Velma had been working with a large international NGO for just over a year. When she learned that her next assignment was in a country in which rape had been used as a weapon of war, she felt anxious. Ten years ago, in her last year of high school, Velma was raped by an acquaintance. Because of her own experience of personal violation, she wondered whether she would be able to help these women. She considered asking for a different assignment, but felt unprepared to share the reasons with her boss.
Once in the field, Velma felt exhausted after a couple of hours of work each day. She began to feel like the women didn’t want help, and she felt her motivation and interest in helping declining. While she continued showing up and stayed on the job, she found herself having trouble thinking clearly and meeting the demands of the job. She wondered whether she had contracted malaria because she often felt nauseous and feverish.
Noticing her obvious distress, one of her co-workers asked her whether she was ill. After Velma tested negative for malaria, her co-worker told her about a peer support group the agency had recently instituted. After several meetings, Velma shared her current problems with the small support group. Another woman in the group responded by saying, “I was raped as a teenager, and I find working with rape survivors brings up a lot of memories for me that are hard to deal with.” A light went on for Velma, who had not consciously made the connections among her past history, the experiences of the women she was assisting, and her own symptoms of distress.
Velma felt relieved that someone else understood her anxieties in working with rape victims. Through the peer support group, Velma was able to process her current feelings and thoughts, cope better with the work, and feel more present with the women she was there to help. She continued to experience strong emotions and discomfort but she felt she was able to manage these and cope better.