MSW student helps gives voice to women and girls through "SERVE"-ing

By Corrine Moore
December 19, 2018
Sarah Burwell_2018
“The SERVE Project resonated with my core values that include uplifting and empowering women in our society to become the best versions on themselves. I am passionate about being an advocate and giving a voice to women and girls who might not otherwise have one.”

MSW student Sarah Burwell is a research assistant for the SERVE Project, a grant which seeks to Support, Encourage, Respect, Value, and Empower women and girls. The SERVE project is dedicated to learning how to best serve women and children who have undergone traumatic events.

Sarah currently interns at the Children’s Assessment Center of Houston (CAC), where she educates non-offending caregivers of sexually abused children by providing useful knowledge and support to aid the recovery of sexually abused women and children.

“The goal of the center is to address child sexual abuse in the Harris County community and approach the children and families with understanding and compassion,” she explained.

Sarah believes social workers can better serve women and children who have been through trauma in three ways: researching the background of trauma among women and children and how it affects society, implementing trauma-informed training to social workers, and advocating against misinformation regarding trauma and sexual abuse.

“Often, social workers are some of the first professionals to encounter a client, so their response and intervention is crucial. Becoming trauma-informed bolsters the social worker’s ability to intervene properly to prevent re-traumatizing the client,” she said.

Sarah’s passion for women’s issues stems from her desire to raise awareness about unjust sexist ideals women still fall victim to in today’s society.

“Aside from the real lived experiences women and girls verbalize, research has proven time and time again there are still significant obstacles they face in this country. My hope is that one day these issues will no longer be as prevalent,” she stated.

Sarah also stressed the importance of raising awareness about sexual assault as exemplified in the #MeToo movement, because this partition opened up a dialogue among women about sexual abuse that previously seemed forbidden.
Often, social workers are some of the first professionals to encounter a client, so their response and intervention is crucial. Becoming trauma-informed bolsters the social worker’s ability to intervene properly to prevent re-traumatizing the client.

She went on to explain how the majority of caregivers who visit the CAC are usually given little to no information about sexual abuse. This leads to confusion because the caregiver has trouble understanding how or why this could happen to their child and perpetuates underreporting.

“A majority of cases are delayed outcries, meaning the child does not disclose until months or years later. This confusion surrounding sexual abuse is too common in our society, regardless of whether the survivor is a child or adult, and the stigma experienced by this population can be detrimental,” she stated.

This year, Sarah hopes to gain important information regarding research and practice outcomes, to aid non-offending caregivers through crisis intervention, and to understand the dynamics of child sexual abuse and its effects on the entire family.

“I never have to wonder if the work I am doing is meaningful or worth my time. I know that every time I go into work, I am making a difference for someone who is in one of the worst points in his or her life,” Sarah explained. “I have the opportunity to interact and meet some of the most inspiring, diverse, and resilient people who share my passion for social work. In short, it feels good to do good.”

Photo by Sarah Burwell.
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