This week we meet Saskia Bamber and Megan Wilson, full-time students at the University of Bristol who have made it their goal to create a support network for survivors of domestic or sexual abuse who attend the university.
What is The Survivors Network?
Megan The Survivors Network is a peer-to-peer support network for survivors of sexual violence and rape for Bristol University students of all gender identities. We try to create a community of survivors to provide them with a space where they can talk and discuss the issues and problems they face, as well as raise awareness on the issue.
How did you two get involved?
Megan I was sexually assaulted when I was 17. It wasn’t until I came to University and realized just how isolated that environment can be that I began to see the need to finally deal with what happened, or else it would’ve begun to take over my life. First year was tough, especially seeing as the university provided no framework of support for people like me. By chance, it turned out one of my friends here had gone through a similar thing to myself, and it was in our conversations with eachother that I found real solace, and began to validate what had happened to me-validate it to others, validate it to myself. By the time I’d reach second year I’d kind of worked through it more than I’d ever expected was possible, and it was then that I got the idea for The Survivors Network. I realized the value of talking to someone who truly understands what happened, and not feeling like you’re alone in all this.
Saskia I heard about the work Megan was doing by chance through an SU officer. As a victim of domestic abuse myself, my motivation for getting involved was also a very personal one. It was my way of fighting back. Like Megan said, the effect of talking to someone who really understands how you feel is invaluable. Universities seem to be beginning to think about how to best deal with this kind of things but survivors need support straight away, and we found that that just wasn’t there when we joined. They aren’t facilitating the help people need-you have to be in a very strong place mentally to do it all yourself. We can’t let vulnerable people fall through the cracks, it’s just not on.
So, what does The Survivors Network do to help?
Megan Essentially, we try to create a support network (clue’s in the name!) around vulnerable survivors at the university to try our best to help them deal with what’s happened to them whilst keeping them in education. We’re also trying to promote a debate about this issue within the university sphere, where up until now it’s remained a taboo subject, or one that has simply been overlooked. We hold casual meetings every other week which are open to anyone involved with the university; at the moment, our sessions are mixed, but we’re thinking of starting unisex sessions so everyone feels confortable.
And what do these meetings entail?
Megan As a non-disclosure organization, we try not to talk about the nitty-gritty details of an individual’s situation, as we’ve found this can sometimes make attendees feel uncomfortable or vulnerable. Instead, we discuss the more general issues that affect survivors in everyday life, such as triggers, maintaining healthy relationships and how to deal with people disbelieving you. This is an environment in which you’re free to talk about things you can’t usually talk about in day-to-day life, and that’s really liberating. Though you don’t have to feel the need to share-we get a lot of people who just come along and listen, because sometimes that’s all you need to feel supported.
Saskia Yeah and that’s really important-I think some people feel like they have to share their ‘story’ to validate their being there but that’s not the case-you can just come along and be safe in the knowledge that you’re around people who truly know how you feel.
Megan We also put on a lot of workshops and talks run by people who are trained to give the kind of help survivors desperately need-we’re so lucky in the fact that Bristol is full of great local charities who are willing to come in, such as Bristol Women’s Voice or SARSAS.
Saskia But we also have a lot of non-survivor based conversations during the meetings-sometimes it’s just tea, cake and chatting. We’re even holding a yoga morning in a few weeks! It’s important not to solely focus on the terrible things that have happened to us all, but to try to see the goodness from this opportunity to all be together. It’s an opportunity for friendship and trust as well as healing.
How do you think people who attend the meetings benefit?
Saskia Hopefully they come away knowing that they are believed, they are accepted, and that the way they’re feeling is valid-that they don’t have to be ashamed or scared or alone.
Megan It’s a place where they can drop the mask and be honest; honest with themselves, honest with the group, and honest about the support they need.
Saskia Honesty is key, and so is understanding: you’ll meet people who understand you, what’s happened to you and how you’re feeling. It’s far too common that survivors get questioned, second-guessed or simply disbelieved. If you come to us, you won’t have to justify yourself. You don’t even have to talk; you’ll still have our support.
How have you yourselves benefitted from setting up the network?
Megan It’s therapeutic-its not just the survivors who come out of the meetings feeling uplifted, but us too-it’s like there’s a lightness after the meeting, one which you really wouldn’t expect.
Saskia We’re all helping eachother, we’re all supporting eachother-it’s beautiful.
And what future do you see for The Survivors Network?
Saskia World domination!
Megan Well, almost…
Saskia Basically the grand plan is to be a nationwide organization, with a network stretching throughout every university to ensure that, wherever you chose to go as a survivor, you can rely on having a support system there to help you.
Megan We want to keep as many survivors as possible in education, and a nationwide network would give us the resources and support needed to do that. We’re currently setting up branches in Kings and Royal Holloway, so the dream is starting to become a reality!
How would someone who needed support get in touch and come to one of the meetings?
Megan Just drop us an email or a message on the Facebook page and we’ll get back to you explaining everything the meetings involve so you feel comfortable. Your safety is our main concern, so we’ll only tell those who we know are attending the meeting where it’s going to be held. Sometimes coming through the door that first time feels like the hardest thing you’ll ever do, so we’re happy to support you before you decide to come. We want to help you just as much as we ourselves wanted to be helped, so we’ll do whatever we can to give you the support you need.
If you have any questions or are interested in attending one of the meetings, please contact Megan or Saskia via [email protected]. The Survivors Network are also always looking for volunteers and committee members, so please feel free to contact Megan or Saskia about getting involved via their Facebook page or email.