I began my Master’s in Social Work at the University of Southern California in January of 2021 where I was introduced to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics. One ethical principle stood out to me in this document: dignity and worth of the person. The Code of Ethics defines this principle as the responsibility of the trained professional to treat all clients as individuals who hold value and deserve respect regardless of circumstance.
I interpret this as a commitment to women everywhere who have endured gendered violence and make difficult decisions as a direct result.
A commitment to women
Women, especially those who are living through sexual trauma, need validation and respect for their unique circumstances. One of my course readings discussed a woman diagnosed with a Cluster B personality disorder who pursued a career in prostitution in an attempt to escape poverty. When the social worker effectively socialized her history leading to her diagnosis of Cluster B personality disorder, Ms. M gained awareness of how she had acted as either the victim or the perpetrator in previous experiences. Instead of solely blaming herself or her genetics for her problems, she began to understand how her status as a poor woman ultimately led her to prostitution and created some of the characteristics associated with her diagnosis (Barkley, 2009, p. 345).
Social worker approach
The role of social workers has some distinguishing factors from other professionals in the mental health space. For instance, the goal is not necessarily to diagnose but to determine the unique situation of the client (Greene, 2008, p. 228). Part of this assessment includes determining what Systems Theory calls a “goodness of fit,” to better determine the relationship between the client and their environment (Robbins et al., 2019, p. 55). Often, women who endure sexual abuse are not safe in their natural environments.
Therefore, it is our job as social workers to help these women find safety. To do this, we must respect the privacy of each individual and their right to their own story. As outlined in the NASW Code of Ethics, respecting the privacy of a client’s information is of utmost importance. To maintain confidentiality, a social worker must not share client information with others without their client’s expressed consent, except for when they may pose harm to themselves or others. While there are ethical considerations for every case, clients deserve the right to ownership and the right to disclose their truths. Thus, women deserve to decide when and where to share their stories.
As a Master’s in Social Work student, I am committed to honoring the Dignity and Worth of the Person. Women living through gendered violence respond in different ways. And each response reflects a larger patriarchal problem in our society. I am committed to helping women understand this system of oppression. Together, we can navigate through abuse, male-dominated work environments, and all the other threats sexism poses to our very existence. It’s clear that when we look out for one another, we open doors we didn’t even know existed.
Barkley, J. (2009). Biopsychosocial assessment: Why the biopsychic and rarely the social? Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,18(4), 344–347.
Greene, R. (2008). Ecological perspective: An eclectic theoretical framework for social work practice. In R. Greene (Ed.), Human behavior theory and social work practice (3rd ed) (pp. 199–235). Aldine Transaction.
National Association of Social Workers. (n.d.). Code of ethics. https://www.socialworkers.org/About/Ethics/Code-of-Ethics/Code-of-EthicsEnglish
Robbins, S. P., Chatterjee, P., Canda, E. R., & Leibowitz, G.S. (2019). Contemporary human behavior theory: A critical perspective for social work practice (4th ed.). Pearson.
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