We all care about the women we serve. For many of us, the desire to ‘protect and serve’ is one of the primary motivations which led us into anti-trafficking work. But we all know stories of how good intentions can go wrong. Rebecca Bender and Jennifer Roemhildt Tunehag have been discussing some of those difficult scenarios, and they wanted to share our conversation with you. We hope that it will help you to tell the story well – without hurting those you intend to help.
JRT: How do advocates care well for people who want to share their story?
RB: Coming along side as a mentor and prepping survivors for all that will come; streamline their narrative to help them find an objective or get them involved with webinars that assist in professional development, walk them through the demographic and objective of sharing (who are you sharing to and what do you want attendees to walk away with). Prepare them for tough questions or how to avoid answering and redirecting ( a media training would be a great tip for this). Encourage them that they don’t have to share any more than they are comfortable with- omitting isn’t lying, even Mary hid things in her heart. Making sure they don’t feel obligated to share because the asking party helped them through treatment. If media is involved give them media training – making sure you fact check articles before they go to print, etc. This is a great start at helping survivors prepare to share their story, but greatest tip is get them some training on “How to Share Your Story.”
One of the most important aspects of a survivor sharing their story is ensuring an objective, using good verbiage and ensuring they are ready; if they glamorize or have a hint of still seeing it through rose colored goggles, they are not ready.
What are some signs that a survivor is emotionally prepared for the toll it will take?
- Understands their triggers and has healthy coping mechanisms
- Knows their objective
- Fully grasps word choice and why and what is sensationalism
- No longer glamorizes the life, (i.e. doesn’t use terms like “my man” or talk about the money)
- Has shared with a smaller group in your org and feels comfortable, confident and ready
- What kind of support does she need at this point?
Processing afterward using a trauma informed approach and letting them know any feeling afterward is normal- needing a break from talking, processing feelings that came up, feeling victorious, we all process in different ways. Maybe have someone to talk through that with also.
Is it ever appropriate for advocates to share a survivor friend’s story?
Not without permission and relationship. Walk through what you would share and make sure they are comfortable. Also, never do it if they are able and wanting to do it themselves. Don’t take their voice.
And to change it up a little, a question from Rebecca to Jennifer.
RB: Why do you think allies and advocates are sometimes tempted to sensationalize the issue?
JRT: There are lots of reasons. We all need to raise money to do our work, which means getting people’s attention. With so many competing demands, donors are almost numbed out…so advocates are tempted to tell extreme stories, share horrific statistics, etc. (“My charity is most important, because it addresses the most pressing need.”)
And the issue IS sensational: money, sex, and power are all bound up here, and those spiritual forces can influence us as advocates, too. We’re also dealing with an issue that is mostly taboo to discuss in the church, and lifting those taboos can sometimes become a bit like a peep show.
I think that another answer is – to put it bluntly – laziness. We’re busy, and sometimes overwhelmed. It can be hard to find good statistics, so we choose whatever numbers are commonly quoted, even if we don’t know the source…or select the story with the most impact, even if it doesn’t fully meet our “ideal” ethical standards.
Finally, our supporters don’t like to deal in complexity – and sometimes we don’t, either. Instead of teaching them a more difficult and nuanced understanding of how women are exploited, we can reinforce their ideas of a black and white universe where no one ever has mixed motives…not women in prostitution, and not the women who go out to help them.
Rebecca Bender is a Survivor Leader, CEO & Founder of her own organization in the US. In addition to running her own online mentoring program, Rebecca Bender Ministries has consulted on the start up and development of seven safe homes across the world. Additionally, she works with and trains FBI, Homeland Security and Law Enforcement across the country. She is the author of Roadmap to Redemption, a faith based workbook for survivors and advocates. Learn more at www.rebeccabender.org