Survivors’ Voices is a small, national organisation, run with few financial resources but with a deep well of strong relational connections among our growing membership. Some of these connections go back as far as the time we began by running self-help groups at an arts and justice festival 17 years ago. Over the years, our activities have gone through periods of growth and cutback depending on the capacity of the people who make up Survivors’ Voices (a maxim of radical self-care demands that we do not burn ourselves or each other out) yet this strong network of peers has remained consistent, caring and connected. More importantly, it has remained open – to new people joining for support and activism – and to new directions and collaborative working.
The fruit of our efforts in the last year is finally here! ‘From Pain to Power’ is a much needed Survivors’ Voices Charter for Organisations that wish to engage survivors in events, projects, research or service development. This short document packs a mighty punch and is already receiving praise from academic and third sector organisations for its clarity, relevance and much needed content.
With research on abuse indicating a prevalence of between 1 in 4 to 1 in 20, abuse is an issue ‘hidden in full view’ and survivors are a population that most organisations will be interacting with, whether they know it or not. Sensitivity to survivors in their midst is paramount as is the need to untap the expertise of survivors’ themselves to guide organisational engagement – “nothing about us without us” to coin a often used phrase.
It was with that express aim of untapping survivor expertise that, with the support of Dr. Susan Bewley, Professor of Women’s Health, we gained a joint King’s College London / Wellcome research grant to explore safe, effective and meaningful engagement of abuse survivors. The first step of this project allowed us to put into action a long-held aim – the creation of a completely survivor-led ‘Research and Action Group’. Through the rich network of peer relationships that exists in Survivors’ Voices, the BRAVE Survivors Group was born! (BRAVE Survivors – Blueprint for Research and Action that Voices the Expertise of Survivors).
The group of 12 has been the steering force through every step of the process – shaping the focus of the project, trying out research questions, developing questionnaires and topic guides, running and evaluating the pilot research. This ‘action research’ provided the experience and learning for the group which in turn gave rise to the content of the Survivors Voices Charter. This clear, practical and detailed Charter – containing 7 principles for good survivor engagement and 7 guidelines for good practice – for any organisation wishing to engage survivors in projects, research, development, training and events – is a testimony of what can happen when we intentionally give space for the emergence of wisdom and expertise of those who are qualified as a result of their profound lived experience of both abuse and the journey of recovery.
The backbone of the Charter is that
“all work with people affected by abuse and trauma needs to look unlike and be the opposite of abuse – otherwise it can inadvertently replicate the dynamics of abuse and cause harm”.
The rest of the Charter spells out in clear and practical terms how to avoid such ‘retraumatization’ by organisations engaging with survivors. It unpacks Principles of Survivor Engagement that is safe, empowering, accountable, transparent, liberating and that promotes self-care and amplifies the voices of survivors. The Good Practice Guidance looks at practicalities for organising research, events, projects and survivor involvement addressing issues such as developing safety; transparency regarding benefits of engagement; power sharing; use of language; asking about abuse; inclusion criteria; confidentiality; running and recording of focus group.
At a time where our society is experiencing an unprecedented awareness about the extent and impact of abuse, this much needed Charter lays a pathway for ensuring that organisations engaging individual survivors or survivor-led organisations do so in such a way that minimises harm and maximises meaningful and effective outcomes. Our next phase involves piloting and rolling out the Survivors’ Voices Charter and we would welcome expressions of interests from organisations – statutory, third sector, academic, arts & heritage, faith and communitiy sectors – who are interested in further dialogue, in piloting our Charter and in receiving training and resources on the ‘how to’s of good survivor engagement.
If you want to discuss this further, get details of our launch or receive a copy of the Charter, get in touch by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org