I remember hearing once (or reading, not sure entirely) that you’re either helping or you’re hindering – that there is no neutral. I remember thinking at the time “well that’s stupid, of course you can be neutral with things”. I’m guessing I was a young adult and I never really thought about it much after that. I’m remembering this all now because these words popped out of my mouth at a training session earlier this week.
“You’re either helping or you’re hurting someone – we’re not here to hurt people” or something similar to that.
It sounds so dramatic and all and it’s not really meant to be but you know, there is some truth in this. It’s no secret that how you respond to another person who is in distress or is traumatized by something or victimized by something (or someone) will either help them along their path to healing or it will hurt them or get in their way.
Over 40% of sexual assault victims who decide not to press charges, do so because of the type of police response when they came forward. Considering only 1 in about 10 or 11 people ever come forward, it’s no surprise that so few cases ever end up in court.
I remember hearing from a front line human trafficking organization that they have some fantastically trained police officers. A human trafficking victim ends up in the emergency department, the police officer and the victim service worker will spend a massive amount of time working so hard to try to help the victim to understand she has choices and doesn’t have to live this way if she wants to come forward. And then a nurse says something very unprofessional that is overheard in the hallway and bam, out the door this young lady goes. Changed her mind. Victims don’t always look like victims on the surface. Some of them look like drug addicts or prostitutes or strippers or you know, homeless people.
There was this young dating couple, they had an argument in a very public place. He smashed something right beside her head, threatened to smash her next, shoved her. He then threatened to hurt a bystander who asked if everything was okay. A victim services worker and an employee at the location where this happened worked hard to help stabilize the young lady and make sure she knew her options. She decided she wanted to talk to police. The police officer walked in, stopped her at the start of her statement (she was talking about being angry) and told her that she really should get help for her anger problem. She’s chosen not to pursue counseling or assistance and he wasn’t charged.
I could keep going. I could tell you stories about child protection workers and social workers and emergency personnel of all kinds – including victim service workers; nurses, doctors, teachers and other educational staff, psychologists and psychiatrists. It’s a never-ending stream of stories of help that has gone badly.
I could tell you theories and ideas and guesses that explain why this happens from our need to protect ourselves from our own anxieties to simply not knowing better, or being influenced by media or having been taught differently. What we know now is a very different story than what we knew when I started in this field.
While I talk about service providers, the ongoing media related victim blaming ‘stuff’ has made me realize that it’s everyone – all of us – we all need to view this as our own responsibility to ourselves and to each other.
This isn’t about blaming or pointing fingers although I recognize it might feel a little bit like that. What this is about is what we all call the “do no harm” principle. We’re not always going to get it ‘right’, but by god, at the bare minimum we should always do no harm. Our words to others and about others should not carry judgement; they should not be rude or insulting or demeaning in any way. They should be respectful at all times. If they’re not, what is the point really?
When someone has to carry the burden and pain of what someone else has chosen to do to them and feel like they can never get help, make it better, heal, move forward or make peace with it due to the words and actions of all of us; then we’ve really got it wrong. And we just don’t have the right to do that to someone. No, it is not their fault for taking it the wrong way. It is our responsibility to be more cognizant of the way we say it and the harm we can do to others.