Embodying Survivor Justice: Centering Black, Indigenous, People of Color Healers and Healing

Published: October 25, 2020

In the United States, there remain countless individual, cultural, historical and systemic factors that complicate the ways in which people experience sexual trauma and their capacity to cope with its aftermath. Eight years ago, our intention was to raise awareness and resources that recognize and heal the imprints of sexual trauma as they arise within the landscape of survivors’ bodies and lives. In cultivating a national network of survivor supports, we’ve realized that any effort to deliver healing care that lacks historical, social and cultural context remains insufficient. At worst, decontextualized healing theories, practices and practitioners may exacerbate harm. For us, a trauma-informed lens must acknowledge the relationship between individual experiences of trauma and collective experiences of trauma + systemic oppression – such as racism, heterosexism, ableism, cissexism, among others – and must be interested, educated and invested in holding both.

To live fully into our mission, we are focusing more attention on the embodied intricacies where sexual trauma and systemic oppression intersect. The burdens of surviving sexual trauma are experienced in dramatically uneven ways. Survivors who are Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) are asked to handle the physical, psychological and spiritual impacts of interpersonal trauma along with the structural trauma of racism. Meanwhile, the barriers to resources which encompass the healing of these overlapping forms of trauma remain high.

Recently, one of my teachers described how as the most social being on the planet, humans need to feel connected, safe, and embedded within a coherent community of other humans. Anything that threatens our sense of belonging creates the possibility of nervous system dysregulation as an effect. The history of colonization, racism and white supremacy – which were partially enacted through the systemic sexual assault of Black and Brown people – combined with the modern day structural manifestations of oppression, has lead to the chronic, disproportionate, and overwhelming lack of embodied safety that Black, Indigenous, People of Color endure daily.

Safety is also a key element of trauma-informed care, yet it is not guaranteed in every space. For many survivors, safety in a therapeutic relationship provides a resource for building safety within their own body, which then fortifies a foundation of embodiment that empowers their capacity to heal, to grow and to inhabit their world with agency. While creating the conditions for safety within the culture remains an ongoing goal, safety in individual healing practice is often a necessary beginning. One pathway, among others, to increasing a sense of safety in healing specifically for BIPOC survivors involves enhancing access to BIPOC healers who understand somatically, in their own bodies, what it means and what is required to navigate through the dual, inescapable attacks (1) of individual sexual trauma and collective racial trauma. Healers who know intimately, not only about survival – yet also, who embody the possibility of thriving through the reclamation of their inherent wholeness, worthiness and belonging. Healers who hold the individual and collective pain alongside the possibility for individual and collective repair within their own shape.

Sexual trauma and racial trauma have been interconnected for centuries within the United States. Their relationship is literally woven into cells and tissues. (2) Therefore, the strategies and practices for how we confront either of them must encompass an understanding of their relationship to one another. We are humbly striving to create space at the center of our work for leaders and teachers in the realm of racial justice, healing justice and somatic abolitionism (3) to inform and guide future programming, capacity-building and curriculum development.

After the tragic murder of George Floyd which catalyzed a massive, global uprising against police brutality and white supremacy, and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, we wrote to our community about our commitment to situate racial justice within the heart of our mission to heal sexual violence. We spoke to the urgency to lift up the voices of Black, Indigenous, People of Color healers, leaders, teachers and survivors; to focus on the intersections of collective and individual trauma for BIPOC communities within our training curriculums, and also, to create specific pathways to engage and center more BIPOC healers within and in relationship to our organization.

We are thrilled to announce an initiative born of this commitment to our community – Embodying Survivor Justice: Centering BIPOC Healers and Healing.

Embodying Survivor Justice is a new scholarship fund that will be dedicated to centering and supporting BIPOC health, wellness and healing professionals, as well as BIPOC survivors of sexual trauma within our organization from today, moving forward. In 2020, we raised $10,000 to cover all application fees and annual dues for BIPOC practitioners who join our collective of healers through 2021. It will also provide for scholarships for BIPOC participants who want to enroll in our practitioner course, Healing Sexual Trauma, and our survivor course, Embodied Healing: Trauma-Informed Yoga and Meditation for Sexual Assault SurvivorsWe will continue to build this program indefinitely so that this becomes a sustainable resource for our BIPOC community.

We invite you to join us in supporting the growth and flourishing of this scholarship fund – which will directly translate into the growth, flourishing, leadership and healing of our BIPOC community of teachers, healers and survivors. Whether you choose to donate, to share on social media, to email this blog to friends and family that may want to support our initiative, or to reach out to your healing community to inform them of this new resource – we appreciate your amplification of this vital program.

Embodying Survivor Justice embeds our mission within a more expansive and equity-centered foundation upon which we can continuously grow the vital resources that BIPOC survivors need, seek and deserve. This includes identifying practitioners who deeply understand the physiological impacts of sexual trauma, who bring a trauma-informed lens to the way they hold space, and who honor both the embodied complexities and the embodied resources that Black, Indigenous, People of Color survivors bring as they approach healing at the intersection of multiple forms of trauma.

