Sunday 18 November 2018

Clíona Saidléar: 'How our 'empathy' undermines testimony of survivors'

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Clíona Saidléar

As we reflect on a year that has been filled with extraordinary testimony and transformation - from the women and their partners in the abortion referendum to the women of the cervical smear scandal - it is important we understand how survivor testimony causes change.

The self-evident power of these testimonies to effect change means there is a growing demand and pressure on victims to testify. But testifying, for all that it may be empowering and liberating, almost always comes at a cost to survivors.

Survivor testimony itself is a simple factual description of a terrible experience that generally happened in the past. A significant amount of the trauma of testimony is about the fear of what happens in the future. What happens to my words once I speak them, what happens to me, my loved ones, my life, my career, once I testify? Those risks and harms arise out of the reaction of the audience, rather than the action of the perpetrator. We, the audience and allies, can therefore reduce the trauma of testifying.

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