Victim-survivors are ordinary, yet extraordinary individuals who have lived through some of life’s most challenging and traumatic events. These victim-survivors can emerge stronger and wiser as they possess the remarkable skills and courage required to overcome adversity, often navigating moments of their journey alone. However, as human beings, we are stronger when we walk together, and this is where survivor supporters come into play.
There is an essential role of survivor support and the right support can have a profound impact as a victim-survivor begins to shift from surviving to thriving. So let’s explore some key elements required for victim-survivors to receive ongoing support.
The Strength of Victim-Survivors: Victim survivors have already demonstrated their resilience and strength by navigating their lived experiences. They have not only survived but thrived in the face of trauma, this is a testament to their ongoing courage and persistence. This inner strength is often born out of necessity due to what they have been subjected to, but it is also a powerful force that can be harnessed and shared with others. In my experience, I have found the collective strength of victim-survivors to be the strongest foundation for survivor support. When victim-survivors speak up and stand up for themselves and their fellow survivors they create a community that is connected by lived experience. Adding their one voice to the choir of stories and creating an unmatched power of connection, empathy and allyship.
The Importance of Survivor Supporters: Survivor supporters play a pivotal role in the healing journey of survivors. The first step in being a positive supporter is to believe the victim-survivor, to listen when they share their lived experience and to walk beside them unconditionally. Survivor supporters can provide a crucial source of empathy, understanding, and companionship that can be transformative. However, the power and direction need to remain with the victim-survivor. Victim-survivors may be learning how to regain their power, strength and voice, by walking beside them, at their pace, they can benefit immensely from having a supportive network of individuals who genuinely care about their well-being.
Key Elements of Survivor Support
Empathy: Empathy is the cornerstone of survivor support. It involves understanding and sharing the feelings of survivors without judgment. There is no room for pity where empathy exists. Survivor supporters can create a safe space for victim-survivors to express their emotions and experiences openly when they lead with empathy.
Active Listening: Survivor supporters must be active listeners. They should give survivors their full attention, mindfully acknowledging their feelings and experiences. This act of listening is deep and at times may require patience and sitting in uncomfortable moments, this type of listening is not designed for people who are simply waiting to respond or fix. Active listening can be incredibly comforting when done with intention.
Respect for Autonomy: While offering support, it’s essential to respect the victim-survivor’s autonomy. Victim survivors should be encouraged to make independent choices about their healing journey and have their decisions honoured. This is where your positioning of walking beside them, instead of in front of them comes into practice.
Education and Resources: Survivor supporters can offer valuable information about available resources, therapy options, and self-help strategies. Knowledge empowers victim-survivors to make informed choices about their healing journey. These options should be made available to victim-survivors whilst respecting their autonomy and choices.
Community and Connection: Building a sense of community is vital for victim-survivors. This can take shape in connecting with others who have had similar lived experiences. The victim-survivor community can reduce feelings of isolation and provide a support network that truly understands their journey. However, it is essential to remember that all members of the community can provide support, not only those with lived experience. It takes a collective united community to support victim-survivors and to also make necessary changes to reduce trauma and abuse in our society.
Sharing Lived Experience as a Source of Strength: Sharing lived experiences can be a powerful way to connect with survivors. Those who have walked a similar path can offer insight, hope, and inspiration. They serve as living proof that healing and transformation are possible. Listening to their stories can be a beacon of light for those still struggling. Supporting victim-survivors, who are safe and who choose to share is vital to encourage others to also use their voices. Shame creates silence, and silence creates isolation and opportunities for further trauma and abuse. Supporting victim-survivors and amplifying their stories shines a light on their strength and creates opportunities for ongoing healing.
Survivor support is fundamental as supporters play a role in the structural scaffolding needed for ongoing healing. The companionship that victim-survivors need to navigate the complexities of their trauma is an important piece of the framework. By respecting autonomy, offering resources, and engaging with the community, survivor supporters can play a role in helping survivors transform their lives, beyond trauma. Ultimately, survivor support is about human connection, together, we can walk the path towards resilience, recovery, and healing.