Overcoming Stigma - Learning From Intimate Partner Violence
In spite of having endured tremendously difficult situations, those who have experienced sex trafficking and/or intimate partner violence often face a stigma. To help shed some light on overcoming this stigma, as well as on other issues that affect both survivors of intimate partner violence and sex trafficking, I interviewed Dr. Christine Murray, the co-founder of "See the Triumph". She does an excellent job of clarifying these topics and showing us why there's plenty of hope for survivors. You can read a transcript of the entire interview below, or skim the headings for specific sub-topics.
Meet Dr. Christine Murray
Nancy: Hi everyone! This is Nancy Hardcastle. I’m a speech coach, and I use my work to help public speakers level up their skills while at the same time fighting human trafficking. It’s interview day here at my blog, and today, I’m interviewing Dr. Christine Murray.
I recently read a blog post that she wrote called "Linking Services for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Survivors of Trafficking" and I was fascinated when she pointed out that the dynamic that happens in a relationship where there is intimate partner violence is very similar to the dynamic that happens between a sex trafficker and the person being trafficked.
I wanted to learn more about what was going on there, and also about the implications that Dr. Murray’s research has for those who are working to support sex trafficking survivors. So that’s what we’ll be talking about today.
Hi Christine! Thanks so much for joining me.
Christine: Hi! You’re welcome. And thanks for having me here.
Nancy: So you’re a woman of many hats. You’re a professor at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, where you coordinate the Couple and Family Counseling Track.
You’re the co-founder of See the Triumph, an organization that works to help survivors of intimate partner violence not only overcome the stigma of that violence, but also to go on to lead healthy lives.
And, you’re currently the director of the Guildford County Healthy Relationships Initiative.
Anything else you’d like to add to that impressive list?
Christine: I think that pretty well covers my work. I guess I always have to add that I’m a mom and so I think that definitely, being a mom and my own family really drives my passion behind a lot of my work.
Nancy: Do you have daughters?
Christine: I have two sons, actually.
Nancy: It's an area that they need to learn about, right?
Christine: Yes, absolutely.
What is Intimate Parnter Violence? (IPV)
Nancy: So before we go on I’m wondering if you could give us a definition of intimate partner violence. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory but I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page since that’s the basis of so much of your work.
Christine: Sure. So, when I use the term intimate partner violence, what I am usually referring to is any form of violence or abuse in a current or former intimate relationship, and so this can include physical violence, emotional or psychological, sexual, financial, economic abuse, so virtually any sort of power and control wielding tactics that one partner uses against the other. So, I usually think of intimate partner violence as an umbrella term that could define a lot of different types of abusive relationships in a current or former couple relationship.
What is "See the Triumph" and How Did It Start?
Nancy: And so I read that when you started doing research in this area, you wrote that the survivor stories that you heard during your research - they were the impetus behind you starting “See the Triumph”, and I’m wondering what was it specifically about those stories that caused you want to start this org and could you perhaps give us an example.
Christine: Sure. So we started our research - I co-founded “See the Triumph” with Allison Crowe, who’s a professor in the counseling department at East Carolina University - and she and I started the research by doing interviews, face to face interviews with survivors. We were interested in learning if the concept of stigma applied to their experiences, and overwhelmingly we heard that it did. And from them, as well as as we’ve expanded our research into more surveys, which have included 100’s of survivors over the past several years, one of the things that we hear so often from survivors is that they say “I’m participating in this research and I’m sharing my story with you in the hopes that it can help somebody else."
And so we knew that we needed to do more than what is typically done with research, which is publish it in a journal article and never think about it again. So that’s where we got the idea for “See the Triumph”, which really started as a social media campaign, in large part to disseminate these stories and share them, but over the past 5 1/2 years in which we’ve existed, so getting close to our 6tyear anniversary on January 1, it’s really grown into a community for survivors, and also as a source for us to be able to develop a lot of different resources for survivors themselves as well as organizations that work with them.
So I’ll share real briefly one of the stories because you asked for one specific exampe. Actually the name “See The Triumph” comes from one of the stories and one of the interviews that I did with a woman that came into my office and was sharing about her stories. One of the last things that I asked her was, I said, well what would you like others to know about your experiences of past intimate partner violence, or something like that, was how the question was worded. And she said, “well, I wish what other people would see”, or she said ‘I think what bothers me” - you can read the exact quote on the website, I’m paraphrasing here - but she said “I wish that others could see the triumph in it”. I think that her meaning was that so often people would look at her experiences and see her perhaps as weak or broken, but they hadn’t seen all she had done to overcome it, and so that really is the whole essence of the meaning behind the “See the Triumph” campaign. And so even the name of the campaign really stems from the survivor stories and it’s really core to our mission.
