• biographical work;
  • identity;
  • domestic violence;
  • sexual assault

Advocates and counselors at agencies that assist victims of domestic violence and sexual assault argue that they are especially suited to help their clients develop safe and practical strategies to protect themselves from further abuse. Yet the backstage of these agencies can depict a reality of confusion, doubt, and sometimes fear—especially when clients’ cases do not go according to plan. Data collected from in-depth interviews and participant observation over fourteen months show how advocates and counselors engaged in “biographical work” (Gubrium and Holstein 2000) to construct coherent and consistent narratives as competent service providers in the aftermath of their clients’ unanticipated outcomes. Calling on different discursive strategies accessible to them according to their position within the agency, both groups were able to interpret negative results as beyond their responsibility. However, the counselor's rhetoric of “professionalism” proved more effective in this regard compared with the advocates’ “empowerment.”