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CSE Institute Kicks off New Blog Series, “Survivor Voices” – Our First Installment, “What Makes a Good Survivor Ally?” features Ms. Alisa Bernard

Posted: December 15, 2016

The CSE Institute recognizes that survivor voices must drive policy development and best practices in combatting commercial sexual exploitation. As such, we are proud to introduce our latest blog series, “Survivor Voices.” The blog series will feature survivors of sex trafficking, prostitution, and commercial sexual exploitation and help inform the community so we can be stronger allies. Please check our news section regularly for new blog entries.

First up in our series, we are featuring Alisa Bernard. Ms. Bernard served as a panelist during the Robina Conference on the fifth panel, “Creating Real Opportunities for Survivors and Cultivating Survivor Leadership.” Ms. Bernard exited prostitution over a decade ago and after years of hard work came to the understanding that prostitution is a systemic societal problem for women, children and men. Ms. Bernard pulls from both her life experience and academic knowledge to be a powerful public speaker as well as a published author, educator and policy advocate. She presents both regionally and nationally on the topics of prostitution and trafficking as forms of gender based violence and a societal problem. She sits on multiple boards of directors for nonprofits, consults to NGO’s across the country, is an advisory member of the Buyer Beware team working to eliminate the demand for commercial sex in King County and is a firm advocate for the Nordic Model. Ms. Bernard is above all things an activist for women’s rights and a mentor to others.

Read on for Ms. Bernard’s piece for the CSE Institute.

What Makes a Good Survivor Ally?

by Alisa Bernard

When Shea asked me to guest blog for the CSE Institute using the prompt “What makes a good survivor ally?” I was more than happy to oblige. Thinking this would be an easy piece I pulled up a barstool at my favorite local brewery (it’s Seattle, we have an affinity for writing in breweries), pulled out my yellow lined paper and proceeded to stare blankly at the inkless page for the next 45 minutes. I realized, after my second bowl of pretzels, that explaining the characteristics of a good survivor ally was almost an impossibility to accomplish. Like many things in my survivor life I’ve seen countless examples of who isn’t a good ally rather than who is. I could easily conjure up endless memories of encounters with service workers, professionals, and even politicians who tried their level best but fell short of actually helping me because they were simply trying too hard.

It began to dawn on me that the reason I was having a hard time thinking of any one example of a good ally was because the good examples were the most unexceptional ones. That isn’t to say that allies are unexceptional—on the contrary, anyone who can withstand the constant ups and downs of standing by a group of survivors in the face of inadvertent self-destruction, the inevitable trauma drama and dizzying amount of (what we survivors call) the survivor scramble is an exceptional human. But the way they treated me just like any other human being walking down the street was unexceptional, and that is what made them good allies.

It was quite simplistic when I started to think about it. The truly good allies don’t treat me like a victim, or even a survivor. Sure, they honor the fact that I survived some truly horrendous and unthinkable trauma in my life but they don’t define me based on those things. They treat me as a human being should be treated: with respect and with mutual astonishment at the fact that, as sacks of blood, bone and nerves, we somehow manage to keep propelling ourselves forward in this bizarre world. Allies are the people that see me as a peer rather than a diva, or a pariah, or a fragile victim ready to shatter at the slightest breeze.

At some point as a survivor you just start realizing that the best allies out there aren’t the ones that remove every single obstacle from your path. They’re the ones that let you trip a little along the way, they may even let you stumble or fall, but they’re always there waiting when you get back up. Ultimately, they are the ones that keep something in mind—that survivors like myself don’t always remember—that we can and do get up on our own. That we’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other, just like you. And, just like you, we will learn, adapt, adjust, and move on in navigating the world’s ups and downs.

So, in the end, the advice I’d like to leave you with is this: don’t second guess every action you take around survivors, honor our pasts but don’t dwell in them, don’t purposefully try, but do come to terms with the fact that some day you’ll trigger us and it’s not the end of the world, and lastly get to know us not just our stories—but US.

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