Just as the impacts of sexual trauma and racial trauma, along with the social conditions and norms that enable those systems of harm, are not limited to the individual survivor – it is also true that recovering from sexual trauma and racial trauma as structures, as tangible threats, as embodied experiences – are not individual tasks. The possibility for collective healing is dependent on our collective commitment to dismantle beliefs, behaviors, systems, and structures that harm and dehumanize Black, Indigenous, People of Color, so that we may all return to a community of belonging, and so that equity, justice and healing may take root.

We desire to co-create a world where all survivors feel free in their bodies, in their relationships, and in their pursuit of what uniquely gives joy and meaning to their lives. Centering BIPOC healers and healing through our new fund, Embodying Survivor Justice, plants another seed within a growing garden of resources to ensure that our intentions become reality. We hope you will join us!

To make a donation to our Embodying Survivor Justice fund, please follow our donate button here. Beneath the dollar amount select “Embodying Survivor Justice” in the drop down menu. 



1 – In the trauma healing theory of Somatic Experiencing, sexual trauma is categorized as an inescapable attack – one in which there is no way out and where survivability is increased by the body’s evolutionarily selected for movement into the state of freeze. When we account for the ways in which colonization and slavery were woven into the very founding of our nation and which informed the building blocks of our society, it is clear that racism, along with other forms of systemic oppression, are also inescapable attacks. You can read more about some of the primary features of inescapable attack, with specific attention on sexual trauma in this blog.

2 – “You Want A Confederate Monument? My Body is A Confederate Monument”. Caroline Randall Williams, writer-in-residence at Vanderbilt University, describes the real and raw rendering of the intersection of race, racism and rape.

3 – My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem

Resources on the Physical, Psychological, Spiritual, Social & Generational Impacts of Racism and Racial Trauma:

Healing Your Thousand-Year Old Trauma by Resmaa Menakem

Resmaa Menakem is a therapist, licensed social worker, and police trainer and consultant who specializes in trauma work, addressing conflict, and body-centered healing.

How Does Trauma Affect a Child’s DNA with Nadine Burke Harris

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris is an award-winning physician, researcher and advocate dedicated to changing the way our society responds to one of the most serious, expensive and widespread public health crises of our time: childhood trauma. She was appointed as California’s first-ever Surgeon General by Governor Gavin Newsom in January 2019.

The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health – Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (2019) https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/144/2/e20191765

“Racism is a core social determinant of health that is a driver of health inequities. The World Health Organization defines social determinants of health as ‘the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age.’ These determinants are influenced by economic, political, and social factors linked to health inequities. These health inequities are not the result of individual behavior choices or genetic predisposition but are caused by economic, political, and social conditions, including racism. The impact of racism has been linked to birth disparities and mental health problems in children and adolescents. The biological mechanism that emerges from chronic stress leads to increased and prolonged levels of exposure to stress hormones and oxidative stress at the cellular level. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones, such as cortisol, leads to inflammatory reactions that predispose individuals to chronic disease.”

Racism is a Public Health Issue and Police Brutality Must Stop (2020) https://kvia.com/health/2020/06/01/racism-is-a-public-health-issue-and-police-brutality-must-stop-medical-groups-say/

“The trauma of violence in a person’s life course is associated with chronic stress, higher rates of co-morbidities and lower life expectancy, all of which bear extensive care and economic burden on our healthcare system while sapping the strength of affected families and communities,” they wrote. “The United States has a track record of historically and systemically disadvantaging certain racial groups — in addition to ethnic, religious and other minoritized groups — across the country.”

Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome Resources by Dr. Joy DeGruy

As a result of twelve years of quantitative and qualitative research Dr. DeGruy has developed her theory of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, and published her findings in the book “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome – America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing”. The book addresses the residual impacts of generations of slavery and opens up the discussion of how the black community can use the strengths we have gained in the past to heal in the present. P.T.S.S. is a theory that explains the etiology of many of the adaptive survival behaviors in African American communities throughout the United States and the Diaspora.

Sexual Assault Statistics and Facts – End Rape On Campus

Due to limited research on sexual assault, including parameters by race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. the following statistics are primarily focused on cisgender women of color. Additionally, we must note that some studies use different language and measures to describe different races. For instance, some studies organized Native American women as “American Indian or Alaska Native,” grouping different communities as one. This could also be seen in the statistics of Latinx women. Under the study parameters the “Hispanic/Latina” group includes White Latinas, but most likely exclude Black Latinas. This study does not give clear parameters of race and includes White Hispanics and Latinos as one category.

About the Author:

Molly Boeder Harris
Molly Boeder Harris
Molly Boeder Harris (she/her) is the Founder and Executive Director of The Breathe Network, a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, and a trauma-informed yoga teacher and trainer. Her own experiences surviving sexual trauma catalyzed her to enter the trauma healing field in 2003, beginning with her work as a medical and legal advocate with children and adult survivors, a campus violence prevention educator, and as a yoga teacher specializing in working with survivors. She earned her Master’s Degree in International Studies and her Master’s Certificate in Women’s & Gender Studies, which inform the way she holds both individual and collective forms of trauma and oppression close together in her work. Over the last 2 decades of her career and healing trajectory, she has found that the practices which recognize the whole person – body, mind, and soul – and which also honor the ways in which trauma and resilience manifest physiologically, offer the greatest possibility for embodied justice and social change.
About The Breathe Network

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