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In conversation with: The Survivors Trust

Published: 19 September 2023

Welcome to our blog series, "In conversation with," where we dive into meaningful discussions with organisations and individuals who are dedicated to promoting safety. In this edition, we are honoured to feature our charity partner, The Survivors Trust, the UK’s largest umbrella agency for specialist rape and sexual abuse services.

Throughout our conversation with The Survivors Trust, we explored a wide range of topics that shed light on the challenges faced by survivors and the crucial work being done to address sexual violence. From their mission and survivor-centred services to prevention strategies and trauma-informed practices, our dialogue revealed valuable insights and actionable steps towards empowering survivors and creating a safer society.

Breaking the silence: Supporting survivors and dispelling myths

TW: this article discusses potentially triggering topics including trauma, rape, sexual harassment and assault.

In a wide-ranging discussion with Vikki Robinson, operational support manager at The Survivors Trust, we discussed the work of the charity, the importance of defining sexual harassment, and our experience of becoming a Trauma-Informed Employer (TIE). Here are the main takeaways – scroll down to watch the full discussion.

How The Survivors Trust is advocating for positive change

The Survivors Trust is a national membership organisation dedicated to providing specialised support services for survivors of rape and sexual abuse. With over 120 member organisations across the UK and Ireland, they offer comprehensive support to survivors of all genders and ages. Their mission is to make sure their member charities get proper representation, funding, and recognition for their crucial work. 

The Survivors Trust is committed to campaigning for greater awareness, responses, and support mechanisms to combat rape and sexual violence. Their initiatives include collaborating with government bodies, statutory organisations, and conducting research to promote change. One recent initiative is the #CheckWithMeFirst project, providing NHS healthcare professionals with resources for treating potential survivors of sexual abuse. 

Another big thing The Survivors Trust does is training. They offer an accredited diploma for independent sexual violence advisers and the people who manage those services, and they do training for all different organisations (including with us at Urban). 

Working to end sexual abuse and support survivors

The Survivors Trust has two key pillars that underpin everything they do.

Firstly, they believe that rape and sexual abuse are wrong, and society as a whole must take responsibility to end them. This involves raising awareness, debunking victim-blaming and rape myths, supporting education and early intervention, and demanding action from authorities. 

Secondly, they emphasise that all survivors deserve to be heard, believed, and treated with respect. Their focus is on tailored support that’s easily accessible when needed, advocating for member agencies, sustainable funding, and alleviating waiting lists for survivor support.

If you can’t name it, you can’t call it out

We discussed the importance of clear definitions of inappropriate behaviour when it comes to creating a safe and respectful environment. 

“We know from everything in the news that harassment in the workplace is rarely reported due to fear of being blamed or not being believed,” says Vikki. “Being clear emphasises it’s unacceptable and will be taken seriously; hopefully makes someone less likely to do it, and makes others more likely to call it out.”

Know the Line - how Urban defines unacceptable behaviour

As a platform facilitating close-contact services, we take this responsibility very seriously at Urban. Our in-house definitions, informed by The Survivors Trust, are the foundation of our zero tolerance approach to harassment. 

At Urban, we define sexual harassment as:

“Any behaviour that makes someone feel distressed and uncomfortable or intimidated. It can be verbal, physical and visual.”

We differentiate between assault and harassment, categorising harassment as “the broader term for a whole group of inappropriate behaviours that would breach civil laws,” and sexual assault as more specific and a criminal offence.

Our zero tolerance stance applies to personal boundaries, too.

In our definition, personal boundaries can be physical, emotional, professional and social. Disrespecting personal boundaries in the context of sexual harassment would include any behaviour that's distressing, uncomfortable or intimidating even in subtle or small ways.

Definitions in practice

At Urban, we seek feedback after every booking on all aspects of treatment quality. We hope that by defining what behaviour is unacceptable we can better empower people to come forward if something doesn’t feel quite right. 

If we receive a trust and safety related complaint, we immediately take action to investigate, suspending the relevant Urban accounts while we do. We work closely with the police and don’t hesitate to report anyone who breaches our code of conduct.

How The Survivors Trust defines trauma

One of The Survivors Trust’s initiatives is their Trauma-Informed Employer (TIE) Quality Mark.

Vikki provides an insightful definition of trauma from The Survivors Trust. She states, "Trauma involves a prolonged emotional reaction to distressing events that harm an individual's sense of safety, self, and emotional equilibrium." She notes that trauma can arise from various sources, such as "single incidents like car accidents or ongoing stress such as childhood neglect or abuse."

Trauma manifests as symptoms including flashbacks, anxiety, heightened emotional arousal, and trouble sleeping. The survivors may experience triggers, which can transport them back to the traumatic event, reawakening emotions and physical reactions. Recognising and understanding trauma is essential for creating a compassionate and supportive environment.

What it means to be trauma-informed:

Being trauma-informed is about understanding and supporting individuals who have experienced trauma. The focus is on recognising behaviours as responses to trauma rather than labelling individuals. Trauma-informed organisations prioritise holistic understanding, adapting policies, avoiding retraumatisation, and creating safe spaces. 

The Survivors Trust highlights that trauma-informed values are incorporated into practice, acknowledging the effects of traumatic experiences and fostering a supportive environment for everyone.

What Urban learned through becoming a Trauma-Informed Employer (TIE)

Urban underwent a process of becoming a trauma-informed employer and acquired the silver level of trauma-informed accreditation. This process involved self-assessment, policy and procedure reviews, interviews, and site visits. The aim was to create a safe and supportive environment for employees and clients by integrating trauma-informed values into all aspects of the organisation. The process emphasised understanding trauma's impact, recognising signs, adapting policies, supporting staff welfare, fostering a positive workplace culture, and involving management in decision-making to ensure ongoing improvement.

Safety work is never finished

Joanna reflected on the process of becoming certified, “If there are areas to work on, because we hold ourselves to a very high standard and want to make sure we’re doing lots, we’re never finished. We’ll continue to work on our initiatives.

“The world is changing, the way people interact is changing, we need to make sure we’re ahead and adapt and educated on it.”

Vikki agreed: “Keep evolving, don’t get complacent.”

How to access more training and resources

The Survivors Trust offers a range of resources and training to individuals and organisations seeking to increase awareness and understanding of safety matters. 

They have two websites: one with general information, survivor stories, research on sexual violence, and details of training; the other focuses on specific resources associated with the effects of rape and sexual abuse. 

Their training covers various topics, including sexual harassment awareness and prevention, childhood sexual abuse, consent, trauma, bystander behavior, and working with male survivors or vulnerable populations. 

To find out about training opportunities with The Survivors Trust, click here.

Watch the full webinar:

For more on Urban's safety features and policies, check out our safety page.