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Active Listening Skills (for sexual assault survivor support)

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The following are a few handouts and resources designed to help support survivors of sexualized violence or other crises.

Active Listening SkillsEdit

The term ‘active listening’ underlines the fact that effective listening is far from a passive process. This active process demands that we first grasp what the person means and then communicate this to them. This demonstrates the helper’s willingness and ability to understand the concerns of the other person. As Volunteers you are not expected to fulfill a counseling role with service users, and in such instances an appropriate referral may need to be made, but having listening skills is essential to developing a relationship of trust and support.

The skills of active listening are very different from the way we listen in everyday conversation. It means that we not only have to develop new skills, but we also have to unlearn old ones.

Active ListeningEdit

ParaphrasingEdit

This takes us back to school when we were told to ‘put the following passage into your own words in order to show that you have understood what you have read’. It is a verbal skill that communicates to the other that we have not only heard but understood. They then have a chance to verify the accuracy of what you have heard and understood. You select your own words to describe the other’s experience. In doing this it is important that you do not add to or distort the other’s meaning.

Some possible introductory phrases for paraphrasing:

  • It sounds like you…
  • You are telling me that…

ReflectingEdit

This is a very important listening tool as it mirrors the meaning and feeling of what has been said. Making an appropriate reflection involves not only identifying accurately the client’s feelings but also selecting with sensitivity the appropriate time, tone of voice and words to convey this to the other. The aim of a reflection is to help the other feel understood, accepted and encouraged to share more of their feelings. It is also important to be tentative in the way in which s/he makes the reflection.

Example:

Person: I’m just wasting your time. There must be others who have much more serious problems than me.

Volunteer: You sound as if you are worried that your problems are not important enough.

FocusingEdit

Useful for pointing person in right direction. One focusing technique that can be useful when the person is unable to express why they are upset, or is confused is to ask the person to use just one word to describe his/her problem. Then the person is asked to put the word in a phrase followed by a simple sentence that describes the problem.

SummarizingEdit

This can be useful in clarifying points made in a conversation or when a person gets stuck or goes off the point. It involves pulling together the main points that the person is making and organizing them so that they can be reviewed, confirmed or corrected .

Guidelines

  • Put together the key ideas and feelings into broad statements of the person’s basic meanings
  • Attend to the person’s various themes and emotional overtones.
  • Be brief and direct.
  • Do not add to what the person has said, and try to avoid interpretations and evaluations.

Non Verbal Communication Edit

Non-verbal communication is the first communication we receive from and give to another person. Studies have found that the total impact of a message is about 7% verbal, 38% tone of voice and 55% non-verbal (body posture, gesture, eye contact, facial expression etc.)

Attending well involves being aware of our own non-verbal messages which could be creating barriers as well as attending carefully to the non-verbal clues a person is sending us. It is worth bearing the following in mind. Even if the person cannot actually see you, body language can be detected by sound, tone etc

  • Avoid physical barriers between you and the other person and try and sit at equal height
  • Be sensitive to the space between the seats; different people will feel comfortable at different distances
  • Keep your arms uncrossed and avoid fiddling or distracting movements
  • Face the person and maintain a comfortable degree of eye contact, ensuring that this does not become a fixed stare.
  • Sometimes it is helpful to use a light touch of the hand of someone who is visually impaired to indicate the distance you are sitting in relation to them.

