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Trauma Informed

What does Trauma Informed have to do with SV/SA policies?

  • Some SV/SA policies, and many of the services associated with them, are described as “Trauma Informed.”
  • Trauma Informed refers to an approach based in the knowledge that many people have experienced trauma in their lives. It involves knowledge about:
    • What trauma is
    • How trauma can appear
    • Helpful ways to respond to people who may have experienced trauma
  • Because sexual violence tends to be traumatic, and because those who are responsible for sexual violence have often experienced trauma, Trauma Informed responses to sexual violence make sense.
  • Ideas about Trauma Informed approaches emerged from the work of feminists responding to intimate partner and sexual violence as well as from medical research about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following the Vietnam War (Wilson, Pence, & Conradi, 2013).

What causes trauma?

  • According to the Centre for Healthcare Strategies (2021), trauma “results from exposure to an incident or series of events that are emotionally disturbing or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, and/or spiritual well-being.”
  • An event does not need to be life-threatening to be emotionally disturbing.

How do people respond when they experience trauma?

Responses to potentially traumatic events vary from person to person.

  • Conversations about Trauma Informed approaches often discuss a range of natural responses to traumatic events or memories of traumatic events (e.g., Center for Health Care Strategies, 2021). These include:
    • Fight (fighting back)
    • Flight (fleeing the situation)
    • Freeze (freezing up)
    • Fawn (flattering or catering to the person who is harming you)
  • Traumatic experiences affect the likelihood of encountering a variety of challenges, such as chronic pain or addiction, later on (Center for Health Care Strategies, 2021).
  • Trauma Informed approaches are intended to reduce the negative impacts of trauma (Center for Health Care Strategies, 2021).

What do Trauma Informed approaches involve?


Organizations and researchers list a variety of elements that are part of being Trauma Informed. It is not possible to know exactly how this approach will be used by a care provider just by seeing that the person is identified as Trauma Informed.

Here are some approaches supporting victims/survivors that would be considered Trauma Informed. These draw on the six key principles of a trauma-informed approach listed by SAMSHA (2014):

[~] Maximizing a sense of safety so that victims/survivors are safe and feel safe. There are many ways in which supporters can contribute to a victim/survivor’s feeling of safety.

[~~] One example is being calm while interacting with the person who has experienced sexual violence.

[~~] Another example is asking whether the person would be more comfortable with the door open or closed during an appointment.

[~] Involve victims/survivors in making decisions about what they will do or what will happen.

[~~] An example of this is providing information about the support options that are available and then supporting the person’s choice about which options to use, if any.

[~] Support and encourage resources and relationships that will help the victim/survivor through difficult times.

[~~] An example of this would be asking the person if there is anybody they would like to accompany them during meetings or appointments.

[~] Pay attention to how trauma might be impacting the people in one’s support network, or the service providers working with the person who has experienced sexual violence.

[~~] An example of this might be asking a friend who is accompanying the victim/survivor to appointments how they are holding up, acknowledging the work that friend is doing, and mentioning supports available to them.