The Impact of Survivor-Led Training

Dr. Shobana Powell
5 min readFeb 4, 2022


Abstract: Based on the results of feedback surveys (n=17) from survivor-led trainings on trauma and human trafficking, 100% of participants reported that it was helpful to have survivors/lived experience experts co-create and co-facilitate the training curricula.

Introduction: Survivor-led or lived experience-led work is considered best practice not only in the human trafficking movement, but in many social justice movements. There is a growing body of research on the need and importance of survivor and lived experience inclusion; however, there is limited data on its impact. As a result, when suggesting a survivor-led approach, many organizations ask, “But is it really helpful or necessary to have survivors/lived experience experts involved?” In hopes of contributing to this national push towards survivor and lived experience inclusion, we at Shobana Powell Consulting have been collecting program data on the quantitative and qualitative impact of survivor-led training and education.

Methods: In 2021, the team at Shobana Powell Consulting trained over 1200 individuals on trauma and human trafficking, for a combined total of over 2000 hours of training.

All trainings and curricula were co-created and co-facilitated by survivors of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation who were not asked to share their personal trauma stories (but who were free to do so if they chose). The content of the trainings covered a wide range of topics including but not limited to vicarious trauma in the workplace, trauma bonding, trauma-informed supervision for anti-trafficking teams, and a 3-day intensive on how to work with child and youth survivors of trafficking. The participants came from interdisciplinary fields, including social workers, counselors, survivors, attorneys, child welfare, law enforcement, and more.

After trainings, participants were invited to participate in an optional feedback survey that included questions about highlights from the trainings, areas for improvement, and whether it was beneficial to have a curriculum that was co-created and co-facilitated by a survivor/lived experience expert. The findings from this program evaluation focus on the results of the survey question, “Was it helpful to have a survivor/individual with lived experience co-create and co-facilitate this training? Please share why or why not.”

Results: Based on the results of optional feedback surveys completed by participants across various trainings (n=17), 100% reported that it was helpful to have survivors/lived experience experts co-create and co-facilitate those trainings.

Across disciplines and training topics, participants reported that survivor-led curriculum design and facilitation improved their educational experience. Please see below for examples of qualitative feedback:

Lived experience experts bring credibility to the topics shared at webinars.

I feel more comfortable hearing information from those who have actually experienced trafficking and who have moved beyond it.

I felt they were really relating to me and hitting topics that I struggle with daily.

It is helpful “when someone is standing in front of you telling you, ‘you can do this’”.

It was very empowering to see others like me who are succeeding and humble about their experiences.

It adds validity and critical expertise to this discussion.

Being a survivor myself, it’s always best, I feel, to hear from voices of hands on experience as opposed to scholastic experience only.

Each facilitator had powerful, unique insight to this topic.

They offered professional and personal feedback to fill the information and help illustrate the issues being highlighted.

Survivor input is a must.

Limitations: One limitation of this program evaluation is that the sample size was small (n=17). Potential reasons for low response rates include that survey completion was optional and many workshops had additional evaluation forms to complete for professional continuing education units.

An additional limitation was that pre-tests were not administered, so there is no ability to measure changes in value placed on survivor-led training. Future research should assess whether advocates believe survivor-led training would be helpful prior to the training and whether that baseline changes after attending training. This would help establish data on whether advocates frequently undervalue or underestimate the impact of survivor equity and inclusion until they witness survivor-led work. If such data was recorded, it could serve to support the argument that further education is needed in the anti-trafficking movement on the impact of survivor leadership.

Conclusion: The quantitative and qualitative results of this program evaluation indicate that lived experience expertise improves participants’ learning experiences with training and education on trauma and human trafficking.

Lived experience inclusion in not “charity”. Survivor leadership is not “charity”. It is a way for survivors to feel empowered and for organizations to be inclusive, and it is also essential to high quality, effective social justice work.

Human-centered design suggests that products and services should be designed in partnership with the target user. With respect to social justice, our programs and policies should be designed in partnership with the population those programs and policies are intended to serve. What that looks like in practice is equitable, inclusive partnerships with diverse lived experience experts.

This is just one of many reasons why, as a movement, we should have survivor equity and inclusion integrated into everything we do, from beginning to end.

Recommendations: Although this program evaluation focused on training and education, further studies should measure the impact of all survivor-led work, such as research, program design, public policy, and more.

Despite movement-wide strides towards equity and inclusion and community-led work, many organizations still ask questions like, “This topic isn’t specific to how to work with clients, so do we really need lived expertise on this topic?” The answer is yes. The survivor and lived experience expert community is expansive and powerful. Their input and leadership is needed in all aspects of social justice work. The next step as a movement is to continue collecting data to support their impactful work.

As the body of research on the efficacy of survivor leadership grows, such data can help service providers advocate for funding to build compensated lived experience expertise into their budgets- not only to support their training needs, but all their organizational, legislative, and movement-wide needs.

To learn more: This program evaluation was developed after recognizing a lack of data collection around the impact of survivor inclusion during my doctoral research on the Survivor Equity and Inclusion Framework.

To learn more about how to ethically and equitably integrate survivor and lived experience expertise into your organization, check out the Survivor Equity and Inclusion Framework here.

If you are a survivor of human trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation and would like a free copy of the full report, please reach out to us directly at

*Participant names and identifying information are confidential, as is best practice for program evaluation.



Dr. Shobana Powell

Advocating at the intersection of gender-based violence and systemic oppression