Getting Survivor Stories Seen and Heard
Nancy: So just to recap, at the beginning, the idea was that you didn’t want to have all these stories and essentially not get them out because the survivors themselves were saying - I want this to be used to help somebody else.
Christine: That’s right. And so one of the things is many survivors do go on to tell their stories publicly, and that is sometimes for them a very healing thing, a therapeutic thing for them to do, but there are a lot of reasons why survivors of abuse may not want to share their story publicly. There may be safety risks, they just may not want to do it for their own personal reasons. We’ve done some work around survivors stories and speaking and telling their stories, or writing their stories, and we always really believe that it’s important for survivors themselves to choose whether, when, how and to whom they share their stories.
Telling your story in a public forum certainly is not a prerequisite or requirement for healing from that abuse. But we do know that for a lot of them, then being able to share it in somewhat of an anonymous format, through the research, becomes part of that experience. And we’ve heard from many survivors over the years who’ve shared their stories with us that by sharing their story they felt that it was very healing and they felt good, even though it was very hard to revisit those experiences potentially in talking about them, that they felt good about the potential that it could help others.
Nancy: That’s great. So in that sense it’s a two-fold really positive thing, because the survivor has the knowledge that they might be helping somebody else, and then of course whoever’s reading it can be helped as well, be encouraged, really.
The Power of Survivor Stories
Christine: Absolutely. So we’ve had a lot of survivors who have been guest bloggers or blogging contributors with “See the Triumph” over the years and one of the things that I think survivors themselves can speak with the most authority, let’s say, compared to other people, is, some of the really nuanced aspects of abusive relationships. For example, we all can think, oh, intimate partner violence might mean hitting or physical violence or sexual violence or things like, you know, calling names, things like that, but what survivors are able to really get at is how different it can look in different situations.
Just even I think a week or two ago we had a blog post from a survivor writing under a pseudonym who said, who spoke about how hard it was just getting used to sleeping in the bed by herself after she had left. And so it’s those really subtle pieces that you may not get from a lecture, from an expert researcher about violence, but the stories really capture that, and so I think what’s really become powerful about this campaign is that we have people sharing their stories and then other people can really relate to it. And hearing that your story isn’t the only one, whether you’re a person sharing it or if you are reading somebody else’s story, can be a really powerful thing, because, especially because we know isolation is such a big part of abusive relationships.
Nancy: Right. So it’s creating the community but then it’s also giving those survivors who are reading hope. “I’m not the only one” is the message that they’re finding there, which is really powerful.
Christine: Right. And if I’m not the only one that who experienced this difficult abuse, then I may not also be the only one who can overcome it, and it pulls at both, at all different phases of the recovery process .
Promoting A New View of Survivors
Nancy: So, one of the goals of “See The Triumph”as stated on your website is “To promote a new view of battering survivors," which you kind of addressed this a little bit earlier “that shows them as triumphant, courageous, and resourceful.” And so I’m wondering how do you do that, it sounds awesome, it sounds like difficult, too, and then how do you know when you’ve been effective in actually changing the perception of “oh, this poor women” to “wow, what a powerful woman”?
Christine: Well, I think when we can present the stories that really show that, it's the best way to do that. Because we can say “look at all their triumphs, look at how courageous they are,” but when you actually can hear a story about somebody who left - I think we’ve shared a couple stories like this - of somebody who left with their baby in their arms and $5 in their back pocket and that’s all they had, and then they drew upon different sources of support to be able to do that. You can’t help but put yourself in those shoes and think how much more difficult it is than I think a lot of people assume when you do have that expectation, a lot of times when people might say, well why don’t they just leave, like it’s easy to leave an abusive relationship. We’ve also heard a lot about some of the longer term experiences of survivors. So for example, they may leave the abusive relationship but the abuse may continue in different ways. One of the things we’ve heard about a lot is abuse through the family court system and through custody cases. And so even showing that as a way that people can be triumphant, courageous and facing those battles, because even though they’re facing these difficult experiences in the long term aftermath of the abuse, they're facing it and they’re not going back to a situation that’s unhealthy, even if the current situation is really stressful and very, very difficult and fraught with many challenges.
Preventing Intimate Partner Violence
Nancy: So moving to the prevention piece, based on this research that you’ve done, I’m wondering what are the main ways that you see to prevent intimate partner violence in the first place, and then I’m assuming that the organization Healthy Relationships Initiative plays a piece in that. Could you speak to that?
Christine: The HRI is locally funded through a local foundation here in my community, but it is an upstream, preventive healthy relationship promotion program. And a large part of that is ultimately trying to help people have the skills, knowledge, abilities so that ultimately, ideally, one day we can start preventing the violence. So we know in our community and a lot of communities there are a lot of great resources set up to help people once they’ve experienced the abuse. And that in and of itself can be considered a form of prevention, if you’re helping people get out of abusive relationships so that they’re preventing future violence.
