Leaders, please stop hurting us so we can finally heal

This past spring, I came forward with my husband to talk about our own experience with Military Sexual Trauma because we wanted to highlight the issues within the system that were denying justice to victims of abuse. People can’t heal from trauma in a context of injustice. We need the system to become trauma-informed, and we need it to create the conditions for healing and restoration.


Put another way, we need leaders to become more skilled in practicing empathy and compassion. Empathy is to put oneself in the shoes of another and connect with the emotion. Our experiences might be different, but we all know what it is like to feel painful emotions. “Compassion literally means ‘to suffer together.’ Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.” (1) We need CAF leaders to connect with, and express, their own humanity.

To me, the story in the news last week highlights how the system itself fails to prioritize humanity. I consider the A/CDS and VCDS to be very caring and humane as individuals, yet the system overly accentuates rules, checklists and procedures. This approach must be balanced with an appreciation of the complexity and messiness of the human experience. In other words, a trauma-informed approach.

The effect of trauma on individuals with lived experience of Military Sexual Trauma needs to be understood.

“A trauma-informed approach incorporates:

  • (1) realizing the prevalence of trauma;
  • (2) recognizing how trauma affects all individuals involved with the organization or system, including its own workforce;
  • (3) responding by putting this knowledge into practice.” (2)

My thoughts regarding the definition above:

  • (1) CAF surely recognizes prevalence – 10,000+ members of the class action lawsuit so far
  • (2) There has been acknowledgement of the systemic nature of the issue, but perhaps not the degree to which the effects of trauma have permeated the organization
  • (3) Without fully embracing the first two, execution will continue to be a point of failure.

The effect of trauma on individuals with lived experience of MST needs to be understood. Then, their needs can be considered, and their voices can be truly heard.

The Onus to Set the Conditions for Healing and Restoration

We are tired and worn. We don’t have the energy to spell out the harm. Not over and over again.

And I can see how hard a lot of you leaders are trying. You’re really racking your brain; you’re listening and trying to hear. Like a caring parent, I can see you hurting when you see us hurting. I see that you feel terrible when you realize it was you who caused a new harm.

Leaders everywhere: we need you to pay attention to what we’ve already said. We need you to seek out professional guidance to understand our needs and perspectives. Speak with specialists who understand trauma and can explain it much better than most of us can. They’ll help you gain awareness of which decisions will affect us. They can give you trauma-informed advice on decisions, just like you get legal and other expert advice.

By all means, continue to engage our community with curiosity and empathy. Keep listening, it helps us heal when we can be part of the solution. Ask us if you aren’t sure how something will affect us – and compensate us for providing consultation services. But please, whatever you do, don’t ask us to spell out why we are so devastated.

I know it sounds contradictory that we want to be heard and considered but we don’t want you to ask us for all the answers. We hurt when you stare at us blankly and ask, “What more do you need?” The doctor doesn’t ask her patient to come up with the cure.

We need you to do the heavy lifting, we need you to learn new way of thinking different from the one that has served you all these years. We aren’t experts in learning new paradigms, we just need you to do it. Get the help you need to think differently, see the world differently, consider human factors in a new way. We need you to figure it out.

Please stop hurting us.

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