Devaluation of Advocacy
One consequence of the increased involvement of Title IX officers and other campus responders to campus sexual assault was creating comparisons between Title IX compliance and advocacy work. Some advocates felt that their work was now more visible, and some equated visibility with value and respect, while others were less convinced about this effect. For example, one advocate shared, “We’re a lot more visible on campus in the past few years but . . . I don’t think our opinions are necessarily being asked for, so much as ‘oh we have that, it’s good, checkbox’.” Moylan (2017) similarly reported that victim advocates “do not carry the institutional prestige or decision-making capability . . . [and many] felt their voices were overshadowed by that of the lawyers . . .” (p. 1134).
The sense of being undervalued was shared by many, such as this advocate:
My lens is always about what we’re doing is helping students and helping the university, and so I want that same view from everyone—for them to look at our work and say “you know what? They are doing phenomenal work for us. We value what they do. We trust what they do.” There’s none of that.
In general, it seems that advocates did not feel that other campus providers/responders saw advocates as meeting the clear-cut societal need described by Wilensky (1964), Mosher (1968), and Ammons and King (1984). As one advocate described,
I think being taken seriously both as a person and as a profession is an ongoing challenge and we’ve been getting a lot of . . . pats on the head from the administration. . . . I feel like we’re valued on a really topical level but we aren’t really known. It’s not really understood, the work we’re doing, they just know that they need us and that we’re quote/unquote important.
One possible reason their work was not being valued or understood may be a result of formal notions of expertise, as suggested by one advocate: “There’s people all around and they don’t trust us even though we’re experts in this area and we’ve been there for years, and there’s a lack of trust because they just want to control every bit of the process.”
In fact, participants described how some of those entering the field of campus sexual assault response are selected based on their experience and credentials in nonadvocacy fields (e.g., attorneys and/or Title IX officers without experience in sexual assault or domestic violence), and that those who have these qualifications are in some cases favored over advocates who have been working in the advocacy field for many years. Not only do attorneys and Title IX officers often enjoy higher salaries and more prestige than advocates, they may not always adhere to the feminist ideologies upon which the field of advocacy was founded, leading to more negative outcomes for survivors, according to advocates:
Title IX has brought this air of quote/unquote experts, right? The law has involved itself into this field now on campuses so all these new Title IX positions and all the attorneys that are filling them and then all the attorneys that are now coming to hearings because they’re allowed on campus, it’s really changed the environment, I’d say, around it.
Overall, although the quality of relationships between advocates and others varied, positive relationships allowed advocates to feel more supported in their role and to feel their work was valued. In cases in which relationships with others were negative, advocates cited insufficient training and/or conflicting and competing goals, and devaluation related to questions of loyalty to social justice/activism and notions of expertise, as primary obstacles to better collaboration. Below we discuss the potential for professionalization to enhance campus advocates’ relationships and collaborations.