Tip Sheet for Trauma Informed Written Correspondence

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Tip Sheet for Trauma-Informed Victim-Centric Writing

“What you write is as important as what you say” (National Center for Domestic Violence)

OVC defines a victim-centric approach as having a systematic focus on the needs and concerns of a victim to ensure the compassionate delivery of services in a nonjudgmental manner.

SAMHSA’s adaptable six principles for a trauma-informed approach serve as vital underpinnings for trauma-informed, victim-centric, and person-centered writing.

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness and transparency
  3. Peer Support
  4. Collaboration and mutuality
  5. Empowerment, voice, and choice
  6. Cultural, historical, and gender considerations

Tips for Trauma-informed writing

  1. Be aware of COMMAND LANGUAGE and how information is communicated; sometimes, a simple adjustment changes the entire message

“FAILURE to respond by …”  feels intimidating, but “You have the right to request or disagree with the determination….” Moreover, it can convey a sense of empowerment to a person impacted by crime.

  1. Be person-centered. “Being a person impacted by violent crime” vs. “a victim or survivor of violent crime. This phrasing keeps the person at the center of communication. What happened to them is an event, not a reflection of who they are. A feeling of shame often accompanies victimization, so acknowledging a person, not just as a victim, can promote safety.
  2. Be short, clear, and concise- consider the structural elements of written correspondence. For example, bold important dates, avoid legal/technical terms when possible, and use plain language. Headings and lists can be helpful too!
  3. Communicate safety, respect, and that the person is believed even if a claim does not fall within guidelines for compensation. The intro and outro phrasing of written communication can be very effective in validating the experience of a person impacted by crime. For example, “The claim,” not “your claim,” does not fall within guidelines for compensation…
  4. Consider how correspondence looks on a page. Streamlined and organized letters or instruction sheets can be helpful. Persons impacted by crime may be anxious or overwhelmed when filling out applications. They may experience distressing emotions re-visiting events that are often traumatic and life-changing.
  5. Sign all correspondence from a specific contact. Include all contact info, website address, and phone extension to improve accessibility.

Thank you for all you do.

Amy O’Neill, MS, LPC