Many times after a disaster or tragedy is covered people will begin to receive phone calls, or see people collecting funds on street corners and it’s become a sad reality that people with kind hearts who truly want to help others in their suffering have to be careful not to allow their better natures to be taken advantage of by people who are willing to wrap themselves in the suffering of other people in order to benefit themselves financially. While this is probably the best known pitfall for people to be wary of, it is by no means the only one.
Victim’s Advocacy Groups are attractive at times as cover for people who are the very ones that are victimizing others! It provides narcissistic manipulators and similar personality types, the opportunity to have exposure, control and influence with others who assume that their actions and motives are driven by their stated purpose. It also provides these types of personalities the opportunity to have access to those who have been victimized, are vulnerable and who lack power to stand against the agenda or needs and desires that these abusers bring with them in their interactions. The abuse can come in the same form as the original abuse those victims suffered before, or it can be a more subtle form of abuse that takes the vulnerable state of that victim and then uses them and their cause to meet the needs of the Advocate/Abuser.
These are some things that I’ve observed over several years in the past that are important for victims who are seeking help as well as for people who look to provide support in any form to an organization, financial, volunteer or listening to the communications that are made on behalf of “victims” by groups that claim to be representing and helping them.
Beware of Lone Wolves
Legitimate Victim’s Advocate Groups are not solo operations. There is either a board or a group of volunteers who bring with them various skill sets and professional qualifications and experiences and they are willing to allow their names to stand publicly along with their reputations as assurance to the community that they are personally invested in seeing that the actions and operations of that group are held to the highest level with a commitment to transparency and integrity. Checks and balances are built into the organization so that those who come to them who are weak and vulnerable are treated with the highest level of integrity and openness to assure that they will not be further victimized.
“Organizations” that exist in name only with only one person who is doing all the talking, receiving all the communications and providing all the assurances that everything is being done properly are highly suspect. Without public disclosure of a group of qualified persons there is no reasonable assurance that finances are being applied properly, victims are being treated with respect and multiple opinions employed in terms of providing resources and making referrals to counselors and attorneys. Often times, solo operations may simply serve as a front for one individual who makes referrals to other professionals who in turn then make a “donation” back to the “organization” in what in effect becomes a de facto “kick back” arrangement to funnel business in this manner. In worse situations, this strong figure who assumes the collective voices of nameless victims, then may use their victim status to promote their own agenda. Such toxic leaders may have had failures within past organizations to validate their strong belief that they are meant to lead and control and so in order to compensate for this strong driven need in their lives they seek out those who are weak and helpless in the guise of providing them with teaching, resources and organization but those who are reached out to in this manner remain hidden in the background with no real power, no real role other than to rubber stamp the agenda of the sole leader, and in this manner their victim status is institutionalized and perpetually maintained in order to continue to meet the needs of the strong central leader who maintains all public roles and exposure in order to feed their own ego and need for power.
Beware of Hidden Agendas
Often organizations are set up as a response to the founder’s own prior failures or rejections. This can be true in religious based organizations especially just as one example. If a strongly driven person with a need for power and influence to validate themselves is rejected in a local church or other organization, and in some extremes even cast out or excommunicated, they will often then use their abilities to form their own organization but they’ll do it in a manner that places them in the center of all the operations and provides them with all the power. They may go to great lengths to provide the appearance of others collaborating with them, but they will refer to positions rather than named individuals who are represented as providing specific input to the operation of the organization. Look carefully at the public actions of the organization in their communications such as news releases, websites and blogs or their attempts to get their message to those who are outside. It’s not uncommon for such narcissistic or toxic leaders to use the platform of their new organizations to try to exact revenge upon their former organizations or individuals whom they perceive as having stood in the way of what was their perceived right to lead and participate in their old organizations before they were rebuffed.
Look for Critics to be Accused of Ulterior Motives
Toxic leaders and Narcissistic personalities who gravitate toward Victim’s Organizations are masters of making emotional, irrational accusations toward those who oppose them or who attempt to point out the problems with their organizations or methods. Instead of addressing the issues that are brought up, the whistle-blowers are accused of any manner of general ad hominem motives such as racism, sexism, and/or seeking to persecute victims and empower their oppressors. This becomes the sheepskin that the wolf wraps themselves in to preserve their image, power and provide them with a means to discount any who oppose them. A reputable organization has multiple people to whom questions and issues can be addressed so that any one person is not allowed to become the sole face and voice in which their own personal identity is enmeshed but then hidden. When the primary focus of the organization and communications becomes maintaining the personal image and power of the Abuser/Advocate instead of other people coming forward to provide information and provide accountability and disclosure then that is a blaring warning signal that the focus of attention is not the cause of the claimed victims but rather the image of the central Advocate/Abuser.
Toxic Leaders Often Seek the Weakest to Cloak Their Activities
The weakest in our society are the most vulnerable not only for abusers in general but crafty abusers will often place themselves in positions where they can target and organize those who are weakest in contexts such as Prison Ministries, Sexual Abuse Advocacy, Half-Way Houses, and they may even use their positions of power to provide work through their organization at cut-rates or minimum wages which in turn are used to benefit themselves through the improvement of their own homes, their own business and entrepreneurial endeavors which the central Abuser/Advocate then personally profit by while being able to mask their activities by claiming they are “charitable.” By creating dependency upon themselves they can use this web of power as well to manipulate those who become dependent upon them to promote other agendas such as claimed religious networks, and put these people in positions of “power” in the background where they follow the “suggestions” of the Abuser/Advocate without question because to fail to do so will result in their losing the minimal security they are receiving.
Steps You Can Take to Identify Advocate/Abusers and Their Organizations
1. Do Your Homework – Check the History of the Organization and the Person who is the Only Identified Leader.
2. Create a Coalition – Find Others Within the Organization Who are at Risk and Questioning as well as Others Who have been in It and Share your Concerns.
3. Avoid Solo Confrontations – Manipulative Abusers Thrive on Secrecy and the Ability to Misrepresent Things. Have witnesses.
Resources To Help Identify These Types of Organizations and Toxic Leaders
Among the Wolves Abusers, Liars & Other Mayhem in Victim Advocacy Groups – A Website the Addresses this issue.
Article: The Allure of Toxic Leaders: Why Followers Rarely Escape Their Clutches – A Good Article Explaining the Dynamics of Toxic Leadership
About the Author: Bart Breen is a Former Pastor and District Worker in an Evangelical Denomination who has worked in the past with researching and helping to manage abusive situations in local churches. He is currently a Specialist Senior with a Big 4 Consulting Company in the Washington DC area and specializes in Project Management, Grants Management, Change Management and Transformational and Servant Leadership. He has done Master of Science level studies on Organizational Leadership and has an ongoing interest in this area of study.
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