But, especially as we’ve looked at - and I think this is why I wanted to mention the fact that I’m a mom - because I look at my own children, and I think, well, I can’t just tell my kids, “Don’t fight with each other”, right? or, when they get old enough, they’re 8 and 11 now, but you know, when they get old enough to be dating, “Don’t be violent, don’t abuse your partner”. What do I need to teach them instead so that they know how to have healthy relationships, and how to be non-violent, and be a safe, supportive partner, as much as they can.
So I think that has been somewhat of a missing piece, to some extent, in prevention initiatives, not for the fault of any of the current resources, but I think that there’s been definitely a lack in general of sort of funding across the spectrum for more preventive initiatives to really help people. And especially for people who do grow up in families where they may not see those healthy relationships. So what they’re learning to be normal, we need to help correct that, so that they can learn healthier behavior, and ultimately learn to prevent the past, or if violence or small lower scale abuse occurs, that they can get help sooner, before it really escalates into when it where becomes dangerous.
Nancy: I read a story in one of your articles about a woman who said several times, “This is how it was in my family growing up, so I just thought it was normal.” And then when the man started escalating the violence, she said again “I just thought this is what happens,” and so with this initiative you’re trying to really take some steps back and teach, no, this isn’t normal, this isn’t a good way, and obviously with your sons... I think too, with kids, teaching them to recognize the cultural messages, just pointing out things in movies and music - look at that, what do you think about that?
Christine: Definitely, and I think that’s where we’ve found a lot of our work locally, a lot of the entrance has been in coming and talking with teenagers, especially. I think they really do not have a lot of really positive models, of healthy relationships in their media. They’re so infused with things like social media and technology that it’s. . . they face even more challenges in connecting. They have this world of connection available to them but they’re not necessarily learning to relate with other people, and that becomes difficult then when people enter into dating relationships or eventually into longer term relationships like marriage. And if they just don’t have the skills to be able to navigate the hard times in relationships, ‘cause hard times are gonna come, and so for people to know what are these red flags, you know, how do we take healthier steps in our relationships, what does that even look like, what does it mean to resolve conflict in a healthy way, and those sorts of things.
My hope is that that is sort of like the next wave in violence prevention - really swimming a lot more upstream. Because now a lot more of the prevention is trying to raise awareness, and get people connected to services when they’re already experiencing the violence, which is very important and I hope will continue. As long as there is violence we need those things, but we need to also really start to think about how do we start to prevent these things in the first place.
Nancy: How did it get this way - how did it get this way in the first place and what can we do to change that?
Why Is Leaving So Hard?
Nancy: So going back to the idea “Well just leave, why doesn’t she just leave?” this was something that struck me when I read your article about the turning points that prompt survivors of intimate partner violence to finally leave. I was struck by these two things that are quite contrary. On the one hand, I realized, oh my gosh, it is so complicated and so hard for some of these survivors to leave, and then on the other hand, hearing this phrase in my mind, why didn’t she just leave, and then even more so, if she goes back, oh my gosh, why in the world would you have gone back once you got out, this kind of thing. I’m just wondering if you could, let’s say that I’m the average person and I don’t know anything about why a woman wouldn’t “just leave.” Explain to me what’s happening there.
Christine: Yeah, sure. I’m glad you referenced that research article about the turning points. That’s actually one of my favorite research studies that I’ve done in my whole career so far, because it really touches on that stereotype that it’s easy to leave, or that they don’t want to leave, they want to be abused, as long as they’re staying. And we just know from all of our work with survivors, that that’s just not true, but what happens gradually over time in an abusive relationship is people become so entrapped in those relationships and their access to their resources becomes really limited and their options. . . it’s like being in between a rock and a hard place, where on the one hand they’re in a really horrible abusive relationship that they don’t feel good about, and then on the other hand they are looking at the, what possible future in leaving that relationship looks like.
And that’s very difficult too, because maybe they’re not working, or even if they are working, they may not have access to the financial resources. If there’s children, there may be a threat of custody issues that may come up and lead to a long legal battle, and they might not have the financial resources to fight that battle. They may not have money for housing, they may not have transportation on their own. They may have been threatened that if they leave their partner says they’ll kill them.
And so even though I think the assumption often is that they should just leave, but the reality is that it’s very difficult to leave, even a healthy relationship, even if a case of say, divorce, where there’s no real threat of violence. Just ending a relationship like that can be very difficult, all the emotions that come with that, so then you add on top of that the threat of violence and abuse and it just becomes really very difficult for people.
