Questions and Answers for Prevention
Who are survivor advocates?
Both words are crucial. A “survivor”
is someone who has sustained a personal and traumatic loss.
The loss can be the premature death of a family member or
close friend. The loss might be a disabling injury,
sustained by oneself or a loved one. The “loss” might be
of one’s sense of safety or well-being, caused by a
traumatic event. An “advocate” is someone who actively
argues for a cause. For our purposes, survivor advocates
work to prevent any repetition of whatever caused their
Is every survivor an advocate?
No. In fact, it is most likely that
only a few people suffering profound losses will channel
their grief into advocacy. As is clear from the stories told
here, some survivors are self-initiating advocates, and
these tend to be the most effective.
Is it possible to recruit survivors
to get involved in injury prevention?
Often journalists ask medical or
injury prevention professionals to “find them a victim”
to personalize a story. It is possible to invite survivors
to participate in injury prevention, but it requires
exquisite sensitivity. Each person works through grief and
heals in her or his own way and time. Depending upon the
circumstances of the incident, survivors deal with guilt,
remorse, or anger as well as grief. The best invitations for
collaboration 1) are offered by someone already known to the
survivor; 2) are very specific as to what actions are
requested; and 3) are very easy to decline without bad
feelings. There are differences between survivors who are
willing to tell their story to the media and those who
become true advocates. Survivor advocates are extremely
knowledgeable about the problem, and go beyond personal
experience to argue passionately for solutions.
What can injury prevention
professionals do for survivor advocates?
Survivor advocates are catapulted into
this work without training about goals, objectives, or
methods of injury control, although many are skilled in
other areas. They tend to have few institutional supports.
Money is always a problem. Here are some ways to assist:
- share expertise in goals and
methods of injury control;
- share personal networks, help make
contact with key experts;
- share “fund-finding” expertise
(finding sympathetic foundations, publicizing government
grant opportunities; sharing nuts and bolts of grant
- create consultancies and small
contracts, if goals are shared and money is available;
- let them use office machines (copy,
fax, scan, telephone, etc.) and if possible, office
Is it easy to work with survivor
It is impossible to generalize here.
The advantages are numerous. The partnership creates a
powerful alliance of authenticity with expertise. However,
working with the emotion, passion and single-mindedness of
many survivor advocates can be time and energy consuming.
Good working relationships become more personal than is
common in professional collaboration. Although there are
notable exceptions, it appears easier for women than for men
to be and/or partner with survivor advocates.
“The role of advocate does not come
easily to many scientists. Yet often it is only by taking on
this role that we can turn our special knowledge about the
causes of injury into public policies that will prevent
Susan Baker, The Charles S.
Dana Award for Pioneering Achievement in Health.