Advocacy for social and economic justice is an ethical responsibility of all social workers. The social workers need to analyze policies from many different aspects, anticipate unintended consequences, and educate legislators, stakeholders, and the population on policy issues. This requires a specialized skill set, and this week’s Assignments will provide you with some of these skills.
This week, you examine social policies and analyze how they are evaluated. You also examine the role of lobbying and campaigning in social work practice. Finally, you explore the steps for incorporating policy in social work practice that reflects professional ethics.
Photo Credit: [Jacob Wackerhausen]/[E+]/Getty Images
Note: To access this week’s required library resources, please click on the link to the Course Readings List, found in the Course Materials section of your Syllabus.
Plummer, S.-B., Makris, S., & Brocksen, S. M. (Eds.). (2014). Social work case studies: Foundation year. Baltimore: MD: Laureate International Universities Publishing. [Vital Source e-reader].
“Working With Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Trauma: The Case of Rita” (pp. 81–83)
Rita is a 22-year-old, heterosexual, Latina female working in the hospitality industry at a resort. She is the youngest of five children and lives at home with her parents. Rita has dated in the past but never developed a serious relationship. She is close to her immediate and extended family as well as to her female friends in the Latino community. Although her parents and three of her siblings were born in the Dominican Republic, Rita was born in the United States.
A year ago, Rita was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance of a male coworker. Rita and a female coworker met Juan and Bob after work at a local bar for a light meal and a few drinks. Because Rita had to get up early to work her shift the next day, Bob offered to drive her home. Instead of taking Rita directly home, however, he drove to a desolate spot nearby and assaulted her. Afterward, Bob threatened to harm her family if she did not remain silent and proceeded to drive her home. Although Rita did not tell her family what happened, she did call our agency hotline the next day to discuss her options. Because Rita’s assault occurred within the 5-day window for forensic evidence collection of this kind, Rita consented to activation of the county’s sexual assault response team (SART). Although she agreed to have an advocate and the sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) meet her at the hospital, Rita tearfully stated that she did not want to file a police report at that time because she did not want to upset her family. The nurse examiner interviewed Rita, collected evidence, recorded any injuries, administered antibiotics for possible sexually transmitted infections, and gave Rita emergency contraception in case of pregnancy. The advocate stayed with Rita during the procedure, supporting her and validating her experience, and gave her a referral for individual crisis counseling at our agency.
My treatment goals for Rita included alleviation of rape trauma syndrome symptoms that included shame and self-blame, validation of self-worth and empowerment, and processing how it would feel to disclose to others when the time felt right. In addition, Rita would receive important information regarding state policy and procedure for victims of sexual assault that would assist her in deciding when and how to report the crime if she chose to do so.
My treatment involved crisis intervention and stabilization along with emotional support and validation surrounding her experience. Managing her trauma and acute stress symptoms were key to her recovery. Those symptoms included guilt, shame, emotional shock, powerlessness, anxiety, fear, anger, and doubting her judgment. We processed Rita’s emotional dysregulation and sense of outrage over what happened. Over the weeks that followed, we also explored Rita’s relationship to her immediate and extended family and how they had high expectations for her and her future. Rita’s shame over the assault prevented her from telling her family for fear they would also be shamed and judge her for accepting a ride from someone she did not know well. We discussed the policy for reporting a sexual assault to the police in our state and how Rita only had a 90-day window to report the crime after her forensic evidence was obtained. After 90 days, the forensic kit would be destroyed.
The problem with the current 90-day hold policy in our state for victims like Rita is that a person in crisis experiences strong and conflicting emotions and is faced with an acute sense of disequilibrium and disorientation. This, in turn, affects her or his ability to retain information and make decisions. The person, therefore, has barely enough time to make sense of what happened to her or him, let alone decide what to do about it. The 90-day hold policy may not afford a traumatized victim of sexual assault enough time to make a decision to report to law enforcement.
I utilized a strengths-based model in my treatment with Rita to help her address the decision to report the crime. A strengths-based framework is client-led with a focus on future outcomes and strengths that the client brings to a problem or crisis. It is an effective helping strategy that builds on a person’s resiliency and ego strength. An integrative strengths-based intervention can contribute to the development of a positive outcome for clients in crisis.