The Power of Turning Points
Christine: So I think it is important for people to understand that it’s never as easy as just leaving. The other thing that I think is important to remember, and we’ve heard this from many many survivors who participated in our research, is that by the time their relationship ended, their sense of self-worth was basically down to nothing, because their abuser had just stripped it down. But what I loved about the turning points article is it did show that there are these moments or there are these experiences that can help people realize or even. . . one of the important things that we noted in there is that it doesn’t automatically translate from the turning point happened and then they left the next day. Sometimes the turning point happens and then there’s a very long period of planning and developing the resources and kind of strategizing and having a safety plan or working with professionals or a counselor or an advocate. But it could be things like having some sort of external intervention like a friend or family member sitting down and saying that they’re concerned. It could be another sort of external situation like the police being called and having some sort of external involvement. It could be a threat of harm for the children. For some, I know that it was when the violence became extremely severe, and so they were like, if I don’t leave, my life is gonna be over.
And so I think what that shows is that it is important for people to express their concerns, be supportive, if you’re a friend or if you’re a family member, that you can make a difference and don’t get frustrated if the person doesn’t up and leave the next moment, because there may be a lot of things for them to work through, but to help understand that. And often these turning points aren’t just something that happens in an instant, it may be something that occurs over a period of time, whether it’s a few months or a few weeks, or even a few years, where gradually you realize . . . I was trying to fight to save this relationship for the sake of my children but now I have seen enough over the past couple of years that I’m realizing my children are gonna suffer because of this. And so I think it is important to note, though, that, just for people in that situation that there often is one or more kind of sign or moment, light bulb moment, whether that’s a quick moment or it’s over an extended period of time where they just finally realize that they need to leave the relationship, but that it may not be easy.
Helping Others To Understand The Difficulty of Leaving
Nancy: Yeah, I’m really glad that you mentioned the idea of just leaving any kind of relationship is hard, because when I think about teaching people about these issues, as a teacher or as a public speaker, you want to find this point of connection, this point where the person will go “ohhh” because they’ve experienced it. You’d be hard pressed to find somebody who hasn’t experienced the end of a relationship, and that it’s hard to do that. And also, I think you’d be hard pressed to find somebody who hasn’t had experience with just having their self-esteem shot, and it may not have been in a relationship, but if a coach, a mean coach, was yelling at them for a semester, or a mean teacher, or whoever it is, a parent, that’s something else that they can relate to.
And so I just really appreciate that there are these - and that kind of was the point of my question - what are these points that we can reference so that the average person will go “ohhh, right, yes, it is hard,” and obviously, that’s on the easier end of the spectrum, compared to the kinds of situations that you’re talking about, but nevertheless, it gets people understanding that “oh, it’s not that easy.”
Christine: Well, and I think, another piece that often goes undiscussed about this but is important to note that a lot of times people who are being abused by their partner, they still love them, and most people who are abusive, I believe, I don’t necessarily have hard and fast research to back this up, but I can kind of speak from the hundreds of survivors and you know, themes that we’ve see, most abusers, they don’t abuse one hundred percent of the time. So it may happen once a month, or it may happen once a week, or once or twice a year, and so then things get better, and then they’re thinking, well maybe they’ve changed, and it’s better. Honestly, that’s a natural cycle in any couple relationship, to some extent, not the abuse piece of it, but there’s gonna be easier times and there’s gonna be harder times and there’s gonna be times when “wow, this person is so wonderful and everything’s so great”, and then there’s gonna be times when it’s like “gosh, this is really hard, it’s really hard to get along with this person right now.”
And so I think that’s something that potentially, especially as you’re thinking about people sharing their stories, that’s something that most people could probably connect with and understand, and you didn’t leave your. . . if everybody left a marriage or any romantic dating relationship at the first sign of trouble, there would never be any romantic relationships ever, because that’s just a part of relationships. And sometimes even in very healthy relationships you can have very unhealthy moments, and the difference, I think, between a healthy relationship and one that potentially is abusive is that in a healthy relationship you can correct that, and you can correct course, and both people take responsibility for something they may have done or said, and then they work on it, but in an abusive relationships you just, you don’t have that.
But even in an abusive relationship, a lot of times things can kind of get smoothed over and people feel better, and especially if there are children involved, the economic dependence at all, where the possibility of leaving just really would mean a substantial change for them. I think people can connect with that more, because like you’re saying, everybody’s experienced that to some degree, most likely. If you have any experience in a relationship, you have the experience where the person you’re in a relationship with does or says something that’s hurtful and then you have to sort through well, do I stay with this person or not, and nobody’s perfect, and we all do it ourselves, too, right? None of us are 100% healthy and positive all of the time. So, I think people can relate to that, too.
