Usually the SWIHA blog is full of inspiring stories, tips for holistic living and exciting updates about our programs. Today, I want to shift the dialogue a bit and talk about a topic that is emotional for many: violation of boundaries by a practitioner, spiritual leader or advisor.
We believe the way to empower survivors of abuse is through open, honest conversations, so we will be having one today. If you are sensitive to the topic of sexual abuse or harassment, please proceed reading mindfully.
Despite the majority of practitioners having the best intentions for healing, places such as churches, meditation groups, yoga studios, massage clinics, and private holistic practices are not immune to abuses of power, sexual misconduct, and sexual harassment.
The covert acceptance of such behavior has to come to an end. Humanity as a whole is growing in awareness and self-responsibility. One person acting as they see fit with without consent is no longer appropriate—and it never was.
Everyone is vulnerable when reaching out for help from a holistic practitioner. When we seek out a healer or teacher, we are usually in a place of need—hoping to reconnect with our inner-strength and optimism. To have that trust violated not only makes us feel physically taken advantage of, but also as if we’ve been robbed of the hope of improving ourselves that we entered the session with.
If you find yourself in a situation where your boundaries have been crossed:
- Prioritize Your Safety: Remove yourself from the session as quickly as you are able to. If you are uncomfortable for any reason—such as at an overly suggestive comment—trust your gut, excuse yourself and go. Many people experience a paralysis-like reaction to these types of abuse and if that is the case: You are not at fault for that. It is extremely common. End the session as soon as you can.
- Reach Out For Support: Call a trusted friend or family member. You don’t have to go in to detail with them, but reach out to someone who you know will listen and hold space. If you prefer to speak to someone anonymously, call the National Sexual Assault hotline at 800-656-HOPE. Hotline operators are trained to support you and connect you with resources. Visit RAINN.org (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) to explore resources on your own.
- Consider Your Legal Options: Some survivors know immediately that they want to file a police report. For others, the decision is not so cut and dry; they may be reluctant to report and confused as to what they should do next. If you are the friend of someone who has been assaulted, honor their decision. Return their power by supporting them whether they decided to pursue legal action or not.
- Contact The Credentialing Board or Employer & File a Complaint: Click the links to be taken to the Grievance & Complaint pages of the following organizations:
If you are unsure of who to contact, please reach out to us here at SWIHA and we will be more than happy to help you find out who may be the proper credentialing or licensing institution to contact.
What you can do to help survivors:
- Respond with sensitivity and avoid shaming or blaming. Ask what the survivor wants and needs. Do not tell them how they should feel or what they “need” to do.
- Victims are less likely to report abuse if members of the community seem unreceptive. Do not praise the offender with statements like, “I only had good experiences.”
- Emphasize accountability within your community. Confirm victim reports of abuse and report abuse that you have witnessed.
- Honor the courage of those who speak up.
- Educate yourself on the impacts of sexual abuse. It’s not the responsibility of a survivor to educate you. They may experience dissociation, shame, difficulty making decisions, or find themselves unexpectedly triggered.
- Call out problematic behavior when you see it, even if it is a “harmless” or “joking”.
If you are a practitioner:
- Do not assume you know your clients’ boundaries.
- Continually check in with them that they are comfortable.
- Keep the conversation professional and be conscious of your language.
- Always ask for permission when physical touch is involved.
- Be proactive and create an open and positive environment.
- Verbally give your clients permission to speak up if they are not comfortable.
Recovering is a long process that is never truly “over” and the path is unique to each survivor. The faculty and staff at Southwest Institute of Healing Arts operate from a trauma-aware approach, and we employ and educate many who are survivors themselves. If you need support, do not hesitate to reach out to us. We see, honor and love you.