I counseled Rita for 6 months. After 5 months, Rita felt strong enough to disclose to her family and file a report with the police. However, because the 90-day window had closed by the time she was stabilized and emotionally ready to file, her forensic evidence was unavailable.
Rome, S., Harris, S., & Hoechstetter, S. (2010). Social work and civic engagement: The political participation of professional social workers. Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, 37(3), 107–129.
Note: Retrieved from Walden Library databases.
Plummer, S. -B., Makris, S., & Brocksen, S. (Eds.). (2014). Sessions: Case histories. Baltimore: MD: Laureate International Universities Publishing. [Vital Source e-reader].
Part 1, “The Johnson Family” (pp. 11–13)
Talia is a 19-year-old heterosexual Caucasian female, who is a junior majoring in psychology and minoring in English. She has a GPA of 3.89 and has been on the dean’s list several times over the last 3 years. She has written a couple of short articles for the university’s newspaper on current events around campus and is active in her sorority, Kappa Delta. She works part time (10–15 hours a week) at an accessory store. Talia recently moved off campus to an apartment with two close friends from her sorority. She is physically active and runs approximately three miles a day. She also goes to the university’s gym a couple of days a week for strength training. Talia does not use drugs, although she has smoked marijuana a few times in her life. She drinks a few times a week, often going out with friends one day during the week and then again on Friday and Saturday nights. When she is out with friends, Talia usually has about four to six drinks. She prefers to drink beer over hard liquor or wine, but will occasionally have a mixed drink.
Talia has no criminal history. She reports a history of anxiety in her family (on her mother’s side), and on a few occasions has experienced heart palpitations, which her mother told her was due to nervousness. This happened only a handful of times in the past and usually when Talia was “very stressed out,” so Talia had never felt the need to go to the doctor or talk to someone about it until now. Talia is currently not dating anyone. She was in a relationship for years, but it ended a few months ago. She had since been “hooking up” with a guy in one of her English classes, but does not feel it will turn into anything serious and has not seen him in several weeks.
Talia’s parents, Erin (40) and Dave (43), and her siblings, Lila (16) and Nathan (14), live 2 hours away from the university. Erin works at a salon as a hairdresser, and Dave is retired military and works for a home security company. Erin is on a low-dose antidepressant for anxiety, something she has been treated for all of her life.
Talia came to see me at the Rape Counseling Center (RCC) on campus for services after she was sexually assaulted at a fraternity party 3 weeks prior. She told me she had thought she could handle her feelings after the assault, but she had since experienced a number of emotions and behaviors she could no longer ignore. She was not sleeping, she felt sad most days, she had stopped going out with friends, and she had been unable to concentrate on schoolwork. Talia stated that the most significant issues she had faced since the assault had been recurrent anxiety attacks.
Talia learned about the RCC when she went to the hospital after the sexual assault. She went to the hospital to request that a rape kit be completed and also requested the morning-after pill and the HIV prevention protocol (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PEP). At that time, a nurse contacted me through the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) to provide Talia with support and resources. I spent several hours with Talia at the hospital while she went through the examination process. Talia shared bits and pieces of the evening with me, although she said most of the night was a blur. She said a good-looking guy named Eric was flirting with her all night and bringing her drinks. She did not want to seem ungrateful and enjoyed his company, so she drank. She also mentioned that the drinks were made with hard liquor, something that tends to make her drunk faster than beer. She said that at one point she blacked out and has no idea what happened. She woke up naked in a room alone the next morning, and she went straight to the hospital. Once Talia was done at the hospital, I gave her the contact information for RCC. I encouraged her to call if she had any questions or needed to talk with someone.
During our first meeting at the RCC, I provided basic information about our services. I let her know that everything was confidential and that I wanted to help create a safe space for her to talk. I told her that we would move along at a pace that was comfortable for her and that this was her time and we could use it as she felt best. We talked briefly about her experience at the hospital, which she described as cold and demeaning. She told me several times how thankful she was that I had been there. She said one of the reasons she called the RCC was because she felt I supported and believed her. I used the opportunity to validate her feelings and remind her that I did, in fact, believe her and that the assault was not her fault.
