1. What constitutes “harm” or “abuse”?Many people do not have a clear picture or memory of the harm (but have a strong feeling that something happened) and have asked us if they can join a Circle. The answer is yes. Others have asked: Is it necessary to have had penetration or on-going episodes of harm to be eligible for Hidden Water Circles?; or If the person that harmed me was not in the family, or if I was not a child, or I don’t identify with the phrase “child sexual abuse”, can I still come through Hidden Water?; or What if I sexually harmed someone under the age of 18 but I don’t think it's legally considered “abuse" because I was also under 18 years old?
The guideline for us is: if any violation of a sexual nature, clear or unclear in detail, happened to someone under the age of 18, by someone of any age, known to that minor or not, including a stranger, and there has been a negative impact, this qualifies to participate in Hidden Water.
2. Is everything confidential?
It is a general principle of Circle that what is shared in Circle is held in confidence and with respect. In the second session of Circle, Circle Keepers lead the group in co-creating guidelines and agreements for how the group will function together, which always includes a conversation about confidentiality, among other issues of trust and safety. Circle Keepers and the rest of the Hidden Water staff keep all personal information shared, inside and outside Circle, confidential. This includes the names of anyone participating in a Circle. Hidden Water does not collect any information about participants beyond their contact information and the Circles they have attended. Hidden Water has a strict policy of not providing any documentation about attendance or participation to anyone outside of Hidden Water.
The only exception to our practice of confidentiality is if information surfaces which leads Hidden Water to believe that a child is currently being harmed or is in imminent danger of being harmed; Hidden Water chooses to follow the guidelines of mandatory reporting and will inform Child Protective Services of any information that might keep a child safe.
3. What is Restorative Justice?
Restorative Justice is a theory of justice that invites a fundamental shift away from punishment and toward healing and repairing the harm caused to individuals, relationships, families and communities. Rooted in Indigenous Cultures, Restorative Justice centers on repairing harm by equally addressing the impact to the individuals and the community. Restorative Justice takes into consideration the needs and responsibilities of the person(s) that were harmed directly, those that were harmed indirectly, and those that caused harm. We at Hidden Water understand that childhood sexual abuse (CSA) does not occur in a vacuum and that the ramifications of CSA are far reaching, thus we believe that truly repairing the harm caused by CSA must take a wide, inclusive, and connected approach.
ABOUT CIRCLE – Practical
4. Do Circles cost money?
All Circles are free of charge. The work of Hidden Water is made possible by donations made mostly by individuals, including previous participants who wish to pay forward the gift that they received. At the end of the Circle process, participants have an opportunity to make a donation that makes it possible for others to have a seat in Circle going forward.
5. How many people are in each Circle?
Hidden Water aims to keep Healing Circles small, with no more than 10 participants each (including the 1-2 Circle Keepers). Most groups are smaller, but there are never fewer than 4 people.
6. How long does a Circle last?
Each Healing Circle session is between 1 hour & 15 minutes to 1 hour & 30 minutes in length. It isn’t always possible to end at an exact time, but we aim to never run over 1 hour & 30 minutes. Circles meet once a week for 10-12 weeks, depending on how many participants are in the group.
7. Are Circles gender-specific?
Circles may be comprised of people from any gender identity, including LGBTQIA and Gender-Nonconforming people.
8. What is a Special Interest Circle?
In the past, Circle Keepers have created specific groups for — women, women of color, LGBTQIA, Spanish-speaking participants, men and more. If you would be interested in participating in a Circle comprised of a specific gender identity, or some other identity, such as People of Color or Queer People of Color, please contact us. If we receive enough interest for a Special Interest Circle, we will try to form one to meet the need.
9. What is the format of a Healing Circle?
Healing Circles last approximately 12 weeks. The first 3 sessions of a Hidden Water Healing Circle are dedicated to introductions, creating community agreements, and building a safe container. The next 5-7 sessions invite deeper sharing on subjects sourced from the growing edge of each Circle participant’s healing journey. The final 1-2 sessions are dedicated to reflection and closing the Circle.