Avoiding Listening BarriersEdit

  • STOP TALKING - you can’t listen while you are talking
  • DON’T GIVE UP TOO SOON - give person time to say what they want and don’t interrupt
  • CONCENTRATE ON WHAT THE PERSON IS SAYING - actively focus on words, ideas, feelings of the speaker
  • LOOK AT THE OTHER PERSON - even without vision people can tell whether you are facing them or not
  • GIVE SOME VERBAL RESPONSES - such as “Aha” or “Yes” but don’t overdo it
  • LEAVE YOUR ISSUES BEHIND - as they can prevent you from listening well
  • GET RID OF DISTRACTIONS including pen and paper
  • SHARE RESPONSIBILITY FOR COMMUNICATION - try to understand and if you don’t, ask for clarification
  • REACT TO IDEAS, NOT TO PERSON - don’t let your reaction to person influence your interpretation of what they say
  • LISTEN TO HOW SOMETHING IS SAID - a person’s attitudes and emotional reactions may be more important than what s/he says in so many words. Listen for personality, likes, dislikes
  • ALLOW PEOPLE TIME AND SPACE TO THINK - avoid temptation to fill silence. If you have time constraint let person know in advance
  • AVOID JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS - people don’t always think, feel, use words in the same way as you do
  • DON’T JUDGMENTS - the person who is speaking to you may not be responding in the way that you would
  • RESIST FEELING THAT YOU HAVE TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM - if you are focused on finding answers then you are not listening

Coping Skills for SurvivorsEdit

Providing options is crucial. Here are some ideas for coping skills that you can offer in supporting survivors.

  • How have they dealt with any crises of the past? Help evaluate those with the survivor.
  • Help them figure out a greater support network i.e. family, friends they are comfortable talking to
  • Getting to a place of safety via housing changes, organizational changes, etc
  • Connecting with their body i.e.
  • Walks
  • Yoga
  • Bike rides
  • Crying
  • Yelling
  • Massage
  • Taking care of physical needs i.e.
    • Tea/coffee/beer/juice
    • Food
    • Offering a place to sleep
    • Leaving them alone
    • Centering/Soothing Activities i.e.
    • Aromatherapy
    • Music, TV
    • Family, Friends
    • Helping find a therapist
    • Talking -or- Not talking

Supporting Survivors of Sexual AssaultEdit

This is a listing of suggestions and ideas from a compilation of radical support projects and is by no means exhaustive. Also, you should be congratulated for doing this important and challenging work.

BASICS TO KEEP IN MIND

  • It is hard to come forward and talk about this--Believe them, Validate them, and Thank them for sharing with you.
  • Sexual assault is about power, oppression and control. Recovery is about giving, loving and sharing.
  • ASK! for preferred gender pronouns-don't assume! When in doubt, use gender neutral pronouns (they, their).
  • The perpetrator could be similarly gendered as the survivor. This should not affect your support of them.
  • Fears about disclosure can include: shame, not wanting to get perpetrator in trouble, believability, fear of reaction, threats from community/perp
  • The survivor may not have the same abilities as you (physical, communication styles, etc)
  • The survivor should dictate the terms of the conversation, while you use active listening skills (Active Listening Skills Sheet in packet)
  • The survivor may not be aware of physical trauma resultant from the assault.
  • Casting doubt on survivors' experiences and/or using state language to frame them (e.g. using the word "alleged" in relation to the assault) has no in support work.

BE FLEXIBLE!

  • The survivor may be in a situation where they don't want/aren't able to ensure their safety. Continue to figure out with them how you can be supportive, try to provide as many options as possible, and encourage them to get to a place of safety. (E.g. they might be worried about getting home on time if the perpetrator is likely to be in the area. Help to figure out alternatives like rideboards, etc)
  • The sexual assault isn't always the survivor's primary or only concern.
  • As radical-minded folk we tend to avoid police at all costs. While police involvement may not seem 'radical,' neither is sexual assault. Remember you are supposed to present as many options as possible to help the survivor regain power taken from them. Help them figure out what the implications of the choices they are making are, without limits or judgment. Support them with whatever route they choose.

SELF CARE!

  • This work can be exhausting, emotionally-draining but fulfilling work. Make sure you're taking care of yourself and your needs
  • If you find yourself feeling triggered and need to process your own trauma while supporting a survivor, try to find someone else for them to talk to and find someone to talk to yourself! Self care is important and we can't be superheroes all the time ;)

How to Support Survivors Edit

The most important thing to remember is to be flexible. People react to sexual assault differently. Pay attention to their responses and be ready to change what you are doing.

