Survivors, You Are Where You Need to Be

By Katherine B. Wiens, MEd, LPC

Wherever you are on the journey is exactly where you need to be.

This is my new mantra about sexual violence and survivors. 

I believe this statement honors each survivor’s journey and the place he or she is on the journey.  If we truly wish to help those who have experienced sexual violence, then we need to meet survivors on their terms by listening to, believing, caring about, and honoring them. It is important to resist trying to fix things or acting as if we have all the answers or know what they need. Instead, sit with survivors where they are. Listen to what they have experienced.

Letting others in is a risk for survivors, as too often those they thought were trustworthy have betrayed them. But if a survivor is ready and able to begin to let go of the pain, trauma, and betrayal they have experienced, then honor that movement. If they are angry as hell about what happened to them, then listen, care, and honor those feelings. If they are overwhelmed and numb and cannot talk about sexual violence, honor that decision. This is what it means to be in their space—honoring it as holy ground and sitting with them just as God sits with them. 

Each survivors journey is different, but many of the loses are similar—loss of trust, loss of confidence in who they are, loss of feeling safe. When a person experiences sexual violence, they may also feel guilt and shame, which have a massive, long-term impact.

Sometimes we push for closure or healing, wanting the survivor to “just be okay,” because we are uncomfortable with their pain. This piles on more guilt and shame. If we push the survivor to forgive, to forget, and to move on and let go of their anger, we may be increasing the impact of the guilt and shame they already experience. This is not God’s calling for supporters of survivors.

I write this as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and as a victim of betrayal trauma in a Mennonite church. I use “survivor of CSA” because I have had many years of therapy, trusting relationships, and education to work through that part of my life. I use “victim of betrayal trauma” because that wound is very fresh. I am in the grief process where I’m experiencing anger, sadness, depression, and the tremendous loss of my faith community. I know in time this grief process will pass, but for now this is where I’m at and it is exactly where I need to be.

 I ask you to honor the journeys of victims and survivors around you:

1. Listen with care and compassion. 
2. Let them know you believe them.
3. Say “I see you, I believe you, I care about you, and you are important to me,” and communicate this message consistently through your actions.