things have remained the same. Victim advocates and counselors still see themselves as people who help others in need. They know their task is difficult, but in exchange for their hard work they earn the right to reap a special kind of reward: they get to feel good about themselves and the wider mission of the organization. What their job lacks in regard to offering extrinsic rewards like pay, power, and prestige, it offers in abundance a form of symbolic compensation I call moral wages. This benefit-the positive feelings and sense of satisfaction that come with seeing oneself as a caring and compassionate person-is not as readily available in all lines of work. However, as I show, sometimes seeing oneself as a good person-even when helping victims-is not as easy as it would seem. To earn this reward, they first must overcome a number of emotional dilemmas.

Moral Identity Work

To understand why it might be hard for advocates and counselors sometimes to see themselves as caring and compassionate people, it is helpful to know some of my assumptions about how identities work-or, more precisely, how and why people work on their identities. In everyday life, most people take their identities for granted. That is, people understand themselves to be particular kinds of individuals who may act differently in different situations, but whose beliefs, ideals, and behaviors are generally stable. This point of view assumes that identities are "things" that we possess. Sociologists see identity in a different light. Rather than assuming that identities just happen, we see them as accomplishments-something people have to put effort into in order to achieve.

To understand this point, consider the example of someone who sees himself or herself as generally funny or amusing. If being funny just came naturally, then his or her days would simply be filled with amusement and laughter. There would never be occasion for others to remind that person to tell jokes or try to make people laugh, because there would be no need. She or he would just go about telling stories, smiling, and making fun-taking advantage of every appropriate opportunity. Yet, we can easily see one flaw in this example: no one is like that. No matter how consistent we perceive our identity to be, we can usually think of times when we have asked ourselves, "Why am I acting this way? I just don't feel like myself." Or we can remember moments when others-sensing something was off-prodded us to act "like we really are." These reminders, questions, and doubts happen all the time, and they have important implications; they tell us that identities are not as passive and stable as many people assume. If identities just expressed themselves no matter what, there would be no need to tend to them. There would be no need to remind ourselves-or be reminded of-how we should be feeling or behaving.

This perspective on identities focuses on the processes involved in their production. Our identities do not automatically speak for themselves. Instead, we communicate them (through words, gestures, and actions) in ways that make sense to ourselves and others. This theoretical approach also assumes that accomplishing an identity is never a given, either: even if we see ourselves as particular kinds of people, there is no guarantee that others will share our views. As a result, we continually gauge how others see us and incorporate their reflected appraisals into our own conception of self. Charles Horton Cooley called this process of seeing ourselves through the eyes of others the "looking glass self" (1902: 164); others' reactions serve as a "mirror" through which we observe ourselves to see who we "really" are. This does not mean that flubbing the punch line of a joke can shatter our entire sense of self, but if we fail to live up to our self-imposed expectations enough times, it can cause us to consider others' reactions carefully-and the context in which they are delivered. For example, we do not weigh all appraisals the same (Shibutani 1955). A friend's opinion matters more than a stranger's, so her or his reaction will have a greater impact on how we think about ourselves; but the general point remains: for all their appearance of stability and permanence, identities still require a considerable amount of attention, interpretation, and maintenance (Snow and Anderson 1987).

This understanding of identities as projects under perpetual construction is also a symbolic interactionist one (Blumer 1969). According to this perspective, any given identity is dynamic and fluid; its meaning is continually being revised and reconsidered. Changes and inconsistencies can provoke confusion, but-like a fuzzy image on a television screen-an identity can also be brought back into focus. As sociologist Karen Stein puts it, the goal is to make our identity "internally coherent and externally discernable" (2011: 291). Luckily, even though this involves a lot of upkeep, coherency does not require perfection. When there is a rip, we can mend it. If we act in ways that run counter to our identities-and we do not want to abandon them-we can explain away our actions. If our justifications fall short, we can try again.

Eventually, with enough work, ruptures in our identity can usually be restored or modified. Over time, once we've built up a history with others, it becomes a little easier to maintain. People generally expect identities to be stable. When we take something for granted, we often miss inconsistencies because we are not looking for them. This is why identities appear as permanent and passive possessions-even though they are not. Just because we miss the work going on does not mean that none is taking place.

Much of the effort involved in claiming an identity is subtle. It does not require explicit self-directed talk, like loudly proclaiming "I am this kind of person" or holding up bold placards that announce "I am that kind of person." Instead, we often communicate our identities via the impressions we give off (Goffman 1959) during our daily actions and interactions. In short, our behaviors follow a pattern that signifies the kind of person we are-or want to be. Symbolic interactionists refer to these kinds of behavioral conventions as elements of one's "identity code" (Schwalbe and Mason-Schrock 1996: 123). This approach assumes that we enact them as a way to signal our "intentions, abilities, and expectations so that others can adjust their behavior toward us" (122). Although we largely take this work for granted, it is a vitally important process: it is through our identities that we gain "a sense of belonging, personal significance, a sense of location relative to others . . . and feelings of worth" (122). As I show throughout the book, accomplishing the identity of caring and compassionate victim advocates or counselors was incredibly important to the women who worked at SAFE. It was through this identity that they were able to define their relationship to a cause larger than themselves (against DV and SA), find meaning in their interactions with clients (which were not always pleasant), and make sense of their sacrifices for the organization.

