When it comes to survivors (of all kinds of trauma) it takes more work than usual to build and establish trust, the 10 things listed below are not the only things, just the foundation of trust.
When working with survivors, a few things need to be clarified. Unfortunately some of these should be a given such as respect but the are not always.
10 Ways to Build a Foundation of Trust with Trauma Survivors
- Respect – In reference to [survivors], respect means to treat with esteem, kindness, and equality. We are not glass antiques. We are not a pet. We are not your guinea pig. We are human, just like you.
- Say what you mean. Mean what you say. – This comes in for me when people say they will always be there for me. This has only been true for a select few people that I’ve known ever. Many survivors have also felt this over and over; weather its our families, the others we worked with that were sold, killed, or left behind when exiting the life. Moreover those that decided to leave for no reason without an explanation. All this to say, refer back to respect; if you do not think or do not know if you can commit to something DON’T. If you say you’ll be there: BE THERE. If you need a minute or 7: SAY IT.
- Be intentional – We survivors know we are/can be a lot to handle. We know what we’ve been through is sad and angering and scary and a lot of other things. But we also need to talk about it. Being intentional means, if you ask a question, be ready for the raw, real, and honest answer. Going back to #2; words mean things, be thoughtful and compassionate with your words.
- Show Up + Be Present – While we understand things in life come up and needing to reschedule; its important to keep your word when you say you want to meet up. As with any relationship, the other important thing is to be present and engage. This is especially important because we (most of us) have not had people in our lives who really care and want to know us for a long while. If ever.
- Listen, acknowledge, and validate – Listening is something we, unfortunately have to ask for as survivors. Many of us have been burned this way by ‘advocates’ all too many times. Please listen to us, actively. This goes back to #4 and #3, show up, be present, be intentional. Acknowledgement, I feel should be a given, but it is not. Acknowledgement is done in many ways from showing up, to asking questions, to having appropriate reactions to the things we say. The combination of these things are what create validation. It doesn’t hurt to tell us that our feelings, thoughts, etc. are valid.
- When a survivor confides in you, thank them. – A lot of us are very open about being a survivor, but keep details to ourselves for the most part. Those that know more than that are privileged; if we feel comfortable enough to share our pain. Please thank us. This leads into the next factor.
- Never use a survivor’s story without EXPLICIT permission. – Our pain, feelings, experiences etc. are not yours to share. Period. If/when we give you permission to share something. It is for that specific thing only and for that one time. We have the right to know when, why, how, and where our story will be shared. We have the right to place restrictions on or revoke your ability to share at any point for any reason. Even if the reason is not forthcoming. Our stories are just that, ours.
- Don’t assume or compare – Just because we share characteristics of some/many kind(s) as another survivor, does not mean we deserve to be compared. We do not deserve to be expected or assumed to follow suit of others. Just because I grew up in a ritualistic cult gang does not mean I will have experienced the same thing or will heal the same way as another survivor who grew up in a ritualistic cult gang. Or anyone else for that matter.
- Ask before giving advice or touching – Not only is this polite, but also crucial for survivor relationships. We have had a lot of unsolicited advice over the years, it is a big thing most of us use to gauge a person’s safety level. The same goes for touch, we’ve had way more than our fair share of unwanted and/or unsolicited touching. If you want to build our trust, please, PLEASE ask.
- Survivors are more than our trauma. – We are more than our abuse. Our stories don’t begin and END with the things that have happened to us. We are human. We exist outside of our circumstances. This is something that is a huge factor for probably most, if not all of us. We are told in the life that we will never be more than a ho. We are striped of everything. Literally. We are lucky to be alive. To have escaped, if we have. If we are still in the life ALL of these are that much more important.
My name is Sarah and I am a sex trafficking survivor. I was born into the life with my family being my traffickers. I left on my 18th birthday. The first 2.5 years out of that life, things didn’t change much as I stayed in the same town because of lack of resources to get away. When I was almost 21 I was relocated to a larger city in the same state where I was finally able to start putting safety tactics in place. Between 21-22 I spent with a family who used me for money and as a babysitter for their 4 young children. Upon leaving this, I got into a domestic violent relationship that I was in for 10 months. Not to long after leaving this in October 2015 I met my wife. Since I met her, my life has changed so much, I’ve grown in ways I didn’t know I could or needed to. I have learned how to love in ways I didn’t know were possible. We’ve been married for almost a year. In July 2017 our lives took a huge turn, I suffered 13 strokes. Since then, we’ve had to be very methodical about everything we do and don’t do. The money we spend and don’t spend. I know we will get through this trial and come out better people on the other side. I am grateful to have a life partner who has stuck by me through this. I share about my experiences on my blog Captivating Phoenix.