Weaving a healing network to empower survivors of sexual trauma
“There is no question that Rachel Monaco-Wilcox is driven with the spirit and passion to help survivors of domestic violence, rape and trafficking.” Those words open Ann Angel’s nomination of Rachel for our 2019 Woman of Faith Award.
As an English professor at Milwaukee’s Mount Mary University, Ann collaborated with Rachel to launch the Untold Stories Program. It started as a two-day writing workshop for survivors to share their experiences to find healing. Over time it has also helped change cultural attitudes and strengthen laws to protect — rather than punish — survivors.
Rachel also secured humanities grants and worked with local art students to illustrate survivor stories. For the last five years, Untold Stories workshops have helped survivors draw strength and healing from their personal testimony. Still, Ann says, Rachel believed she could do more.
Rachel’s “more” was founding LOTUS Legal Clinic, where she serves as chief executive officer. Her law profession colleagues volunteer their time, offering trauma-informed legal services to victims of human trafficking and gender-based violence.
Austin Reece joined the LOTUS staff in 2018 and now directs Untold Stories. Together, he and Rachel have facilitated writing workshops, organized art shows and poetry readings, edited Untold Stories Magazine, and accompanied survivors to the National Crime Victim’s Rights Ceremony in Washington, D.C.
“Her work is a calling,” Austin says, “and the daily substance of her work is embodied in empathy and a genuine human connection with the vulnerable and disenfranchised. Her work informs her character and her character colors every aspect of her work.”
Rachel opens every meeting at LOTUS with a prayer or spiritual poem. Austin says, “It centers and grounds our difficult, yet important work that demands nothing less than passion—because they’re worth it and because the Christian faith commands and inspires it.”
Rachel taught Dr. Emily Nolan when she was earning her doctorate of art therapy at Mount Mary. “I was impressed with the way Rachel interacted with her students, teaching conflict management from a very compassionate heart and making lasting connections with her students.” For Emily, that lasting connection is now the art therapy component to Untold Stories.
“Art therapy helps to further witness survivors’ stories and build empathy,” says Emily, now an assistant professor at Mount Mary. She says Rachel’s mission is growing with plans to offer Untold Stories workshops nationally in the coming year.
“Rachel and I have a collaborative working relationship that supports Untold Stories, Mount Mary’s graduate art therapy program, and survivors of sex trafficking and sexual abuse.” From that relationship, Rachel has also helped advocate for state licensure of art therapists to qualify their services for insurance reimbursement.
As chair of Mount Mary’s Counseling Department, Dr. Carrie King also works with Rachel on projects related to healing trauma. Carrie says Rachel’s personal experiences and faith inspire her to serve the most vulnerable in our society.
“Rachel possesses high-level awareness of the support survivors need and makes every effort to care for each individual.” Carrie says Rachel shares her acuity with mental health providers and legal advocates to help them apply research-based principles of trauma-informed care to their work. Helping counselors understand why a survivor’s story might change, Rachel guides them to compassionately work with that phenomenon. She also encourages collaboration among legal and counseling professionals to improve client outcomes.
Carrie closes her letter of support for Rachel’s nomination with this tribute:
These snapshots of what Rachel has done and what is in her heart have inspired me to give more of myself to the greater good. She has opened my eyes to new ways to care for those who experience shame, fear and insecurity. If ever there was a Woman of Faith whom I can identify with and look up to, it is Rachel.
Learn more about LOTUS at lotuslegal.org
Please join us when we honor Rachel on Thursday, September 26, 2019, 7:00 p.m.RSVP for this free event