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Living with Secondary Trauma

Updated: Sep 1, 2019

I was called into the Wings ministry in April of this year after working as a parole officer for the State of Iowa for 20 years. Was it scary? Yes. Did my parents, friends, co-workers question why I was leaving my job because I was invested in IPERS? Yes. Did everyone understand?  No. Did they think I was crazy? Probably. However, God was preparing me for this journey long before April. During this last year, I kept telling my former supervisor that a change was coming, I could feel it. I kept hearing God say, “Be still and know that I AM.” I have never been a supervisor of a staff before. I’ve supervised criminals but I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be the same experience...(As a side note, I used to be a substitute teacher. After teaching kindergarteners for one day, I decided I would rather teach criminals over kindergarteners any I went into law teachers have my utmost respect for what you do...)

Enough about me. I want to dedicate this article to my staff and recognize them. They are down in the trenches day in and day out, running our survivors to appointments, diffusing triggering situations, taking phone calls, answering emails, planning activities, planning programming and attending meetings. They do so much and I want to share what their talents are. They all have a variety of special gifts that the Lord has given them. I just want to recognize them each as individuals whom God has chosen for His mission at Wings. (As a side note, they are in no particular order as a favorite child may be……)

Josie is our life skills and fitness coach. I am learning from her on how to eat healthier and the importance of drinking water--just one of the many perks of working for Wings.  I need to give kudos to her parents, as she knows the Word of God and is very grounded.   

Brandi is our spiritual development and celebrations leader. She sets up our devotions and makes sure that our women learn about Jesus and His love for them.  

Brandi has such a soft spoken personality and has been in the trenches since Wings opened.  She knows what has worked and what has not worked throughout the years.  

Julie is our “teacher”. She teaches groups on media literacy, boundaries, etc. She greets me usually on Mondays or Tuesdays and has taught me the importance of self care. She is organized and things don’t generally slip by her.

Kelly is our weekend warrior and wellness coach. She is also our meal planning coordinator and on our development team. Kelly has such a genuine love for our women.  She can see things from a different perspective than I and I love that. I can see the whole picture of trauma through her eyes in the way that she explains things. She is so good with words.

Kathy is our medication management expert and heads up our equine therapy group.  She has such a love and understanding of horses. Therefore, our women get to be involved in activities with horses that promote human physical and mental health in persons suffering from ADD, anxiety, depression, etc.  

Whitney is in charge of our social enterprise group and is an expert when it comes to downloading useful apps on our phones. She holds a plethora of useful information and her love for Jesus shines throughout her interactions with our participants.  

Rachel (Last but not least)...She is our life saver. She fills in when we need her and goes on outings with our survivors. Rachel is such a joy to be around. Always smiling.  There are always people in every office who are cold, even in the summertime. Rachel is that person. I thought I was the only one and now I have a partner to share my love of space heaters.

The one thing that I have noticed that is similar with law enforcement and ministry is this:  

There is secondary trauma. As a parole officer, I specialized in supervising sex offenders.  There were painful images, horrific stories, police records and victim statements that I had access to. I spoke to family members of my clients and to the victims. I started off wanting to “save” my clients. I quickly learned that was not my job. They had choices...Here is where it became tricky...My job was to supervise and report any violations to the courts. However, my other job (as I knew it) was to plant seeds where I could...and so I did...

The same can be said for the staff at Wings. They hear survivor’s stories and wonder how someone could be so evil. Those words don’t escape them. They are ingrained in the minds of Josie, Brandi, Julie, Kelly, Kathy, Whitney and Rachel. They grieve when a survivor has a set back. They see images of children who have been affected by human trafficking. These children did not ask to be placed in this situation. They hear phone calls that are difficult at times. They attend doctor’s appointments with our survivors and see the aftermath that trauma caused on one’s body. And, I know that they sometimes second guess themselves.  This is all secondary trauma and the real reason for this article is to raise awareness. While my staff does a phenomenal job of guiding these survivors and administering God’s truth to them, I want my staff to know that they are just as important. Josie, Brandi, Julie, Kelly, Kathy, Whitney, and Rachel: It is important to take care of yourself and each other (I know I’m preaching to the choir, as I have been sick for the past month and you have made sure to take care of me). Statistics show that life expectancies for law enforcement are cut short due to the trauma and violence they see on the job, as they can live in a constant state of stress and anxiety. I tried to find statistics on advocates who deal with survivors of human trafficking but I couldn’t. I apologize. It’s still important to be aware of this statistic, as you all handle stress and anxiety on a daily basis as well. For anyone else wondering, some other signs of secondary trauma may include the following: exhaustion, insomnia, headaches, increased susceptibility to illness, sore back/neck, irritable bowel, GI distress, rashes, breakouts, grinding teeth at night, heart palpitations, hypochondria, paranoia, anger/irritability, avoidance of people, impaired ability to make decisions, cynicism at work, and depersonalization. If you’d like to know more about secondary trauma, just google “Warning signs of Vicarious Trauma/Secondary traumatic Stress and Compassion Fatigue.”

For those of you reading this article, thank you for taking your time to listen. Please pray for my staff. Please pray for me as well, as I try to lead them the best way I know how….

I want to leave you all with this but especially my staff, the precious, unique souls of each of you whom God has selected to be in this position.

“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” - Deuteronomy 31:8

“Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.”  - Hebrews 10:24

“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” - Ephesians 4:32  ***Also, forgive yourself. It’s ok to fail your way to success.

by Kristen Ruppel

Programming Director


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