To put their identity in context, I argue that to be a victim advocate or counselor is to claim a "moral identity." Sociologist Sherryl Kleinman defines a moral identity as "an identity that people invest with moral significance . . . that testifies to a person's good character . . . such as mother, Christian, breadwinner, or feminist" (1996:5). Accomplishing this identity was not easy. It meant never turning away clients who needed help. It meant allowing clients to make their own decisions and not telling them what to do. It meant sympathizing with-not judging-victims. It meant valuing the power of care and emotional sentiment as a means of healing. It meant protecting the organization from hostile outsiders and scrutinizing the intentions of those who offered to help. Adhering to this code may have been difficult, but the payoff was worth it. Accomplishing their shared moral identity enabled them to feel secure in the notion that they did-and were-good; in my terms, it earned them moral wages.

Outline of the Book

Before the SAFE advocates and counselors could earn their moral wages, they had to first overcome a series of emotional dilemmas that form the basic structure of the book. In chapter 2, I show how not turning away clients sounds good in theory, but what should advocates and counselors do when budget cuts slash staff hours and make their caseloads impossible to finish? They wanted relief, but they did not want to reduce their hours or services, either. In chapter 3, I outline how letting clients make their own decisions was incredibly important at SAFE; they saw their job as empowering their clients to choose their own paths. But what if a client was about to make a risky decision? Should they just stand by and watch disaster unfold, or should they intervene? For most people, intervening and rescuing others is a sign of virtue-but not for victim advocates and counselors. Their identity code was critical of overly directive advice. In chapter 4, I examine how even when sympathizing with clients, there were no easy answers. They were supposed to offer a steady stream of emotional support; however, some clients yelled at them, consistently broke rules, and brazenly lied to them. They saw their sympathy sentiment, and capacity to care, as fundamental indicators of what made their services special. What should they do when their sympathies ran out?

In the second half of the book, I shift the focus from staff members' relationships with clients inside the office to their interactions with outsiders and their respective institutions. In chapter 5, I pay close attention to staff members' tenuous relationship with the criminal justice system. They believed that their quiet and private interactions with clients meant something; they were trained to prioritize these services. Yet, they found themselves drawn to the excitement of helping their clients in and around courtrooms. Did that mean they were compromising their values? In chapter 6, I focus on an issue that directly involved me-a man conducting research in a place many assume to be hostile to men. I show how staff members were torn about how they should interact with men who offered to help the agency. Nearly all of SAFE clients were women abused by men. Yet, shutting men out of SAFE could have serious downsides. They already suffered from a "man hater" stereotype that they believed harmed their reputation in court and the wider community. Not letting men help would just exacerbate this image problem. Pragmatically, they needed to include men to improve their public image, but they also worried that some men were a threat to Safe's clients, staff, and overall reputation.

In the final chapter, I summarize the book and argue how it contributes to current scholarly discussions on emotions, identity, and inequality. However, I finish the book on a much more practical level by offering five suggestions that can be enacted today with a minimal amount of investment by DV and SA agencies. These recommendations are drawn from "tricks of the trade" that savvy advocates and counselors at places like SAFE already do (to varying degrees). My hope is that they can be written into training manuals and policies as a means to help advocates and counselors preempt and manage the emotional dilemmas of their risky-but potentially rewarding-work.

Overall, the purpose of this book is to shed light on the workplace struggles of those fighting on the front lines of a persistent social problem. Any one of the challenges I describe in the following chapters would be enough to make some think twice about signing up for-or keep coming back to-this line of work. When seen as a whole (their burdensome caseloads, the unpredictability of their clients' choices, their clients' sometimes difficult behavior, the devaluation of their care services, the "man hater" stereotype they face), their perseverance becomes all the more admirable. My job is to show how their struggles are not isolated events. They are not random or unique. Instead, they are effectively structured into this line of work. If readers and practitioners take away only one lesson from this book, it should be this: The emotional dilemmas of victim advocates and counselors are the by-product of a job that calls upon workers to aid and feel for vulnerable clients yet gives them few and feeble tools to do so.

Save 30%

Add source code 15W5487 to get your discount at checkout.
Cannot be combined with any other offers.

Join UC Press


Members receive 20-40% discounts on book purchases. Find out more