We talked briefly about how Talia had been feeling over the last 3 weeks. She was very concerned about her classes because she had missed a couple of assignment deadlines and was fearful of failing. She told me several times this was not like her and she was normally a very good student. I told her I could contact the professors and advocate for extensions without disclosing the specific reason Talia was receiving counseling services and would need additional time to complete her assignments. Talia thanked me and agreed that would be best. I introduced the topic of safety and explained that she might possibly see Eric on campus, something that might cause her emotional distress. We talked about strategies she could use to protect herself, and she agreed to walk with a friend while on campus for the time being. She also agreed she would avoid the gym where she had seen Eric before.
The Johnson Family
Erin Johnson: mother, 40
Dave Johnson: father, 43
Talia Johnson: daughter, 19
Lila Johnson: daughter, 16
Nathan Johnson: son, 14
During our second meeting, Talia seemed very anxious. We talked about how she had been feeling over the last week, and she indicated she was still not sleeping well at night and that she was taking long naps during the day. She had missed days at work, something she had never done before, and was in jeopardy of losing her job. Talia reported experiencing several anxiety attacks as well. She described the attack symptoms as feeling unable to breathe, accompanied by a swelling in her chest, and an overwhelming feeling that she was going to die. She said that this was happening several times a day, although mostly at night. I provided some education about trauma responses to sexual assault and the signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We went over a workbook on trauma reactions to sexual assault and reviewed the signs and symptoms checklist, identifying several that she was experiencing. We practiced breathing exercises to use when she felt anxious, and she reported feeling better. I told her it was important to identify the triggers to her anxiety so that we could find out what exactly was causing her to be anxious in a given moment. I explained that while the assault itself had brought the attacks on, it would be helpful to see what specific things (such as memories, certain times of the day, particular smells, etc.) caused her to have anxiety attacks. I gave Talia an empty journal and asked her to record the times of the episodes over the next week as well as what happened right before them. She agreed.
We met over several sessions and continued to address Talia’s anxiety symptoms and feelings of sadness. She told me she was unable to talk about what happened on the night of the rape because she felt ashamed. She said that it was too difficult for her to verbalize what happened and that the words coming out of her mouth would hurt too much. I reassured her that we would go at her pace and that she could talk about what happened when she felt comfortable. We practiced breathing and reviewed her journal log each week.
It had become clear that the evenings seemed to be the peak time for her anxiety, which I told her made sense as her assault had occurred at night. I described how sleep is often difficult for survivors of sexual assault because they fear having nightmares about what happened. She looked surprised and said she had not mentioned it, but she kept having dreams about Eric in which he was talking to her at the party. The dreams ended with him holding her hand and walking her away. She said she also thought about this during the day and could actually see it happening in her mind. We talked about the intrusive thoughts that often occur after trauma, and I tried to normalize her experience. I told her that often people try to avoid these intrusions, and I wondered if she felt she was doing anything to avoid them. She told me she had started taking a sleep aid at night. When I asked about her exercise habits, she said that right after the assault she had stopped running and going to the gym. We set a goal that she would run one to two times a week to help her with anxiety and sleeping. I also suggested that now would be a good time to start writing her feelings down because journaling is a very useful way to express feelings when it is difficult to verbalize them. Talia mentioned that she had decided not to go to the police about the sexual assault because she did not want to go through the process. I informed her that if she wanted to, she could address the assault in another way, by bringing it to the campus judicial system. She said she would think about this option.
During another session weeks later, Talia came in distraught. She said she had been feeling better overall since working on her breathing and doing the journaling, but that a few things had happened that were making her more and more anxious and that her attacks were increasing again. Talia said her parents were pushing her to drop out of school and to come home. She said they had been calling and texting her often, something she found annoying but understandable. They were very upset about what had happened, although they were more upset with her that she had waited for weeks to tell them about “it.” Her father threatened to come and beat the guy up, and her mother cried. She avoided talking with them, but they had become relentless with the calls. Her mother had shown up with her sister unannounced the previous weekend and had treated Talia like she had a cold—making chicken soup and rubbing Talia’s feet. The pressure from her parents was weighing on her and upsetting her. Talia was also distressed by a friend who kept pushing her to talk about what happened. When Talia finally relented, her friend asked her why she had gone upstairs with him. Talia said this made her feel terrible, and she started to cry. This friend also told her that Eric had heard she had gone to the hospital and was telling people that she had wanted to have sex. Eric had been telling people she was “all over him” and that she had taken her own pants off. This made Talia very angry and upset.