I often tell people when I’m teaching, especially if people are really starting to first grapple with these issues, that nobody, really, almost no abusive partner slaps their partner on the first date, right? You know, if they did, the person would almost certainly walk away, even if you have pretty low self esteem, you would get up and walk away, or you would say you don’t want to go out with this person anymore, but that’s not how. . . . Healthy relationships start pretty much exactly the same as unhealthy and abusive relationships do. It’s sort of what happens over time and it makes it very difficult within that relationship to see and evaluate what’s going on.
Nancy: Which brings me back to the Healthy Relationships Initiative, because then if people are educated about what does healthy look like, right, then if you see certain behaviors begin, or start to escalate, then you’re aware.
Christine: Yes. Exactly. And so the more aware somebody is, I believe, of healthy relationships, the more they can start to use that information to evaluate the health of their own relationship. And definitely be able to identify when things are becoming unhealthy, or worse, unsafe, and that’s when abuse would be entering into the picture.
When Intimate Partner Violence and Sex Trafficking Overlap
Nancy: So moving a little more toward sex trafficking specifically, in the blog post that you wrote that I mentioned at the beginning, “Linking Services for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Survivors of Trafficking” you listed a lot of ways that intimate partner violence and sex trafficking overlap. And, I’m gonna go ahead and list some of these:
Power and control dynamics are present.
The victim is often isolated from others.
The perpetrator limits the victim’s access to financial resources.
The perpetrator uses threats and intimidation to gain and maintain control.
Multiple forms of violence--including physical, sexual, and emotional--may co-occur.
Survivors may be afraid to seek help.
You also mention that there is even a Power and Control Wheel for Sex Trafficking and Labor Trafficking, which is similar to the Power and Control Wheel that is used widely in domestic violence advocacy work.”
I know that when I read this list . . .it could be the exact same list that you would use to describe someone who is in a sex trafficking situation, or even in a labor trafficking situation. And so my question right now, is, do you think it’s helpful to think of this, these similarities that are going on as a continuum, with domestic violence on one end and trafficking on the other, or is there a better way to think of it, perhaps a different paradigm altogether?
Christine: I think that’s a really interesting question. I would probably frame it as more of a Venn diagram where you sometimes have domestic violence that doesn’t involve any sex trafficking or any sort of trafficking, and then you would have some sex trafficking or any other sort of human trafficking that doesn’t involve any sort of intimate partner violence, but then I think then you have sometimes where they overlap. And so you may have then. . . I guess it would be difficult to say is this primarily sex trafficking or is it primarily intimate partner violence, because I think every case would be very different, but I that it would be better to really think about it that there are some times where there’s overlap in certain cases and other times where there’s not,
So to me I think that image of the Venn diagram probably helps more, and then we can sort of see, but I do think that as you mentioned that we wrote about in the blog post, that there are a lot of similarities. I think, again, maybe backing away from this idea of a continuum or a spectrum, I would think about it also as, all of these are forms of, whether we call it interpersonal violence, or abuse. And I would list a lot of other things on there, too, like bullying, sexual assault that may or may not be in the context of an intimate relationship, so, harassment, which again could be part of an intimate relationship or could be not. So I think there’s all different variations on these abuses of power and control within some sort of interpersonal relationship. And so certainly I think you would see the parallels with sex trafficking if you have some sort of intimate relationship between the people who are involved, the victim and the perpetrator. But I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s maybe on the same continuum.
When Might Intimate Partner Violence Become Sex Trafficking?
Nancy: So, if we think about that Venn diagram, and let’s say we’re in a circle of intimate partner violence, and then that actually does become the area that overlaps with sex trafficking, I’m wondering, what do you see as possible tipping points which cause intimate partner violence to become sex trafficking. And obviously, somebody wants drugs, and somebody wants money, right? For some reason I’m inclined to think that it’s more complicated then that, but I don’t know.
Christine: So at that point we really probably would need to start looking at the perpetrator and the different power and control dynamics that they are using within that relationship. So if that becomes something that turns into trafficking, if they’re using their partner because they have so much control over them and if they’re using their partner and kind of selling them out for money or what not. But also, I think that’s an interesting question. I’m thinking back to one of the participants in our research who we wrote about in our book, I think it was the opening story of the book that we wrote, “Overcoming the Stigma of Intimate Partner Abuse,”and her abuser had some friends over, and they basically gang raped her. So that, I don’t know, is that a form of trafficking? There may not be any money exchanged, but it certainly was kind of an arrangement of the abuser to bring his friends over.
So I raise that as an example to say, I think it would be that sort of "tipping point" is the word that you used, around the point at which, to some extent, some of it becomes external to that relationship. So as so much of the intimate partner violence that happens does happen behind closed doors, nobody knows about it, nobody else is involved, but I do think that when you start to see a perpetrator who’s maybe involving other perpetrators, or again, bringing in the financial aspect of that, or other exchanges of whatever, resources, for lack of a better word, are being exchanged there. But I guess I would certainly be more concerned about it if you had that piece of it, with the perpetrator bringing in other people in whatever regard, so that would seem like a key distinction to me.
