The Saahas Principles on Supporting Survivors of Gender-based Violence

The Saahas Principles are a dedicated model built to respond to gender-based violence in a wholesome, roots-upward fashion. The Principles aim to not only address manifestations when they arise, but to create and facilitate shifts in structures that enable gender-based violence to happen.

Use these principles to guide your personal, institutional, and community action responses to gender-based violencee.

Principle 1: All interventions should be survivor-centric.

Survivors are not homogeneous groups or categories of people and the experience of survival in itself looks different to different people. To respond to the unique needs of each survivor in the aftermath of gender-based violence, it is necessary to acknowledge that the survivor’s needs are a priority over a one-size-fits-all approach. Multiple identities such as ability (mental and physical, visible and non-visible), age, caste, class, color, ethnicity, nationality, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and other similar identity factors render survival experiences different and unique. A survivor-centred approach involves listening to victims in order to assess their individual needs and promote their rights and best interests. In the process, all those working with survivors must not make assumptions about what is best for the survivor, and should respect the survivor’s needs and choices.

Principle 2: Confidentiality of the survivor’s identity, whereabouts, and story should be maintained actively at all times.

The maintenance of a survivor’s identity as confidential is key. Reporting, articulating, and speaking out about violence can be a harrowing experience for survivors, who not only handle the emotional labour involved in reporting, but also deal with potential reprisals, intimidation, and stigmatization. A survivor’s decision to share their story is theirs alone, and all caregivers and professionals working with a survivor must prioritize maintenance of their identities as confidential. Anonymizing case history documents using codes or numbers, permitting testifying from behind a screen or blinds or from a separate room or through technology such as video conferencing, and non-disclosure of identity markers to and by the media are all means to ensure confidentiality.

Principle 3: The personal agency of a survivor must be respected at all times.

That a survivor faced any form of violence does not take away the fact that they have the right to assert and exercise their personal agency. Survivors are always in charge of decisions that concern them and this must be respected. For example, they are the sole ones to have the final word on whether to press charges or pursue a legal case or to seek psychosocial support in a certain fashion. At all times, survivors have the authority to revise or retract decisions they make. Informed, free individual choice is a key driver of survivor action. Placing survivors at the center of any intervention affirms the fact that a survivor remains in charge at all times, and that their agency is neither reduced nor limited by the violence they faced.

Principle 4: Cultural competence to acknowledge and respect a survivor’s own cultural beliefs and views is vital.

A survivor’s pursuit of care, support, and justice may be informed by their cultural and other beliefs. Care providers and support must be made available unconditionally and not withdrawn because of particular cultural values of the survivor, and must also endeavor to provide the survivor with all the relevant information they need to form their own opinions and decisions. Survivors must not be judged for their views on any account.

Principle 5: Empathy, compassion, and acknowledgment of lived experiences is vital. Unbiased and non-judgmental support and caregiver behavior is priority.

As unique as survivors’ healing journeys are, so too are their lived experiences. It is impossible for care providers and support to practically share all imaginable lived experiences - and this makes it doubly necessary for anyone engaged in supporting survivors to rely on empathy and compassion while responding to survivor needs. It is fundamental to supporting a survivor that the provider acknowledges the survivor’s unique lived experiences, remains unbiased and non-judgmental, and centers the survivor’s needs through the process. At all times, it is vital to acknowledge the emotional labour involved in supporting survivors. At all times, the caregiver must avoid prejudicing the survivor or the survivor's experience, and must refrain from channeling or articulating their personal views on the survivor's sexual orientation and sexual history.

Principle 6: A gender-sensitive approach is vital.

A survivor centric approach should inherently be gender sensitive.Interventions should strive to enhance support by properly addressing and examining the risks involved in the harm experienced differently by individuals of different gender identities. No sexual orientation, sex identity, gender identity, or gender expression, should be discriminated against, and care should be taken to respond to the structural violence that the survivor faces, has faced, and potentially will face, as well. It is necessary to avoid weaponizing a survivor’s gender against the survivor on any account.

Principle 7: Every attempt to support a survivor must involve an ecosystem approach.

Survival is not a destination, but a process that takes as much time as necessary, with timelines differing for each survivor. In the process of healing and responding to the incident(s) of violence, survivors may or may not seek out different forms of support. Regardless, care providers must ensure that survivors are made aware of all their options, consequences (to the extent foreseeable) of those options, ways to exercise / operationalize those options, and avenues to seek them. In sum, the entire landscape of support must be a spectrum of options made available either through physical access or through options for a survivor to exercise. A survivor-centred approach cannot be implemented on an ad hoc basis.

Principle 8: No survivor should be forced to pursue a particular course of action if they prefer not to.

Survivors are always the ones in charge regarding any decisions concerning them. Care providers and support must endeavour to provide a survivor with all the relevant and available information there is, in order for the survivor to make an informed decision. No matter how much a particular approach may seem like the “best,” it cannot be imposed on a survivor. Highlighting particular courses of action as ideal would suffice, but decisions cannot be made on behalf of a survivor. Care providers and support must refrain from offering unsolicited advice based on the caregiver's own prior experience or ideological/moral beliefs.

Principle 9: Survivors must not be forcibly relocated or refouled into environments that threaten their safety and their lives.

On many occasions, various circumstances may present themselves wherein a survivor faces violence or abuse from someone they know. Where a survivor has exhibited a desire not to return to environments that threaten their safety, care must be taken to avoid sending them back to those very harmful environments against the survivor’s wishes. Where the survivor has taken an informed decision of complete free will to return to an environment that may potentially threaten them, making safety plans available, resources accessible, and remaining non-judgmental of the survivor in the process is vital.

Principle 10: Avoid raising expectations that cannot be met.

Survivor-centric approaches should strive to avoid raising expectations that cannot be met. It is important to prepare the survivors for realistic assessments of what engaging with various systems of support may involve, along with clear information in terms of timelines, potential costs, social and cultural implications, and other relevant information. Raising awareness through advocacy can ensure that survivors are not forced to labour under false impressions. Providers must endeavour to work with the survivor to establish and uphold boundaries to avoid transference and emotional dependence, both of which can be traumatizing and damaging to the survivor