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09.05.24 Advice


We have recently partnered with Secrets Worth Sharing to host a series of events talking about childhood sexual abuse with ‘serious joy’. But is this extra-curricular or extra-essential to the world of work? Sophia, the founder and trauma-informed designer, shares her thoughts.

Host Sophia Luu at Secrets Worth Sharing held in PLATF9RM, event all about opening up about Childhood Sexual Abuse Trauma, making conversations joyful and limiting taboos.

I was a month into my dream job, as a designer working on anti-racism in healthcare, when I got a call from my manager. It turns out one of my colleagues was a convicted child sex offender, who my company had hired by mistake. All of this was made extra difficult as I had shared my background in survivor-activism with the company. Not only that, but two other people in the team disclosed they had gone through a similar experience…

I’m hoping that this case is a rare one, and that even reading this, those of you in hiring positions review your background checks and safer recruitment policies. Regardless – the underlying message is the same: you never know the full depth of what your colleagues are going through.

I’ve since quit that job and become a freelance trauma informed design researcher, and founder of Secrets Worth Sharing, a platform encouraging more approachable and practical conversations on child sexual abuse with ‘serious joy’.

There is no set way to be ‘trauma informed’. Every organisation is different, and so needs to adjust to the varying needs of the groups they work with. Some of the earliest work in formally pioneering this approach comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Since then, it has been adopted by the UK Government’s office for Health and Improvement Disparities, and many other organisations are pioneering their own approaches.

Having gone full-blown in depth into trauma, I can hand on heart say that every single business, no matter what their business is: needs to be trauma-informed. Below are my 3 favourite (and most compelling)

Credit: Roxy Van Der Post

1. If you want a more comfortable and happy workplace, you need to accept your colleagues holistically
Earlier this year, I appeared on The Bottom Line podcast to talk about the time I went semi-viral on LinkedIn for telling 11,000 colleagues that I was on my period. The basic premise was that there was a very real reason why I was struggling at work through period pains, but I wasn’t sick and I didn’t want time off. I just wanted compassion that I would be slower for a few days and late to morning meetings. It sparked a huge debate as to what is appropriate to share in the work place, but all panelists in the podcast seemed to give an overwhelmingly positive response. Period-talk at work is more commonplace than it was even a decade ago, but there are so many other taboo topics which are a blocker from the workplace. Are some things simply not appropriate for work? And what effect is that going to have on the individual?

Not everyone is going to want to share – work is a release and distraction for so many who have complex lives. But it shouldn’t be a given that we have to separate our personal lives in order to enter a working environment. It isn’t always possible for everyone. If you need to leave a meeting early for a school-run, you should be able to share that. It’s that openness and flexibility which allows your business to cater for a wider range of people who may struggled to fit into a traditional 9-5 style of working. It’s much better to foster this openness early so that you are better placed to support colleagues when things go wrong…

Credit: Roxy Van Der Post

2. Being more trauma-informed improves your own service offering
Job interviews with trauma-informed principles enable us to get the best out of candidates, especially if you are trying to diversify your staff pool. I was recently interviewing a drag queen who had agreed to talk to me about child sexual abuse for an article I’m writing. She was nervous and wasn’t sure what to add to the topic. We ended up instead talking about what she would wear to do a performance for children: talking about the patterns of fabric, full-length dresses and flowing fabrics. This opened into a full conversation about different styles of drag, how drag is defined and how it is manipulated by extremist politicians. If I’d have just stuck with the interview questions on my list, I would never have got this richness insight that I ended up with from this conversation.

I recently worked with the Information Commissioner’s Office on doing a trauma-informed analysis of their current webpage, to support people who have experienced a vulnerable data breach. Throughout the research, we realised that basic adaptations to the website, not only benefitted people in vulnerable positions with limited time, but everyone using the website. Designing with trauma in mind helps to improve design for all!

3. If you don’t pickup the slack, who will?
In the ever-growing siloing and compartmentalisation of services, it can be easy to assume that ‘someone else’ will address the difficult topic at hand. Chronic illness? Go to the NHS! Depressed? See a therapist! Need money advice? Call Citizens Advice!

However, the reality is most people don’t seek external support when they are struggling, especially with trauma at work. And even if they do, it’s unlikely that an under-funded, over-stretched service will have the resources needed to support them. Let’s take child sexual abuse as an example, which is estimated to affect 1 in 4 people worldwide.

When training as a child-sexual abuse practitioner with the CSA Centre, I learned that most schools are not adequately trained to handle cases of sexual abuse and so pass cases on to social services. Social services are much more comfortable in treating cases of neglect over child sexual abuse as there is an easier ‘list’ of what to do and how to support. So often, even if cases of sexual abuse are reported, they get sidelined.

So often, these experiences are taking with us into adulthood, and subsequently, the world of work. Unreported and un-supported abuse has disastrous mental, physical and financial consequences. £3.71 billion alone was lost last year in the UK’s labour economy over child sexual abuse: for things like time taken of work to deal with re-triggering or a court case, a loss of productivity from trauma, and difficulty in retaining staff in times of a crisis.

But there is hope. I recently interviewed four people who all experienced childhood sexual abuse and had this re-triggered while they were at work. All of them told me that that they first disclosed child sexual abuse while accessing the free therapy service available to them in their work places. Even if we feel like our workplaces aren’t ‘suitable’ for talking about child sexual abuse, offering therapy sessions to employees can allow them the resource to explore their past experiences without having to worry about the financial or organisational burden of therapy. It’s happening already, so why not try to support employees through it?   

Credit Roxy Van Der Post

What you can do:

  1. Explore Sophia’s trauma-informed offering and how this can apply to your workplace
  2. Attend one of Sophia’s Listening clubs to learn about how to talk about trauma with joy.
  3. Partner with Secrets Worth Sharing to host our listening clubs!
  4. Read Kat Holmes Mismatch:How inclusion shapes design for information on diversity in design and services
  5. Be on the lookout to attend one of Sophia’s events at PLATF9RM like this one here, where you can learn more about related to Trauma at Work.