Violence Movement

Creating Safe Havens: Supporting Survivors with Compassion and Care

By Havann Brown on April, 25 2024

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It’s Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and our “Creating Safe Havens: Supporting Survivors with Compassion and Care” webinar brought community leaders and victim services experts together to discuss the importance of creating trauma-informed environments for survivors. The dynamic panel featured Michelle Barnes-Anderson, founder of Melquain Jatelle Anderson Foundation; Lisa W Good, Executive Director of Urban Grief; Em Kianka, Assistant Director of Trauma Support at Common Justice; and Shannon Wong, Public Policy Coordinator at the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. At Common Justice, we know real justice centers the needs of those who survived harm, and our panelists’ shared experiences provided profound insights into supporting survivors through compassionate and individualized care. 

Wong opened the discussion by reflecting on her journey, stating, “I started this work in 1990 as a volunteer at a local domestic violence shelter in Ithaca, New York. I think I was drawn to the work because I grew up both as a child witness and a child victim of domestic violence…I was clearly drawn to the work, and in the course of working in direct services, helping people with support groups and, getting services, and coming to shelter. I quickly realized that a lot of people were trying to get safe, but the systems just weren’t working for them.” 

Barnes-Anderson shared her personal loss that led to her activism, “Once I lost my son, I just was like, this cannot happen to another person, another child, or a parent. I started the organization to try to educate the community and find ways that we can provide grief healing sessions to them.” 

On the topic of immediate responses to survivors, Kianka emphasized the need for safety and comfort, “The first step is really immediate safety and comfort. So, is this person at risk for more harm, or are they physically safe? Do they have food and water? Both to meet survival needs and also for comfort for stabilization and grounding. Do they need medical attention, crisis services, or immediate emotional support?” Wong added insights on safety planning, stressing the importance of giving survivors agency and tailoring safety plans to individual needs, “Most victims of domestic violence are doing things to keep themselves safe all the time. So, you want to check in and see what’s worked for them and where they might want to make changes.” 

The panel also discussed the need for organizations to be more survivor-centered and trauma-informed. Wong noted, “When someone shares their story with you, it is a gift, and it should be treated like that. They’ve given you the gift of letting you into what is often the most painful part of their lives, and we need to treat that with the utmost respect.” There is also a key distinction between being trauma-informed and trauma-responsive, as Good emphasized, “Just because you had trauma-informed training and you have protocols and all those bells and whistles, and you know the language, doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily trauma-responsive. I think that because survivors do have so much trauma and grief, we want to make sure that we’re not just using language and saying we’re trauma-informed without making sure that we’re bridging it with our services.” 

The systems that are currently in place often fail to center the harmed party’s unique needs, which is vital to healing because every survivor’s story and circumstances are different. Good criticized the rigid adherence to system-based protocols, stating, “Some of these providers are locked into doing it only the system way. When people come to you and don’t want to deal with the police or prosecution, and they don’t want all of these things just because you’ve been trained a certain way, don’t treat them differently. In fact, they need more.” Similarly, Barnes-Anderson addressed the need for enduring support, pointing out, “Sometimes it’s a long process. [Survivors] really need providers to actually help them get through it and not just pass them off a number or pass them off to the agency but sticking with them to get through those different challenges.” 

Lastly, discussing their vision for creating safer spaces for survivors, the panelists shared their hopes for systemic changes. Kianka expressed a desire for holistic support, “If I could do anything and have unlimited power, I would ensure each and every person has access to safe and secure housing, food, transportation, and other basic needs. It’s impossible to do deeper healing work if someone is focused on survival needs.” 

Our movement is working to ensure that all victims of harm have the support they need to heal and achieve real justice through accountability, not incarceration. To hear the full discussion, visit Common Justice’s YouTube channel. 


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