  1. Deal with immediate needs. Do they want/need medical attention? A change of clothes? A shower? A safe place to be? The Emergency Contraceptive Pill (ECP)?
  2. Listen. No, for real. Listen
  3. It’s not about you. Don’t put your spin on what happened (“You must be furious” or “If only you hadn’t been drinking”). Don’t put your spin on what should happen (“We should go fuck them up” or “Everyone needs to know”). Let them tell you how they feel, what assault means to them and what support they need. Listen.
  4. Respect how much or how little they want to tell you about what happened. You don’t need to know anything and they don’t have to let it all out. On the other hand, retelling the story over and over might be what they need.
  5. Help them feel in control. Assault takes away power and control and restoring these can be helpful. This might mean letting them control where you are, what you’re doing or who knows about what happened.
  6. Give them options. Some folks get overwhelmed by having to tell people what they need. “Do you want to go home, go to the park or go to your freind's place?” Sometimes people might want you to decide.
  7. Let them determine what physical contact is okay. Remember: Someone just took that choice away from them.
  8. Validate what happened. Minimizing is common: “I shouldn’t be so upset, worse assaults have happened.”

Some Normal Reactions:

  • Nightmares
  • Reliving the assault in their mind
  • Trouble remembering
  • Being upset by things that remind them of assault
  • Numbing of responses or being extra sensitive to everything
  • Being totally cool, calm, and collected

Special notes for abusers or those accused of abuse/oppressionEdit

(Respect to: INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence; Communities Against Rape and Abuse (CARA). From: COMMUNITY ACCOUNTABILITY WITHIN THE PEOPLE OF COLOR PROGRESSIVE MOVEMENT; http://www.incite-national.org/media/docs/2406_cmty-acc-poc.pdf )

  • Take accountability. Regardless of intention or motivation, your attitudes and actions have had a negative impact on someone else. You are responsible for the consequences. Not intending to hurt someone (if you feel you did not have this intention) does not excuse you from the impact of your attitudes and/or behaviors.
  • RESPECT BOUNDARIES SET BY CONVERGENCE ORGANIZERS. Read the consent policy. If you are directed to leave organizational spaces and/or housing arrangements, take initiative, and leave. Do not expect other people to figure out rides home (which you should find immediately), responsibilities you’ve taken on, etc. Do not interact with the survivor AT ALL.
  • Understand the negative impact of your attitudes or actions on the individual(s), organization and movement. Your attitudes and actions have hurt another persyn within your organization or movement. They have also hurt your organization, community and movement. Understand the widespread impact of gender oppression and abuse and take accountability.
  • Understand that evading accountability has a further cost on the person you have hurt/offended, the organization, constituents, community and movement.
  • Support for you means support to take accountability, not support to defend yourself from accountability. If you have friends, family, co-workers, comrades whom you trust, ask them to help you to take accountability not to help you avoid accountability.
  • Take accountability for full reparations. Consider what you need to do to take accountability including full public apology, offering resources (including money) to the survivor/organization to help with healing/reparations for the abuse, counseling, leaving the organization (temporary or permanent), involving yourself in political education for yourself and others.
  • Understand gender oppression/abuse and accountability as fundamental issues of social justice.

More Resources

  • "Learning Good Consent" zine by Doris (http://zinelibrary.info/learning-good-consent)
  • "Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity" Robert Jensen...thesis: poisonous masculinity mixed with capitalism/industry objectifies not just womyn/trans ppl but at a most basic level, people socialized as dudes.
  • "Colonize This!: Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism" Cherrie Moraga, Daisy Fernandez, Bushra Rehman
  • "Tools for White Guys who are Working for Social Change … and other people socialized in a society based on domination" Chris Crass
  • Excerpts from "Support" zine by Doris, esp. first 3 pages w/ consent questions (http://www.phillyspissed.net/node/18)

Further resourcesEdit

From this wiki:

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