Now more than ever, it's important for us to be in community with one another. While many of us may be struggling with social distancing and a natural sense of worry over current conditions, those who have experienced trauma must balance both personal trauma and the uncertainty of a global situation. We here at the Center are acutely aware of the unique challenges that survivors may be going through during this time of uncertainty.
Although our in-person services have been suspended due to COVID-19, we are turning SAAM into an online event to continue to raise awareness for survivors. Throughout the month, we will be focusing on three themes for SAAM: Empathy, Community, and Coping.
We often emphasize the importance of not just listening to survivors but listening without judgment. At the core of this skill is empathy. Empathy is essential in not only listening, but to then learn, believe, and act in the best interest of the survivor. But what is empathy?
It is the ability to understand and share someone else's feelings. You may not have a personal experience with sexual assault, but you can put yourself in another person's shoes and understand the pain, confusion, anger, and sadness that can happen. Listening with empathy is not about victim-blaming or doubting their experience. If someone felt as though they were violated in some way, then their experience is always valid. As advocates, our job is not to investigate or provide our own opinion on the matter, but to be a support system for someone who has been through something incredibly traumatic. When a friend or loved one shares something difficult with you, they are mostly looking for someone to listen.
Struggling with empathy? Try some of these statements.
As Brené Brown puts it, empathy fuels connection. We cannot even begin to connect with each other if we don't show empathy for other people. Advocating for others isn’t a one-way street where you do something good for someone and then you both go about your way. When you’ve touched someone’s life in a positive way, you feel connected to them, no matter how short you may have interacted with them; it’s a bonding experience. Connection, as a result, builds community.
And as a community, we must all work together to combat sexual assault. The wonderful thing about community is that we are all built of different strengths that can contribute to ending sexual violence.
Don't feel comfortable with direct service? Consider sharing resources and information with others about sexual assault. Not great at behind-the-scenes work? Consider signing up for a crisis hotline or volunteering at a support group?
There are a number of ways to help out so that you feel not only comfortable but fulfilled in the work that you are doing. It's important for everyone to show support survivors, and if we do not know anyone who has not been directly or indirectly affected, then we need to learn how to be an ally for others.
These are unprecedented times right now. We are all, as a community, searching for ways to cope with and understand what is happening in the world. It is essential to not only have healthy coping mechanisms for the state of the world but also for the things happening in our personal lives. This goes for both survivors and those who support survivors. We know that survivors of sexual assault experience varying degrees of traumatic stress.
Family, friends, and colleagues of people who have experienced abuse can struggle with distressing feelings, shock, and grief. The support professionals who routinely come in contact with trauma and suffering as part of their work lives are also affected. Regular interaction with trauma can take a toll on those charged with supporting others through difficult times or are somehow—directly or indirectly—working to end hardship and suffering for others.
These effects are known as vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma happens when we accumulate and carry the stories of trauma—including images, sounds, and resonant details—we have heard, which then come to inform our worldview (Joyful Heart Foundation).
Throughout the month, we will be sharing coping strategies and self-care tips that may be beneficial to anyone dealing with trauma.
We hope that you'll join us through sharing posts, engaging online, and continuing to advocate for sexual assault survivors in whatever way is best.