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Survivor Friendliness.

May 12, 2009

Britta’s post brought up the important question to me about how we make this project, and the spaces we create as part of it, survivor friendly. Now for me, one of the most important part of happy bodies, is what it can do for sexual violence prevention. I think that body positivity means cultivating an atmosphere of respect and celebration of our bodies and sexualities. I think living body positive means holding yourself and other to these expectations of how our bodies should be treated. It’s hard to actually change behavior, but we can change the culture of how we think about our bodies, that doesn’t make sexual violence permissible. With this goal in mind, it’s so important that we find ways to support survivors as well. And I think this support can be a form of sexual violence prevention as well. So what can we do?

When reworking the Pledge Against Sexual Violence at Carleton, we changed the language from “I will support survivors and help to create a survivor supportive environment” to

I will trust and affirm survivors, and work to create a survivor supportive environment.

I thought the change was really meaningful, because it made the actions to be taken more tangible. Trusting survivors to me means believing that a person understands their own experience best and not questioning what they have gone through. Affirming means assuring them that nothing was their fault, that their bodies did not deserve to be violated in this way. I think it also means to assure them that this experience doesn’t define them as a person, and that we see them as more than a victim of an act. But trust and affirmation is just the minimum.

I think as an activist group part of our mission must be to start ending the silence around this issue, to start speaking truth to power about sexual violence. Sexual assault is a widely underreported crime for reasons of shame, intimidation, fear, and other worries coming from the lack of trust and affirmation.
But in breaking the silence around this issue, how do we:

1. Not pressures survivors to share their stories when they’re not ready, or rely on them to be the only advocates for themselves?
I’ve been doing my best to try to speak up where I am comfortable about my personal experiences relating to sexual assault. Although I am not a survivor, I have been really personally affected by this issue, and can try add to that dialogue, even when it’s hard for me. I can also add to the conversation by examining my own relationships and interactions to see where I am reinforcing a culture of sexual violence permissibility.

2. Provide a space that is safe for survivors and not triggering?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and am having trouble coming up with answers. I see creating an environment devoid of victim-blaming is one part of it. I am also making an effort to restrain my anger around the issue, which emphasizes the brutality of the issue, but to rather keep in mind optimism and productivity. But could we be doing more.

Finally, I found a great post about how we don’t make it easy to be a survivor. We asks survivors to handle the issues quietly, to not shock our sense of stability and security by showing us the failings of society. I hope that by creating a happy bodies community we are allowing survivors to be survivors; to be upset and to struggle, but within a community who trust and affirm their experiences and want to work with them to change the culture we are in of sexual violence permissibility.

I’d really love to continue this conversation and hear anyone’s input on how to create a survivor supportive environment anywhere. Tonight (tuesday) at our planning meeting (10pm at Whoa) we will be discussing how we can create this type of space in our discussion group, and I encourage anyone interested to attend and share your ideas with us.

One Comment leave one →
  1. rcasa permalink
    November 17, 2009 3:14 PM

    This was a great post! Here at the Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Abuse, we encourage a supportive, healing environment where survivors are encouraged to find and use their voices in empowering themselves. Your post touched on a number of important points…well done! Check us out at

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