The more I work on the issue of human trafficking, read articles, interact with fellow survivors or allies in the movement, the more I hear the phrase, ‘trauma-informed.” As a survivor who has experienced trauma, I have to both learn how to deal with my own trauma when I am triggered, and also how to deal with other survivors who might be triggered.
The phrase seemed to be thrown around a lot. I decided to do a google search on, “What is trauma informed?” Among the search results were “six key principles” published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). According to the organization, they are:
- Trustworthiness and Transparency
- Peer support
- Collaboration and mutuality
- Empowerment, voice and choice
- Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues
As a survivor, I agree with the principles, however, I believe that trust is the vehicle that will convey the rest of the principles effectively. When there is no trust, there cannot be safety. First, it is the breach of trust that led a person to become a victim, and as a survivor, it takes trust to help him or her work with fellow peers and allies without fear or doubt in a collaborative manner. Trust is also what will help with the understanding of culture, as culture is more than an ethnic identity, but also formal and informal work or social environment.
It is very important to carry a survivor along, even when the outcome is not favorable. It helps to reduce triggers. When you carry a survivor along in any matter that you are dealing with the survivor on, it will be easy for the survivor to believe and trust you or your motives.
The fifth principle listed by SAMHSA stated, “Empowerment, voice and choice.” As much as I really like that point, I think that many just know it in writing but do not practice it. To practice this point, you have to avoid asking a survivor to share his or her story. I have said this several times. Allow the survivor to choose whether he or she wants to share parts of his or her experiences. In addition, it is helpful to avoid asking survivors to coerce fellow survivors to share their stories. I have seen this happen many times. Many survivors have been hurt as a result, and when a survivor gets hurt, which could be triggering, then it will be hard for that survivor to trust you.
And, many times, not just sometimes, you have to really be patient with a survivor. Don’t feel tired to repeat yourself or rephrase what you mean for a survivor to understand and be on the same page with you. The survivor just need assurance that your intentions are right. You can even identify phrases that could help you help a survivor to understand your point of view in a matter that might not be so favorable. I mentioned one of such in my opening remarks at the just concluded U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking Second Annual Report Launch, where I cited an example of how the Department of State Trafficking In Persons office staff members work in a trauma informed manner with the Council to gain the Council’s trust by using a phrase such as, “It is the government.”
Furthermore, I shared explicitly how you can work in an empowering way with survivors. Learn more about some of my suggestions in my book entitled, A Living Label: An Inspirational memoir and Guide. If you want an autographed copy, get it here.
Thank you for reading, until next time.