Key to Acronyms
HIV: Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection
PEP: Post-Exposure Prophylaxis
PTSD: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
RCC: Rape Counseling Center
SART: Sexual Assault Response Team
We talked about how there are certain myths in society around sexual assault and that the victim is often blamed. We also talked about how the perpetrator often blames his or her victim to make himself or herself feel better. Talia said she has felt some sense of blame for what happened and that she should not have drunk so much. She started to cry. I gently reminded her that she was not at fault for Eric’s actions, and her drinking was not an invitation to have sex. I reminded her that he should have seen how incapacitated she was and that she could not have consented to sex. Talia continued to cry. She clearly had a number of emotions she wanted to express but was having difficulty sharing them, so I offered her some clay and asked her to use it to mold representations of different areas in her life and how she felt about them. We spent the rest of the session talking about the shapes she made and how she felt. Toward the end of the session she told me she had decided to put in a complaint with the campus judicial system about the assault. She worried that Eric would assault another woman and she would feel responsible if she did not alert the university. I offered my support and told her I would be there for her through the process.
Popple, P. R., & Leighninger, L. (2019). The policy-based profession: An introduction to social welfare policy analysis for social workers (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
Chapter 13, “Taking Action: Policy Practice for Social Workers” (pp. 285-306)
Chapter 13, “Conclusion” (pp. 307-312)
Laureate Education (Producer). (2013). Sessions: Johnson family (Episode 4 of 42) [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu
Accessible player –Downloads–Download Video w/CCDownload AudioDownload Transcript
According to the NASW Code of Ethics section 6.04 (NASW, 2008), social workers are ethically bound to work for policies that support the healthy development of individuals, guarantee equal access to services, and promote social and economic justice.
For this Discussion, review this week’s resources, including Working with Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Trauma: The Case of Rita and “The Johnson Family”. Consider what change you might make to the policies that affect the client in the case you chose. Finally, think about how you might evaluate the success of the policy changes.
Post an explanation of one change you might make to the policies that affect the client in the case. Be sure to reference the case you selected in your post. Finally, explain how you might evaluate the success of the policy changes.
Support your post with specific references to the resources. Be sure to provide full APA citations for your references.
Read a selection of your colleagues’ posts.
Respond to at least two colleagues by explaining the various costs you think will be associated with their suggested policy changes. Then, explain whether a consideration of cost when adopting a policy or program contradicts the social workers’ code of ethics.
Support your response with specific references to the resources. Be sure to provide full APA citations for your references.
Return to this Discussion to read the responses to your initial post. Note what you have learned and/or any insights you have gained as a result of the comments your colleagues made.
Social workers often have commitments to specific policies, laws, or funding of programs that are vital to the population they serve or an issue that they strongly support. Such commitments often lead social workers to become involved in political issues and the campaigns of specific candidates. Being a social worker, such campaign experiences, the outcomes of your efforts, and how effective you felt you were may affect your view of the political process and the likelihood of becoming involved in similar campaigns in the future.
For this Discussion, reflect on your experiences if you have ever participated in a political campaign. What was the outcome of your participation? If you have not participated in a campaign, choose a campaign topic you support or oppose and consider the ways you might like to participate in that campaign. Likewise, think about your experiences if you have ever lobbied on a topic. If you have not, choose a topic for which you might like to lobby in favor or against. Finally, consider how you think social workers might have a powerful and positive effect as elected officials.
Post an explanation of the role of lobbying and campaigning in social work practice. Then, explain how you think social workers might have a powerful and positive effect as elected officials. Finally, explain of the impact, if any, the experiences and opinions of your colleagues have had on your own experiences and opinions.
Support your post with specific references to the resources. Be sure to provide full APA citations for your references.
Respond to at least two colleagues by offering a suggestion for how your colleague might gain political and/or lobbying experience for the political issue your colleagues described. Also, explain the steps you might take to incorporate policy advocacy in your practice based on insights, experiences, and/or opinions your colleagues described. Be sure your explanation takes the perspective of a social work professional with a responsibility to uphold professional ethics.
Support your response with specific references to the resources. Be sure to provide full APA citations for your references.
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