Updated: Oct 5, 2020
It's not your place to tell her story.
It's not your place to tell his story.
It's not your place to tell their story.
"Break the Silence," Domestic Violence Awareness Month Campaign photo. Original source: unknown.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic violence and sexual trauma survivor stories should never be on the menu for your Sunday gossip circle. Intimate and sensitive details about a person's life are often loosely broadcasted at the brunch table, and it has to stop.
Third parties share survivor stories in both innocent and demeaning ways. Men and women tend to overshare about their ex-partner's trauma, especially after a tumultuous break-up. Sharing someone else's trauma is a huge red flag, and is a form of post-relationship perpetration. What incentive does a person have when disclosing that their ex was raped, molested, or abused? Despite being separated from their ex, they attempt to maintain control through sharing their ex-partner's vulnerable moments with another person.
Individuals, who claim to be friends of the survivor, also have a tendency to overshare the details of another's trauma. Coming across sensitive information about someone's life through a third party source does not give permission to continue sharing. It should stop with us. Be the confidant and the person that a survivor can rely on. Stop the perpetrator from continuing to control a survivor's narrative.
Even if the survivor has been open about their about their experience on social media or public forums, it's still not your place to talk about their traumatic experiences with others. Writers, musicians, and other people, who share the limelight, sometimes choose to write about their traumas or disclose adverse life events to the public on talk shows. Some celebrities have no choice about what others know about them. One way, that we can acknowledge their strength as survivors, is to talk about how strong they are for serving as an inspiration for other survivors to get justice. We can also choose not to spread traumatic experiences of a person who did not have a choice in their story being exposed.
There is no way to be sure that a survivor has reached the stage in their healing process to talk about their trauma openly. Although intentions may be innocent, we must find other ways to get our dose of dopamine. It feels good to have, "the tea," but not at the expense of violating a survivor's privacy.
Photo by: Tim Mossholder
Here is a list of reasons why you should never share a survivor's story without permission:
Survivor Story Suppression
By discussing a survivor's story, you are suppressing their voice. Voice suppression limits the ability of the survivor to take back their power. Crimes of sexual violence and domestic violence are about controlling the victim. By telling their story, survivors can feel vulnerable and unable to take authority over their healing process.
Reckless gossip about survivor trauma often gets back to the survivor. A survivor may not be ready to tell their story, and feel re-victimized all over again, because people have learned of their traumatic experience. Spreading the story could also lead back to the perpetrator, and cause the victim to be harassed by the assailant and their allies. Domestic and sexual violence survivors already have to relive their experience while filing police reports, confronting their abuser or attacker in court, and have to live with an adverse event for the rest of their lives. Allow them the autonomy to learn how to cope.
Storytelling is an integral part in the survivor healing process. According to Native Hope, Indigenous people have used the art of storytelling to spread knowledge, and to heal from historical trauma. During storytelling, we are creating a mental, emotional, spiritual and sometimes physical connection with our listeners. A good story pulls people into a web woven with resonance. Native Hope writers state that we release oxytocin, the empathy hormone, and also reduce cortisol, the stress hormone, when we tell stories. Storytelling also allows us to organize thoughts and make sense of how an event influences our growth.
By suppressing stories, re-victimizing, and hijacking the healing process of survivors, we rob them of a chance to tap into their resilience. We all have the inner capacity to bounce back from adversity, but we have to be able to do so in our own time and space. The process cannot be forced or rushed, and we have all that we need within us. Through our own healing, we can provide hope to others.
If a survivor trusts you enough to share a story with you, then it is not your place to tell the world. To a survivor, it's not just a story-- it's an open wound. Speaking openly about traumatic experiences is the first step for survivors to leave a dangerous situation or to begin their journey to healing. Never shame survivors for their courage. Denounce offenders. Listen to and empower survivors.
Use the resources below to find the best ways to help yourself or a loved one.
Photo by: Max Letek