When people make decisions that greatly improve the wellbeing of women and children who have experienced sexual or domestic violence, I feel we are getting somewhere as a community.
Jackie Burke, the Clinical Director of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, is responsible for five counselling services as well as research and training projects. She also plays a role in business development. The primary focus of her work has been the consultation and research into vicarious trauma, the potentially severe impact on staff of working with trauma victims. This has revealed that there are effective ways to manage vicarious trauma and that doing so produces benefits in terms of staff wellbeing, attrition rates, productivity, quality of work, unplanned absence and workers’ compensation. Jackie has spent the last 12 years supervising counsellors who work with victims of interpersonal trauma (sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect). She has discovered that it is cheaper to manage vicarious trauma than to overlook it – and has found it rewarding to identify ways to help other organisations implement effective vicarious trauma management programs for their staff. Jackie believes it is vital for Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia to operate to maximum effect for those who need its support.
Jackie was born in Wales where at least three generations of women in her family were ‘troubled but not stymied by male privilege’. While there was a legacy of feminism in her family, Jackie says, ‘Even though my mother, my grandmother and my auntie have all been feminist in their values and actions, I don’t believe they would have used the “f” word.’ Jackie attended primary school at a small town school in the Cotswolds, then secondary school at Pate’s Grammar School for Girls in Cheltenham. After leaving school she emigrated to Australia, where she first studied Chinese medicine and yoga. At the age of 24 she opened a business in Darwin, treating patients, teaching yoga, and training practitioners. She then moved to NSW and embarked upon further study, earning an honours degree in psychology from the University of New England, also completing post-graduate qualifications in counselling. In her second year she was accepted into the Golden Key International Honours Society, an organisation providing recognition and assistance for students in the top 15 per cent of their field of study.
Jackie then returned to Darwin and worked as a counsellor for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. This happened by chance because there were limited jobs available at the time. The work suited her philosophy and values, and she soon realised that she had a different perspective to most people. She perceived that a natural reluctance to come face to face with abomination, human cruelty and intense suffering tends to lead to avoidance, almost a denial of these things, that people seem to feel that their own safety is compromised in some way. And yet at the same time she recognised that their existence should be acknowledged if they were to be prevented. Jackie’s decision to work in this area defined the direction of her career, her life path.
After many years’ experience in counselling, supervising and supporting other counsellors, in 2007 Jackie’s work was recognised when the NSW Work Cover Award for Best Solution to an Identified Workplace Issue was bestowed on the NSW Rape Crisis Centre Vicarious Trauma Management Program. She received funding to continue research into the effective management of vicarious trauma. She has also been invited to provide many keynote addresses at conferences throughout Australia on the topics of psychological injury in the workplace and vicarious trauma. Jackie also advises government and community sector organisations, assisting them to develop effective management practices regarding vicarious trauma.
Jackie believes that it would be enormously beneficial if more professionals, such as the judiciary, medical practitioners and counsellors, understood better that violence against women is one of the most serious causes and consequences of inequality, and one of the key determinants for women at risk of poverty and disadvantage. Greater awareness would facilitate better decisions. At the same time, however, Jackie considers that the quality of media coverage is progressing, stimulating public debate and understanding. Law reform has improved and each year knowledge about best practice therapy is growing, particularly insight into the most effective path of recovery for individuals.
‘In the end, though, we need to stop it! We need to get much, much better at primary and secondary prevention!’ These words demonstrate the strength of Jackie Burke’s conviction, and reflect the energy with which she has worked and is working to end violence against women and children who have experienced sexual or domestic violence.