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What’s In a Core Value? Centering our Anti-Sexual Violence Work around Survivors

Kayla Houser, Outreach Coordinator, PCAR

This blog is inspired by discussions at PCAR offices in bringing our authentic selves to social change work, the Healing Circle Workshop at the Pennsylvania Statewide Conference, and all the survivors who propel anti-sexual violence work forward.

Advocates come to anti-sexual violence work from many different places. Sometimes it’s a calling, our professional endeavors, or our drive to be change makers. We often don’t acknowledge that it was also a culmination of our own experiences that brought us here, which is the case for me. My work is for the survivors of violence close to my heart, the survivors who I gave support to in my professional life, and it’s for me—as a person in our world, I know that I am not immune to sexual violence.

We don’t often put ourselves into our work.

One of PCAR’s Core Values is Engaging Survivors. Survivor voices inform and affirm our work. They propel our mission forward. We honor their need to be heard and commit to creating spaces where they are valued. We are active in advocacy to support their many paths to healing and search for justice.

We recognize the voices of survivors in our workplace, their courage, their insight and their unique contributions.

I write this as I was recently reminded of the work of survivors in our movement to end sexual violence. It’s important we don’t forget the humanity and vulnerability in our work—we are not separate. Reflecting on the #MeTooMovement, I was surprised when many of my colleagues disclosed on social media that they too were survivors of some form of sexual violence. This conversation doesn’t usually come into our office spaces where we talk about sexual violence every day, not because it doesn’t happen to us, but for a number of reasons it’s not a thing to talk about—Ensuring that our spaces are affirming to co-workers who are survivors is critical to effective anti-sexual violence work.

Healing from trauma is a personal journey and every path is different. The decision to bring individual experiences of violence into a workspace is just as personal, even if our organization focuses on anti-violence. That decision is coupled with navigating boundaries and self-care, just as it would be to bring any other part of ourselves into our jobs. This type of consideration not only could include how to share and interact with clients, but also how it is discussed with peers. Their experience can inspire us to bring our authentic selves into social change work, find innovative prevention strategies, advocate in social policy, and improve services. Survivors in our field are affirmations that people can heal after sexual violence.  

Survivors’ lived experiences transform our movement and can be testaments to the power of how we deliver rape crisis services. We know that some of the most powerful and motivating people in our movement lead with their survivorship. They inspire and empower others to find their own way to healing and justice. Some of us never publicly disclose our journey, but it personally propels our work to end sexual harassment, abuse, and assault and support others with empathy.

No matter our personal journey and how we choose to show up for our jobs-- survivors should feel welcome and empowered to bring their survivorship into their work as sexual assault advocates. The anti-sexual violence movement wouldn’t be here without the courage of survivors. Survivors are not “other people,” they are our neighbors, our friends, and our family members— they are also our co-workers, colleagues, and our allies in the work to end sexual violence. We often forget that many of us are survivors, too.

Anti-sexual violence work has always been survivor led from women of color publicly articulating experiences of rape as a tool of racism that brought about change in legislation to meeting in each other’s homes to supporting each other. We can’t be in the business of empowering survivors and ending sexual violence if we forget and remove survivorship from our spaces.

I challenge us to consider:

  • How do we support survivors in our work who are our co-workers, our peers, and our volunteers?
  • How do we lift survivor voices up?
  • How do we cultivate spaces where our peers feel affirmed to share their experiences, or even lead with their survivorship?