The Power of Language and Being Survivor-Informed

“Don’t make a decision about me without me.”

This adage has been running through our heads lately. LifeWay Network’s uniqueness stems in part from our extremely close interaction with the survivors we serve and who live in our safe houses. They’re our roommates and friends. Over the past few years, we’ve realized how much more we can do to become survivor-informed and to listen even more closely to the women who share so much of our daily lives.

According to the Human Trafficking Leadership Academy, a survivor-informed practice “includes meaningful input from a diverse community of survivors at all stages of a program or project, including development, implementation and evaluation.” While we have incorporated survivors’ thoughts and feelings on everything from the holidays we celebrate in the safe houses to the types of programs we offer, we’ve learned how we could use their input on other aspects of our organization.

One thing we’ve learned from these conversations with the women we serve is how inadvertently wounding some of our language choices are. We had adopted the term “guest” as to refer to the women staying in our safe houses because we didn’t want them to be defined by their trauma as “victims” or “survivors.” But by calling these women “guests,” we had unknowingly created a sense of impermanence for some of them. Our safe housing model is predicated on women feeling at home in a safe and loving space. It was saddening to hear that we had unintentionally made them feel more like visitors than members of the household.

Our alumnae told us that the term “resident” would be much better preferred. This conversation spurred us to change our internal language. Going forward, all women who live in our safe houses will be referred to as “residents.” We hope that this makes them feel that much more at home with us.

Being survivor-informed is not just a part of our mission, it’s the center of it. As 2018 winds down, we’re looking forward to a new year full of these kinds of conversations.