Supporting Survivors in Community Settings: A practice resource


One of my passions is empowering communities to support the presence and resilience of survivors. Sexual violence is so epidemic that we can assume survivors are present in every gathering. Evidence indicates that negative social responses damage survivors and that social connection can be a powerful mechanism for healing.

Often trauma-sensitive practice is considered a clinical concept, appropriate only to psychotherapeutic settings and work with identified survivors. This unnecessarily limits the impact of our growing knowledge about trauma. Sexual violence is hugely underreported; those who would benefit from trauma-informed practice are everywhere. Disclosure need not be a prerequisite to survivor-centered work.

Empowerment Self-Defense (ESD) practitioners have developed a rich practice wisdom for supporting survivors—whether or not they disclose—in our classrooms. In my research into trauma and community as a student at Boston College School of Social Work, I've been unable to find many resources to support trauma-sensitive mezzo-level practice. This is significant gap, because countless community and group settings—including faith communities, classrooms, and service agencies—have the potential to either profoundly help or hinder survivors' recovery from trauma.

In response to this information gap, I developed this resource describing the pro-active practice behaviors ESD instructors demonstrate to support survivors and avoid the negative social responses cataloged by Sarah Ullman (2010). This is a work in progress!

These practices can be adapted to many settings. Teachers, movement instructors, journalists, clergy-people and all of us can have a profoundly beneficial impact on survivors by incorporating these concepts into our speech and behavior.

Empowerment Self-Defense in Everyday Feminism

Hardwired for Faith

I had the privilege of delivering the sermon at my house of worship (Unitarian Universalist) on Sunday, July 20, 2014. This was a tremendous opportunity to reflect on what I'm learning at the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work, and share my thoughts with a congregation of people I love. 


Good morning.

If you had a chance to ask me what I was preaching about, and I said something like, “How humans are neurobiologically and evolutionarily predisposed to spirituality, and how this can be demonstrated through brain science; It’s very similar to what we know about attachment theory and trauma theory.” 

I am really sorry. 

I started graduate school this year, and they try their best to make us talk like that.

I will talk about all that a little bit—but I promise I won’t talk like that. 

Mostly, I am going to tell you about discovering a definition of faith that speaks to both my intellect and to my heart. And why I believe that faith—by that definition—guides our healing from despair.