Nancy: It makes me think that if the man and the woman initially had a “real”relationship where they actually did love each other, so let’s say it wasn’t somebody who went after this women specifically with the intention of using her, but started a relationship, but then if the view of the partner starts to be, well, I own her, I’ll use her (stereotypically - I know that men are also trafficked), but I own her, she has to do whatever I want. And starting to think of the woman more as a commodity as opposed to this person that I love, then it seems like, well if she’s just a commodity that I own and I can use, well anything goes.
Christine: Mmm hmm. Unfortunately that mindset is at play even in a lot of intimate partner violence cases where there’s no trafficking involved, where the person, the perpetrator views the other person as their property. If you just even think about the more traditional power and control wheel, which is based in a heterosexual paradigm, but using male privilege, treating her like a servant are things that are listed on there. Yeah, I guess I would think sex trafficking would become maybe a more extreme version of that.
Helping Service Providers
Nancy: Going back to the ideas of prevention and healing,I mentioned earlier that your research on overcoming abuse has really big implications for survivors of not only intimate partner violence and but also for sex trafficking, so I’m wondering, how are you trying to make sure that that information gets into the hands of service providers and counselors, etc. ? And so obviously, ‘cause you touched on this at the beginning of the interview, that’s part of why you started “See The Triumph”, is, at the minimum, to change the stigma around these survivors.
And I read that article that you wrote about the stigma, the way that service providers are thinking of these clients with the stigma attached, and the clients are feeling that and they’re seeing that and they’re experiencing that. So it seems really crucial, and I think it’s equally crucial for survivors of sex trafficking as well as the survivors of intimate partner violence that those kinds of service providers get a clue.
Christine: We definitely, I would say, through our social media outreach, I think that we view it as three distinct audiences. First is to survivors directly, second would be to professionals who work with them, and then third is friends, family members, just interested community people who are interested in these issues.
And so I think the first two are really at the heart of what we do in particular, although we have done a lot around how to help a friend who is experiencing abuse, and those resources tend to be really helpful. I would say that’s the most common question that I’m asked in my work, is not somebody coming up to ask about themselves, it’s, say, usually when this topic gets raised, somebody will come up to me afterward, and say, my sister, my cousin, my daughter, my niece is in a relationship, what do I do?
And I think our goal is to get this information out and that’s why we’ve spent a lot of effort building our community over the years. We make all of the resources available for free through our web site, so we have, in addition to just the general social media outreach we’ve done, developed resources for survivors to use, we’ve developed some curricula that we make available to different programs, and we do track the people who are requesting those so that we know that it is getting into the hands of a lot of different organizations. We also see a lot of different local domestic violence programs that share some of our messaging from survivors, which I think is just great, because they may not have the resources to do the research and these social media images, that they share them, and we’ve gotten requests, especially recently, from people, saying “Can we share this in our agency newsletter?” And we always say “that’s fine, that’s great,” you know, we want to get it out as much as possible. So I think we definitely do a lot of this outreach, and really have grown.
The Sucess of "See The Triumph"
Christine: We just hit a milestone actually this past weekend, 4,000 followers on Facebook, which was really exciting for us. Our website gets over 100,000 unique visitors every year, which is just amazing. It’s mind blowing, because we really really didn’t know too much about developing a social media and a website campaign, and things like that. So we are thankful. We know that there’s a lot more people out there, too, that we can be reaching, but I think in a way it’s kind of taken on a life of its own, and people are hearing about the work that we’re doing. We’re certainly not the only organization that does this but there are, I think, a lot of organizations that are kind of working with similar goals but now I think together the work that these organizations do is making a difference in how survivors are viewed in the world today, compared to even five years ago.
Nancy: Congratulations on your 100,000 unique visitors, that’s a huge number!
Christine: Yeah, it is a huge number. It’s kind of mind blowing, actually, but we’re thrilled to know that the resources are helpful.
Nancy: That means that your social media campaign at the least, is working. I found you on Pinterest.
Christine: Mmm hmm.
Coming Soon(ish)! Survivors Retreat
Nancy: So it’s working, very good. Anything you’d like to share about what’s on the horizon for your work - books, projects or events you’d like to plug? This is your opportunity to plug shamelessly.
