We continue our interview with Trace Fleming. In this part of the interview, Trace talks about self-care for advocates and her Facebook platform: Self-Care for Advocates.
Self-Care for Advocates is a safe, feminist space for anti-violence advocates of all practices to be supportive of one another. Trace started this group as a place to request help, engage in dialog, and share self-care tips to help encourage health and well-being in one’s life and advocacy work. Please feel free to post as often as you need to and to share this page with other advocates.
You can read the first part of her interview here
6. Aside from your anti-Violence Against Women advocacy and activist work, you are also a very vocal and proactive supporter of self-care for anti-VAW advocates and activists. Why do you think self-care is so important for advocates and activists?
I believe that advocates and activists need better access to self-care for their personal wellness. We are on the frontlines, and a lot is expected of us. It can be really overwhelming to do activism work.
The first time I experienced burn out when I was a very young advocate, I had no idea what was happening. I had been working with domestic violence survivors and while I loved working with these women, I dreaded coming into work every day. I was upset all the time, and then I would get even more upset because that I felt so selfish. I would think, “Who are you to feel this bad when these women are going through something that is so much more devastating?” It was awful experience and it was not getting better but I had no words to tell anyone about what was happening.
Audre Lorde has been quoted saying, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” I couldn’t agree more, but I think many advocates really struggle with that. I urge them to think of self-care in terms of a form of ethical responsibility. Ethically, it is crucial that we do not advocate for others while impaired. Burn out, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma are some of the hazards of our movement that absolutely cause impairments that could be potentially really harmful to those we are working with. So we must care for ourselves, we must allow for our own health and healing, and see how important a part of our practice it is. Advocates do so much. Can you imagine how much more they will do when we as a movement make advocate wellness a priority too? I can and it is going to be phenomenal.
7. You founded the Facebook group “Self-Care For Advocates”. Could you tell us about what the group is about including what you hope it will achieve and how it helps advocates and activists?
Self-Care For Advocates is open to any advocate doing anti-violence work. While it is primarily made up of domestic and sexual violence advocates, I know that there are child protective social workers, police officers, teachers, and nurses who are also working in the Violence Against Women movement in some way. We have grown in leaps and bounds since we started, with members from all over the world. It’s been pretty great to see.
This is a safe, feminist space open for advocates to share when they are struggling with burn out or vicarious trauma. It’s also a space for advocates to receive and give support. It is great to see advocates connected in this way. I hear often how helpful it has been for the group members.
8. Self-care for anti-Violence Against Women advocates and activists is rarely talked about and many burn out due to a combination of overwhelming workloads, vicarious trauma, and financial struggles. What do you think nonprofits and agencies can do to better support their staff and volunteers in order to avoid burnout leading to many otherwise good people leaving the anti-Violence Against Women movement at a time when every person counts in the ongoing struggle to stop the violence?
In the last few years, I have felt very strongly that we need to better prepare our advocates for these issues. Training is critical for sure, but that is not enough. I think many advocates get frustrated when they are told to make self-care a priority when they have very little tools or resources to make that possible. I personally believe that we must also create organisational cultures that support advocates’ wellness in all ways including living wages, health benefits, time off, healthy supervision, and supportive safe spaces to share when there is a problem.
The best way I can see this happening is if advocates push our national and state coalitions and our local programs to really make advocate wellness a priority. It is not selfish for us to do this. I think of it as insisting on the sustainability of the work of our mothers and of our work.
I would so urge the leaders of our movement to really look at how we treat our advocates and respond accordingly, without defensiveness and without excuses. Let us look at our standards and policies – advocate wellness needs to be a part of what is expected in our agencies, organisations, and long-range plans. We lose incredible the advocates that we need because we do not support them in very basic ways and that is such a detriment to our movement. We can, and we must, do better. We cannot end the oppression of women while acting as the agents of oppression ourselves.
9. How can The Pixel Project’s fans and followers support current efforts to end violence against women and girls?
There’s so much I could say here… but I think it mainly comes down to these things:
Practice kindness. Go out of your way to do something for someone else and expect nothing in return. Say things to others that are helpful, not hurtful. This sounds trite but it really does matter. It helps create a community where others want to help too. Model the type of change you want to see. It is not always easy, but it is always worth it.
Educate yourself about the issues that women and girls face every day. This can been tough as we often don’t want to see how big a problem is or to see how we are connected to it; But I challenge you to critically look at your own life and privileges and see where you can make changes to your own behaviours. I challenge you to ask questions, and really listen to the answers without judgement or bias. No one is the expert of someone else’s life. There is always something that we can learn from each other that can help us grow.
10. In your considered opinion, how can we end violence against women for good?
I think that Praxis International and Manavi’s Essential Skills for social change advocacy is the best way I’ve seen to answer this question. These marvellous women write that we must follow the Golden Rules: Centralise victim safety, well-being, and autonomy; develop a strong knowledge base; use a systemic and social change analysis; and use a model of constructive engagement (Praxis and Manavi, 2009)*. I completely believe that if we all adhered to these rules, we would see an end to violence against women. What a brilliant age that will be for humanity. I can’t wait for the day it comes to pass.
*Praxis and Manavi. (2009). Essential Skills in Coordinating Your Community Response to Battering.