Trauma is defined as “any physical damage to the body caused by violence or accident” and “an emotional wound or shock often having long-lasting effects”. Sexual abuse and sexual assault are trauma.
When most people think of trauma, they do not include sexual abuse or sexual assault. The things that come to mind are physical injuries caused – in most cases – by accidents or serious illness. The loss of a loved one is considered a traumatic incident, whether that occurs through death or the sudden end of a relationship. For some, the loss of a beloved pet may be traumatic. In these situations, the affected party is usually given space and time to heal in their own way. They are treated with compassion and care, and they are respected for having survived a tragedy.
Unfortunately, these thoughts and sentiments are not always extended to survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault. Many survivors never receive the space or time necessary to heal. In some cases, survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault may be treated as if a disease that requires aggressive treatment or a cure has inflicted them, while some may not receive any care at all. As a result, quite frequently, survivors are re-traumatized.
According to the Trauma-Informed Toolkit developed by Klinic Community Health Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba
“People who have been affected by trauma are at risk of being re-traumatized in every social service and health care setting. This is often due to a lack of knowledge about the effects of traumatic events and a limited understanding of how to work effectively with survivors. Trauma effected people frequently feel misunderstood and unsupported which can impede healing and growth. This can be prevented with basic knowledge and by considering trauma-informed language and practices.”
As survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault, in social service and health care settings, we can demand the care, time, and space that we need for healing. The Recovery Bill of Rights for Trauma Survivors written by Thomas V. Maguire, PhD in 1995 provides a guide to the rights entitled to every survivor in four areas
- personal authority
- personal boundaries
- personal communication
- the domain of psychotherapy
As you move forward in your healing, you may use this guide to assert your rights. ___________________________________________________________________
A RECOVERY BILL OF RIGHTS FOR TRAUMA SURVIVORS
As a Matter of Personal AUTHORITY, You Have the Right . . .
- to manage your life according to your own values and judgment.
- to direct your recovery, answerable to no one for your goals, effort, or progress.
- to gather information to make intelligent decisions about your recovery.
- to seek help from a variety of sources, unhindered by demands for exclusivity.
- to decline help from anyone without having to justify the decision.
- to have faith in your powers of self restoration — and to seek allies who share it.
- to trust allies in healing as much as any adult can trust another, but no more.
- to be afraid and to avoid what frightens you.
- to decide for yourself whether, when, and where to confront your fear.
- to learn by experimenting, that is, to make mistakes.
For the Preservation of Personal BOUNDARIES, You Have the Right . . .
- to be touched only with your permission, and only in ways that are comfortable.
- to choose to speak or remain silent, about any topic or at any moment.
- to choose to accept or decline feedback, suggestions, or interpretations.
- to ask for help in healing, without having to accept help with work, play, or love.
- to challenge any crossing of your boundaries.
- to take appropriate action to end any trespass that does not cease when challenged.
In the Sphere of Personal COMMUNICATION, You Have the Right . . .
- to ask for explanation of communications you do not understand.
- to express a contrary view when you do understand and you disagree.
- to acknowledge your feelings, without having to justify them as assertions of fact or actions affecting others.
- to ask for changes when your needs are not being met.
- to speak of your experience, with respect for your doubts and uncertainties.
- to resolve doubt without deferring to the views or wishes of anyone.
Specific to the DOMAIN of Psychotherapy, You Have the Right . . .
- to hire a therapist or counselor as coach, not boss, of your recovery.
- to receive expert and faithful assistance in healing from your therapist.
- to be assured that your therapist will refuse to engage in any other relationship with you — business, social, or sexual — for life.
- to be secure against revelation of anything you have disclosed to your therapist, unless a court of law commands it.
- to have your therapist’s undivided loyalty in relation to any and all perpetrators, abusers, or oppressors.
- to receive informative answers to questions about your condition, your hopes for recovery, the goals and methods of treatment, the therapist’s qualifications.
- to have a strong interest by your therapist in your safety, with a readiness to use all legal means to neutralize an imminent threat to your life or someone else’s.
- to have your therapist’s commitment to you not depend on your “good behavior,” unless criminal activity or ongoing threats to safety are involved.
- to know reliably the times of sessions and of your therapist’s availability, including, if you so desire, a commitment to work together for a set term.
- to telephone your therapist between regular scheduled sessions, in urgent need, and have the call returned within a reasonable time.
- to be taught skills that lessen risk of retraumatization:
- containment (reliable temporal/spatial boundaries for recovery work);
- systematic relaxation;
- control of attention and imagery (through trance or other techniques).
- to reasonable physical comfort during sessions.
Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.