Christine: Sure, yeah. Well I would say that probably the one thing that we’re working on, I don’t have a timeline, but the next resource that we are in the middle of developing is a curriculum for a retreat for survivors, which is actually about helping them to tell their stories. We did a pilot of the retreat here in North Carolina, in May, and it was wonderful. And so it’s just a matter of time and lack of time availability, to kind of pull it all together. But that’s the next thing that we’re really working on and that we’ll be releasing sometime as soon as possible. We’re really excited about that because that was one of our first real face to face events that we’ve done. And it was really, both from our own kind of impressions as the planners of the retreat but also what we’ve seen in the field and then what we’ve heard from the survivors who participated, was that a retreat like that doesn’t really widely exist. There’s not a lot of face to face programs for people who are kind of beyond the initial healing, beyond the initial adjustment, post abuse, and they’re really ready to think about “how can I take my story and impact other people?”
So we’re really excited, it was a wonderful retreat when we piloted it, and we are hoping to get it out as soon as possible. So, we’ll definitely share that on our social media and the website, when we have it available, the curriculum. Because we want to have the curriculum available so that if somebody in another state or another country wanted to take it, use it, adapt it. We always encourage people, any of our resources, if you look at the different curricula that we have, we have one about survivor advocacy, we have an arts workshop, we have, just workbooks and discussion guides for kind of more of a group, support group type format. We always encourage people to adapt them as they see fit, so certainly our resources don’t have to be used in a complete rigid prescriptive way. The retreat will be the same.
Nancy: That’s great. That’s got to be encouraging for those survivors to have this focused time away, a break, where they can reflect on where they’ve been, where they want to go, with people who are encouraging them and helping them to see how they can move forward.
Christine: Yes, exactly. We’re very excited about that, and that should be on the horizon soon.
Nancy: Ok, that’s great. Put you on the hot seat . . . what question do you always wish people would ask you about you or your work that they never do and you always think, darn, I wished they would have asked me that? And, could you answer your own question, if there is such a question.
Let's Not Forget That We Need to Focus on Perpetrators, Too
Christine: Ummm...that’s kind of a tricky one . . . I don’t know that it’s even a question, but it’s just more, kind of the way questions often are asked, which is so focused on the victims. But I do think even with the perpetrator side, or potential perpetrators, that often gets sort of lost in the whole conversation, too. Even thinking back to some of our discussion earlier, around “why don’t they leave?” and what are their decisions, and I always sort of think “Well, we really in many ways are always asking the wrong question, because we really should be asking why do people abuse in the first place, and how do we get them to stop, and can they stop, and what does it take to stop them?" And so I think that’s a whole other discussion for a whole other time.
But I would just really challenge anyone listening to really be thinking about that angle as well because it’s not just about supporting survivors and helping people recognize, but we really need to spend more time in the field thinking about how do we really hold offenders accountable, how are they not held accountable? And then how do we identify people who may become offenders, or how do we give people the skills so that they can not become offenders, and hold them responsible for what they’re doing. And the whole question, "Why don’t they leave?", to some extent is really a faulty question. We should really be asking “Why don’t people stop abusing?” So, I think that’s how I would answer that question. It’s a great question.
Nancy: Thank you. You want to hear something really ironic? In my original list of interview questions, I had a question about perpetrators, and then I thought, well, that seems like this whole other can of worms we’re going to get into. But I thought about that and not only did I think about accountability, but I thought about things like, I don’t know if recovery is the right word, but I always think it’s really sad that somebody gets put away for forever, to me, that’s not good news. I mean, yeah, maybe they’re being held accountable for their crime, but if they don’t learn how to change, then eventually they’re gonna come out and be that same person who hurt somebody, except now, right, they’re really angry because they’ve been in jail for however many years or they’re even worse off emotionally, and so I would really like to see more, I don’t know if rehabilitation is the correct word, but anything along those lines, for people to find healing on both sides.
Christine: Right, yeah, and being able to hold people accountable who do perpetrate, but then figuring out how to help them. I do believe there’s a certain category of people who are abusive and perpetrators of abuse who are not, who are for whatever reason not able to change or not willing to change, but I think that there are some who are willing. But as long as we’re still really focusing on, primarily on victims and “why do they stay” and you know, what’s their deal, and not really looking at abusers and helping them to not abuse, I think that, again, we’re just going to continue to have these cycles repeating without really preventing the abuse or violence. They are a lot of people working in that area, and it is a very complicated topic. I’ve done some research evaluating a local battering intervention program, and it’s very interesting. I mean, the research on these programs is very mixed, I would say. But some people certainly do and can change, and I think we need to look more at that.
The Good News - The Stigma is Being Overcome Indeed
Nancy: So, in wrapping up, I don’t know if you feel this way - I’m sure you do when you’re in the middle of this kind of research, I know I do - after spending a week reading about trafficking, both sex trafficking and labor trafficking, and reading the difficult stories and seeing the really hard images, it can get really discouraging. I’m wondering if you could give us some good news along any of the topics that we talked about.
