In light of the recent #metoo movement and the US Gymnastics sexual assault cases, survivors of intimate partner violence and/or sexual violence are exercising our rights to speak after being silenced and shamed by society for attempting to do so.

Encouraging survivors to speak up is a big challenge for agencies that wish to educate their communities. Small rural communities can face a broader challenge than areas with larger populations. Fellow citizens are neighbors that may know their abuser and many have to work with their abuser. It can be embarrassing to reveal details about abuse in such a close-knit community.

Education starts with speaking up about the abuse endured. Often self-blame and fear are involved when there is a reluctance to speak to family, friends, advocates and law enforcement. How do we encourage survivors to share?

We must approach sharing as being a tool to rebuild self-esteem and encourage them to take positive action to help themselves and others who might be subject to the same violation. It can start with a call to action in your community asking survivors to come forward and share initially in a one-on-one session. You can also have group sharing in a safe environment ensuring that what is said in the room stays in the room. It takes time and patience to build the confidence to share survivor stories. We must support survivors and empower them to share their stories while using a trauma-informed approach.

The decision to share a survivor story is always the choice of the survivor. We can offer encouragement, but we must never place a survivor in a position of feeling as if this is forced. Safety can be a concern for those that may be reluctant to share their story publicly. It is imperative that we work with a survivor to develop a safety plan if they decide to go public with their story.

It is also crucial to keep in mind that it may not be in the best interest of the survivor to share his or her story if there are pending court cases working their way through the system. Anything said publicly may be used against the survivor in any proceedings.

We are at the cusp of a pivotal time when those that have not used their voices witness examples of those of us that do and can be assured that their voices matter.