Our Circles typically take the same basic format each week: Opening, then Check-in Round, then Sharing Round(s), then Check-out Round, then Closing. We normally do three rounds where each person gets a chance to speak. The Circle Keepers are also participants in the Circle, and while they have some added responsibilities, the format of Circle is meant to equalize the power and leadership through the use of a talking piece.
Each participant in Circle will have a week assigned to them in which they will lead the Circle in that week’s session. During the sharing round they will get a chance to speak to the “edge of their healing”. This is a more in-depth look at what has been the impact of the harm on their life, while others in the Circle hold space and learn from them.
10. What if I can’t make it to all 12 weeks?
We encourage those who register for a 12-week Circle to make their best effort to attend every week and a firm commitment to attend the first 3 sessions. The process works better when there is consistency and commitment because it creates a safer container for healing. We have found that attendance by everyone for the first 3 sessions makes a big difference.
However, we understand that conflicts may arise. At the start of every 12-Week Circle, all members of the Circle will create group norms regarding attendance. The Circle decides together how they would like members to communicate with the group if they are unable to make a Circle. With notice, the group can sometimes make accommodations to postpone or reschedule a week if several people have conflicts. Attendance to all 12 weeks is highly encouraged, though it is not mandatory and does not need to be a barrier to register in a Circle.
11. Can I come for one session and decide if this is for me or not?
We respect that Circle is not for everyone at every time, and we understand that facing trauma can be difficult. You are welcome to leave at any time, though we ask that you do your best to honor whatever agreements you made with your Circle on this subject. If you feel apprehensive about joining Circle, we encourage you to email us to have a conversation with someone at Hidden Water before you register. This way you can learn more about Circle and discuss any questions or concerns you might have beforehand.
ABOUT CIRCLE – Elemental
12. How is Circle different from therapy?
While participation in Healing Circles can have powerful therapeutic effects and can be beneficial alongside therapy, Circles are not therapy. Healing Circles have a distinct format (see FAQ, What is the format of a Healing Circle?) that differs from one-on-one talk therapy or even group therapy. Also, Circle Keepers are equal participants and do not act as therapists or counselors in their role as Circle Keepers (see FAQ, What is a Circle Keeper?). Circles, generally, also have a distinct approach, focusing not so much on “treatment” of a trauma or pathology, but rather the focus of Circle is on fostering wholeness and well-being.
13. What is a talking piece?*
A distinct component of Circle is the talking piece. The talking piece has four distinct “rules”: 1) You can only speak when you have it, 2) It moves in one direction (so you always speak in the same order throughout the Circle), 3) You can pass if you do not wish to speak, 4) When you do speak, it is always about yourself and your own lived experience, not commenting on other people’s experiences.
The talking piece is a powerful equalizer. It allows every participant an equal opportunity to speak and carries an implicit assumption that every participant has something important to offer. It also gives you a chance to think before you speak, not always responding with your initial reactions. It honors all the voices in a system, not just those who are outgoing speakers. The talking piece allows the holder to speak without interruption and allows everyone else to focus on listening, without having to be distracted by thinking about a response. This allows for full expression of emotions, thoughtful reflection, and an unhurried pace.
* Adapted from Circle Keeper’s Handbook, by Kay Pranis.
14. What is a Circle Keeper?
The responsibility of a Circle Keeper is to help everyone in Circle create a safe space and to monitor the quality of the space throughout the life of the Circle. Every Circle Keeper at Hidden Water has completed at least one 12-week Healing Circle as a participant, as well as received a Restorative Justice Circle Keeping certification led by trainers Kay Pranis and Elizabeth Clemants, and offered through Planning Change. The training focuses on Restorative Justice theory, peacemaking circle facilitation, and circle keeping in a variety of different contexts — community-building, conflict, healing circles and more. That said, it is worth emphasizing that Hidden Water Circle Keepers do not function as therapists, professionals, counselors, or experts. It is an important principle of Circle, that everyone is equal, and everyone takes a turn. All Circle Keepers are also participants with their own relationship to childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and do their own work alongside every other Circle member.
