College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Fall 11-21-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Molly Brown, PhD

Second Advisor

Megan Greeson, PhD


Volunteer sexual assault survivor advocates are vital to the provision of services by rape crisis centers. Volunteer advocates are exposed to trauma by witnessing the emotional and psychological impact of sexual assault on survivors. Trauma exposure places providers at risk for experiencing negative outcomes, such as vicarious trauma or secondary traumatic stress. Additionally, advocates who are survivors of sexual assault may be at higher risk for these negative outcomes. However, trauma exposure can also be a source of positive outcomes, such as posttraumatic growth. Focusing on advocate strengths, such as coping and self-care strategies that help advocates overcome distress during advocacy and their ability to navigate relational resources, whether at their organization or within their personal life, is important to preventing negative outcomes, promoting positive outcomes, and retaining volunteers in rape crisis centers long-term. Because some advocates may be survivors of sexual assault, understanding if and how experiences of advocates who are survivors compare to those who are not may further illuminate coping processes of advocates.

The current study sought to explore experiences of advocates through qualitative interviewing with eighteen advocates, eleven of whom identified as survivors of sexual assault. Participants were recruited from three rape crisis centers in a Midwestern region. Transcribed interviews were analyzed using thematic analysis under a constructivist paradigm and themes were identified inductively. Themes were identified relevant to (a) individual coping strategies: debriefing with family or friends, distraction, non-verval emotional expression, focusing on positives, information gathering and problem-solving, mindfulness, preparing, relaxation, self-evaluation, setting limits, compartmentalizing, and lack of coping; (b) organization support of volunteers: building an advocacy community, debriefing with members of the organizations, support around calls, and encouraging self-care; and (c) barriers and limitations to coping: barriers that are advocate specific, need for formal support services, limited options for social support, and role specific barriers. Differences between advocates who survived sexual assault and advocates who did not experience sexual assault were found primarily in the functions of coping strategies, such as selecting strategies to cope with triggers during calls, and unique organizational support needs for survivors. Findings may inform coping strategies and organizational support.

SLP Collection