Christine: Yeah, sure. So in my viewpoint, we launched “See the Triumph” January 1st, 2013, and the reason I think that’s significant is that the cultural landscape around these issues, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, survivors, has really changed, dramatically, over the, even just five, six, almost six years. That’s just kind of my point of reference. I’ve been doing other work in this field for longer than that, but I first saw it change, in my viewpoint, when there was the Ray Rice controversy, and the video, and then all of the following discussions about the NFL, and how they were handling domestic violence. And then we saw a lot of conversations about sexual assault on college campuses coming.
So when I think to before some of those things started - and then of course now with the Me Too, and all of these different movements that we’re seeing - I think we’re in a really transformative time period. I just think in the past about cases that happened earlier, where something would happen, would escalate to the news media and get their attention, and then it would go back undercover. So, you think about O.J. Simpson, and that was in the news, but then after the media died down, nobody’s really talking much about domestic violence. When the Rihanna and Chris Brown case happened, and the media was all over that, but then it kind of dies away and people don’t think about it. And now, just from my personal vantage point, and I could be wrong about this, but my observation has been that this is the most sustained societal attention that we’ve had on these issues. Especially with the Me Too movement around last Fall, within the past year or so, we’ve seen it really starting to transform, where you’re seeing more and more survivors coming forward, being believed, telling other people that they’re believed.
So to me I know that it is very difficult, and it’s hard to understand, and know that these things are still happening, even in this world, in today’s day and age, in 2018. But I think the good news is that these are the things that need to happen, in my viewpoint, for it to really start to change the tide. So I see, even in five years, and I certainly do not by any means say that "See the Triumph" is the reason for it, but I think that the thing that we’ve been working on is ending the stigma surrounding intimate partner violence and supporting survivors. And there’s so many things that are happening at once right now, that I believe that hopefully if it continues to be sustained, and these conversations continue to grow. I believe five, ten years from now, my hope is that we will be looking at a really different landscape around these issues. I think it’s great news to see those things.
Nancy: Yes, I agree, and I’m really glad you kind of went through that, because I have to admit, I lost the forest for the trees recently, and just to see, yes, this is happening. And I agree, it does feel like it’s sustained. I think even the retreat that you mentioned earlier, is fueling that, right, it’s fueling the empowerment of survivors, to not just write the hashtag but to actually stand up and say “yes, this happened to me” and to keep raising awareness.
Christine: And it’s become less stigmatizing because more people are doing it, and because more people are coming forward, and then you have more and more people doing it, I think now it is less stigmatizing to say “I’m a survivor of abuse,” because there’s so many other people that are doing it. And so it’s just becoming more widely understood, this is happening. It’s been happening for so long, but now people, I don’t think, don’t feel so isolated or alone in acknowledging what they’ve experienced.
Yeah, it is easy I think, sometimes, to lose that big picture. I guess I’ve just seen it because I’ve seen the ways that our campaign has grown. I see the different ways that, when I’m called upon to do a media interview, that it’s talked about how frequently it happens, what are the cases around which that happens. It’s so sustained right now, in a way that in my memory has never been the case. Granted I haven’t been part of the movement from the beginning, but I do believe that we are in a time where, and there’s more people moving, so that’s where I really anticipate that it will continue, because I think it’s growing, and more people are coming forward, and they’re getting the tools they need to be able to have those conversations.
Helping Survivors Tell Their Stories
Nancy: Right, because it’s one thing for the stigma to be lessened or to be removed, but then it’s another thing to feel that you’re equipped to go out and talk about it, or write about it, or whatever you want to do to help others.
Christine: Yeah, there’s definitely a big difference, I think, between telling your story for therapeutic purposes, and just unloading it, getting it off your chest, things like that, and then really thinking about telling your story as a tool for transformation. And certainly you don’t have to be 100% healed, I don’t know if anybody ever is 100% healed from going through it. My viewpoint is I think it’s important to be at least somewhat far along in your healing process so that you can be speaking about it for the betterment of others. And it takes some tools to do that. And some people have really powerful stories and they don’t know how to do public speaking. That’s why I think the work that you’re doing is so great.
Nancy: Thank you. This has been really interesting. I feel like anybody listening or reading will have a deeper understanding of the issues, a new perspective, and hopefully be encouraged to keep working in this field. So thank you so much for your time.
Christine: Well, thank you so much. I’ve enjoyed talking with you and I hope that it is helpful.
If you're interested in learning more about ending the stigma surrounding sex trafficking, head over to the See the Triumph website and have a look at their collection of blog posts on this topic. And, if you found the information in this interview helpful, hit one of the “share” buttons over there on the right side of this page, so it can also help others working in these fields.