An interview with Agustina Eiff, Director of Clinical Services at King County Sexual Assault Resource Center

By Hannah Dobes and Rushil Gadamshetty
University of Washington-Bothell School of Business

Content warning: this piece discusses mental health conditions as a result of experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault.

On a bright evening, we met Ms. Agustina Eiff, Director of Clinical Services at the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, for the first time as she politely knocked and walked into our classroom. Ms. Eiff was professionally dressed and elegantly entered the room with a big smile on her face, excited to meet and educate us about the importance of mental health and ways to prevent sexual violence in our communities.

As she was trying to navigate through the classroom and asking where to sit, our professor directed her towards the front of the class facing the students and asked us to move closer. Ms. Eiff shared with us why she is so passionate about King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KSARC).

What inspired you to work in this profession?

AE: I have a degree in social work. I’m a proud Husky. So, in social work, you can choose a track- there’s mental health, health-community based, and policy and administration [and my specialization is policy and administration and public policy…] but I would come home crying because it was like, we’re not making change for anyone…I’m not changing anyone’s life]

I set out to do policy work, but realized that was not the fit for me. A friend called me and said KCSARC is looking for a bilingual therapist and they cannot find one, so they’re willing to take a student… [A]nd was like “yes, please take me”…[a]nd they took me and I never left. They [KCSARC] really needed a bilingual therapist. I ended up finding my true calling there.

In what ways does the KCSARC engage with the broader mental health community in King County to advocate for improved services and support for survivors? Is there any way to spearhead and raise more money/resources? 

AE: We try to play well with [other community welfare organizations]. We are a specialty clinic, which means that we do very trauma-focused work and short-term services. So we engage with other mental health agencies, especially community based. The main way we engage is in this cross-referral process. Also for continuing care, someone may come to us for the same sexual assault nurse examiner and then we’ll refer them to [one of the other organizations that] they’ve done the treatment with us. We refer them to other mental health services and organizations.

How does the center ensure that its mental health services are accessible and inclusive for survivors from diverse backgrounds, including those with limited financial resources or language barriers?

AE: In terms of immigrant communities, about one-third of our clients are either immigrants themselves or children of immigrants. We work the most with the Latinx community because we’re based in South King County, and there was a large immigrant population, mostly Hispanic. And from there, we try to go to the community so that they get to know us.

We take insurance for all of our mental health services [such as anxiety, depression, sexual violence trauma, etc]. If they have Medicaid, we’ll take it. If they don’t have any type of insurance, we’ll still see them if they want to pay from their pocket. If they can’t [afford to], we’ll still service them.

How does the organization address the needs of immigrants and marginalized communities and cater for their mental health needs, who have experienced sexual assault?

AE: I do a lot of outreach to Latinx organizations because a significant number of our staff are bilingual and bicultural. So we visit a lot with you know, folks who are at an increased risk of of suffering some form of sexual violence while being disempowered to seek service and support like hotel workers folks who work in cleaning and food services, that type of the tabling events in the climate.

How do you address the long-term effects of sexual violence on survivors’ mental health and overall well-being?

AE: Sexual violence happens on a spectrum. Lots of people do recover from traumatic events, in fact, a majority do. Of those who continue to struggle, not everyone will develop PTSD. The most common disorder after trauma is depression, followed by PTSD. Anxiety, another part of PTSD also co-exists with depression. Some things can be resolved, others may linger and need support. In terms of physical outcomes, those who suffer abuse in childhood tend to have poor health outcomes.

Sometimes [the trauma someone suffered in their childhood] shapes the way a person exists in the world. Some things can be treated, …[s]ome things can be resolved, but others kind of linger] so it depends on the severity. The research shows that those who suffered abuse in childhood, especially if it was early on, tend to have poorer health outcomes. So in cases like that, patients need more support and care.

Does the KCSARC offer specialized mental health support for survivors who may be dealing with recurring mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression?

AE: We tend to offer short-term treatment. We connect them to others if needing longer or recurring treatments. Most cases of anxiety and depression can be resolved. Chronic ones may need more support. Our goal is to help them resolve anxiety and depression.

What are some of the ways to prevent long term post-traumatic stress disorder?

AE: The most common outcome after trauma tends to be recovery. However, for people who have experienced traumatic events or other mental health challenges, there’s overwhelming research that shows that [people who have access to social support fare] have a higher chance of them being okay and recovering.

You need to have contact with a human…[s]ocial connection and return [to] physiological baseline. [You want] someone that helps make sure you’re eating, taking your meds, sleeping or trying to rest, trying to not deviate too much from your sense of normalcy. So if something terrible happens and you need to stay in a dark room, you may need that, for a little bit. But as soon as possible, is there someone in your community who can pull your curtains, pour you a cup of tea, or hold your hand while you watch every season of The Office? When it comes to interpersonal violence, a traumatic event really shatters our sense of shared humanity. So, knowing that there’s someone next to you who can restore that faith in humanity strongly prevents PTSD.

 As the director of clinical services, Ms. Eiff focuses on providing clinical supervision to therapists, meeting with clients, and collaboratively making sure that she is providing culturally competent services that are helpful and effective. Ms. Eiff is dedicated to serving those who have experienced trauma, especially in historically marginalized communities and households, and advocates for mental health resources and awareness. As a bilingual therapist at KCSARC, she aspires to provide a safe, non-judgmental space for her clients who may live with a variety of mental health conditions resulting from experiencing sexual assault and/or other forms of violence. Ms. Eiff’s interview shed light to us on existing issues surrounding mental health and trauma that severely affects our local communities affected by sexual assault and other violence We were really inspired by Ms. Eiff’s commitment for the cause.

KCSARC is a non-profit organization serving survivors of sexual assault in King County, Washington. For more information, visit their KCSARC website or donate if you want to support the cause). For more generalized information about mental health and supporting educational pieces like this one, please feel free to visit NAMI Seattle or donate.

This interview has been condensed for content and clarity. Our team would like to thank Erik Echols of the University of Washington Bothell Writing Center for his valuable feedback.