By: Rachel Grider, Robert Stigile, and Miss Ruth Williams
Disclaimer: For the purposes of these posts, the term “survivor” will be used to define a person who has been harmed. The term “transgressor” will be used to define a person who has done harm.
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) defines a survivor as someone who has experienced pain through violence, abuse, or misconduct of any kind (including, but not limited to, physical/sexual/psychological abuse, harassment, or assault) and may continue to live with trauma as a result.
Survivors often find it extremely scary and uncomfortable to talk about these experiences, as they may fear that their story will not be believed or that they will be blamed, stereotyped, or blacklisted. In addition, reliving trauma can trigger panic, depression, and a myriad of other negative feelings.
When a survivor comes to you to share their story, it is important to listen in a nonjudgmental way, remind them that they are not to blame for what happened to them, and to offer your support. According to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the most important thing you can do for a survivor is to believe them. Phrases like “It’s not your fault,” “You’re not alone,” and “This shouldn’t have happened to you” can go a long way in helping a survivor feel validated.
In some cases, it may be appropriate to encourage them to go to a service provider to help them move forward. Offer continued support by checking in with them periodically, and encourage them in their healing process. Understand that the survivor’s pain may never fully go away.
Validation is one of the best gifts you can give to a survivor. It can be a first step in the healing process. Your belief may play an essential role in helping the survivor to move forward with hope, determination, and confidence. Showing up and standing by as an ally is a meaningful manifestation of support for survivors. Healing is a collaborative and continuous process. Over time, all of our voices together can change the conversation — and the culture — in a powerful, positive way.
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