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How to Use Victims/Survivors Voices in Meaningful Ways

Guest Post by SVJI Intern: Nikki Hanto

Last week we looked at strategies to effectively incorporate victims’/survivors’ voices on a Sexual Assault Response Team. We will now look at how to best work with victims/survivors in this capacity and other principles for the team to consider. It is important to keep the principles of working with victims/survivors in mind in order to create a safe space and avoid re-traumatizing victims/survivors.

  1. Trauma informed– while this phrase has meanings to different people, the big picture is to recognize that victims/survivors have experienced a traumatic event, their responses to that trauma are varied, and we must accommodate the needs of victims/survivors. Remember, all responses are valid and service providers must take actions to thoughtfully respond to and prevent re-traumatization. Your active steps will best support those victims/survivors who are helping the SART in better serving all victims/survivors.
  2. Power and control– sexual violence is frequently about power and control. When requesting the participation of victims/survivors on a team, it is important to be keenly aware of and take steps to manage the power and control dynamics. There is positional power that is inherent in this relationship and teams must account for power issues, especially when it comes to social identities such as race, gender, class, sex, sexual orientation, etc. Teams should consider the context of victims/survivors social identities and their own as well. Another aspect of power and control is the victims/survivors potential feelings of “owing” something to those who have provided services. Be clear that victims/survivors are under no obligation to participate and their voluntary participation will have no consequences on the services they receive.
  3. Compensation– Victims/survivors have no obligation to participate or provide input with a SART. That being said, one study showed that there were a variety of reasons victims/survivors have participated in an in-person interview, which included to help other survivors (38%), to help themselves (34%), to support research on rape/sexual assault (25%), and to receive the $30 compensation offered (14%) (Campbell and Adams, 2009). While many were willing to participate for intrinsic reasons, financially compensating participants provides financial support and value to victims/survivors time as they allow us to hear and learn from their experiences.

When asking victims/survivors for participation, through any means, be aware of and take action to address how trauma may impact their experience, the power and control in the situation, and how they will be compensated for their participation. Each of these aspects will help make victim/survivor involvement more victim-centered and will best support the victim/survivor as they inform systems change efforts.

Campbell, R. and Adams, A.E. (2009). Why do rape survivors volunteer for face-to-face interviews?: A Meta-study of victims’ reasons for and concerns about research participation. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 24(3), 394-405).