Recovery Bill of Rights for Trauma Survivors


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.

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Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

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The Collision of the Personal and the Professional


Someone once told me that at some point our personal and professional lives are bound to collide. I chose to believe that it is possible – although often times difficult – to keep the two separated. My personal and professional lives collided recently, and I am forever changed.

Last Sunday evening I was talking with a person that I have long considered a close friend. I endured the displeasure of listening to him speak words that enraged me and caused feelings of physical illness with the hope that I might be able shift his thinking. However, the impossibility of sparking any change became evident when he made statements that revealed the distance that exists between our core values.

Here is some of what he said:

  • Children are sexually abused because of flaws in their characters that are targeted by sexual predators
  • Children are sexually abused because they are not strong, grounded individuals
  • Children are sexually abused because they come from families that are not strong or stable and the parents of these children are ultimately responsible for the abuse
  • Children must bear a share of the responsibility when they are sexually abused, and that responsibility is increased when they choose not to disclose the abuse immediately
  • Studies need to be conducted to determine the “type” of child that becomes a victim of sexual abuse

The shock of these words coming from someone I held as a friend has still not worn off. No matter how much evidence I offered to counter his arguments he continued to assert his beliefs – his very dangerous beliefs. He shamelessly minimized the criminal responsibility of anyone who harms a child. As a parent, he refused to recognize the fact that any child – according to reported statistics 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 3 girls by the time they are 18 years old – could become a victim of sexual violence. Moreover, he displayed the weakness of his character when he repeatedly stated that the most vulnerable in our society should be held responsible when they are sexually abused.

Children are sexually abused because they are vulnerable. The people children trust and love abuse them. People in positions of trust, power, and authority abuse children. Family members abuse children. Family friends abuse children. Strangers abuse children. The trauma of sexual abuse has lifelong effects and sexually abused children are NEVER responsible for the abuse.

I know this because I am a sexual abuse survivor.

The person I had this conversation with did not know that I am a survivor because it is not information I often disclose in my personal life. In my personal life, I talk around the edges of sexual abuse. This collision between my personal and professional lives has made me realize that hiding behind my work while shrouding my personal life in secrecy are no longer options. I cannot truly advocate on behalf of survivors of sexual violence if I cannot be truthful about who I am in all areas of my life because I choose to do this work because I am survivor. Unfortunately, as this experience shows, a part of this work is trying to eliminate the misinformation and myths that exist about sexual abuse and sexual abuse survivors.

Because of this person’s beliefs I can no longer maintain our friendship, but I am walking away with renewed purpose and the knowledge that I am stronger without it.

T. Bennett
Founder,
Survivors Guide

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Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide