Compassion Fatigue – Is it Hurting Outreach Programs?

I have worked with an outreach program based in the Chicago area for the past seven years. We are incorporated as a 501(c3) organization for charitable work rather than as a religious organization, which gives us a little more latitude, though we are faith-based. We do a lot of child abuse prevention workshops in secular and religious organizations, we mentor abuse survivors, provide organizational stress awareness and reduction workshops, work with directors and staff of other non-profit organizations, have a web magazine and blog, etc. We recently received a grant which will enable us, among other things, to open a furniture bank for families in need in Northwest Indiana.

However, our goal for several years now has been to open transitional living facilities for women or women with children, and children’s homes. The need is astronomical. The need nationally is profoundly under-addressed. In that area of the country it is completely unaddressed. The minute we open, we will not only be full, but we will have a waiting list.

National and state grants and aid are being cut. The money is not available. Existing programs around the country are being closed. Programs which have been operating for many years on donations and grants are closing their doors.

By the end of the evening yesterday, I had just had one of “those” days. I really care about you folks. That’s not a bad thing! 😉 I realized after I typed it what that sounded like! LOL!

But, there are two pastor sex abuse allegation cases heading to trial right now where pastor-supporters and alleged-victim-supporters are posting here and I can see and feel the pain that is happening in each of your lives. That’s one of the reasons why I have this blog. This pain would be happening in silence otherwise. And this really matters. It matters to the whole church. The whole church should be feeling your pain because in reality this is hurting the whole church. We are, after all, one body.

Also there were three new-to-me clergy sex abuse cases in the news yesterday. Two of them are cases of definite guilt. One has already been convicted; and the police have abundant evidence to support multiple counts, with more coming for the second. Even though I have seen this for many years, every new case is a blow. I wonder if that’s the way Jesus feels about it. I’m sure He has not become enured to the pain of this defilement of both His children and of His image.

So I was feeling a bit dejected. I wrote the director of New Hope about it. When she wrote back she mentioned “compassion fatigue.” This was a new term to me. But she suggested it may also be why we are having serious difficulty funding our work.

“Compassion fatigue, also known as a Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a term that refers to a gradual lessening of compassion over time…The media has been blamed for causing wide spread compassion fatigue in society. Proponents argue that the media’s saturation of images and stories of suffering has caused the public to become cynical, or become resistant to helping.”

We are finding that even when attempting to find investors who will earn significant returns on their investment, people are not willing to help a worthy cause. We have found legitimate ways that people do not even have to give up a penny, but will instead make money in short-term investments — but they are still unwilling to help. People are tired of hearing about domestic violence, abused children, and women living on the streets in their cars and being raped at night. They just don’t care anymore. Not even when we show them the exact statistics and show them the news stories. The subject is depressing; they don’t want to have to think about that.

It is compassion fatigue. The director of New Hope suggested the Bible calls it being “without natural affection” – something God says will be an issue in the last days (Rom. 1:31, II Tim. 3:3).

What is the answer? I have no idea. I’m asking God that question because we have hundreds of hurting women and children literally dying for answers.