We find our volunteer Circle Keepers for Hidden Water from our participants each quarter in the Healing Circles. If you are interested in becoming a Circle Keeper for Hidden Water, you must first have a personal experience with CSA that qualifies you for at least one of our Healing Circles. The second step is to join a 12-week Healing Circle, and participate. If after the completion of your Circle, you would like to become a volunteer Circle Keeper for Hidden Water, please let your Circle Keeper(s) know, and they will recommend you for one of our trainings.
We have limited space in our trainings, so we make the determination about who we train based on availability and our needs in each color of Healing Circle. Training for our volunteer Circle Keepers is free, however we ask for a commitment to give back to our program by leading Circles for Hidden Water. All new Hidden Water Circle Keepers will be paired for their first Circle with a “Senior Keeper” who will lead the Circle and teach the “Junior Keeper” the formats and “curriculum”, and support them until they are comfortable leading Circles on their own.
16. [All Colors] Will I receive any support outside of Circle?
Hidden Water does not provide any formal support for participants outside of Circle. If receiving additional support feels important to you at any time before, during or after the 12-week process, we encourage you to seek that support. You can also bring this up with your Circle Keeper who can help guide you to professional support. It is also possible that when the group creates community agreements together, the group could agree on ways to support one another throughout the weeks. In addition, many participants find it helpful to see a therapist or healer regularly while participating in Circle, in order to be professionally supported in processing things that emerge. It can also be wise to give yourself time both before and after each Circle to take care of yourself and honor the process that is taking place.
17. [All Colors] I have already done a lot of therapy and other kinds of healing work. Can these Circles still benefit me?
Yes. Many people who consider themselves far along on their healing path — including healers, therapists, and Circle Keepers — have participated in our Healing Circles and reported everything from positive movement forward to important breakthroughs. Hidden Water values the idea that there is a continuous growing edge for each person on their path to healing, and encourages participants to work their own edge during Circle. We therefore encourage people at all stages of your healing work — from those who have never spoken of their experience to those who have been in therapy for years. The power and richness of Circle is often generated from the shared yet diverse experiences and perspectives that comprise a Circle. It is worth noting that one reason Hidden Water Circle Keepers choose to volunteer their time to facilitate Circles is because we find continuing benefit in being participants in the process, no matter how much therapy or “work” we have done.
18. [All Colors] I’ve never talked with anyone about what happened. Can I still join a Circle?
Hidden Water Healing Circles strive to create a safe container to hold every person regardless of where they are in their healing process. Circles draw people at all different stages in their healing — from those who have never spoken of their experience to those who have been in dialogue or therapy for years. The richness of each Circle is often generated from the variety of experiences and perspectives within the Circle.
Speaking about child sexual abuse can be extremely challenging. Therefore, each Circle eases into the process and spends the first few weeks creating community agreements — norms with which the whole group works to build consensus. Community agreements are co-created so that if a person feels uncomfortable or triggered, there are guidelines, group norms and plans of action that can support you with what comes up.
19. [All Colors] I identify with more than one color Circle (i.e. Green & Blue or Green & Orange or Purple & Green or Blue & Orange) — which one should I join?
It is common for people to identify with more than one color. We suggest that you choose the Circle you feel most called to join at the time. As you work in one color you may find that you are feeling called to do the work in another. You are welcome to join as many Circles as you would like, though we suggest that you take them one at a time. If you have any questions about this, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
20. [Green] I am not in communication with members of my family and do not have any intention to be. Can I join a Circle?
Yes, definitely. Although Hidden Water is a restorative justice approach to healing, we do not prescribe any next steps or frameworks around the “right way” to be in relationship with family members or anyone. Healing looks different for different people and for some of us that means intentionally not being in relationship with members of your family and/or the people who harmed you.
Our Healing Circles strive to hold space for people to process the challenges and impacts of childhood sexual abuse in their lives, believing that when one person is harmed, all are harmed, and when one is healing, that healing reverberates throughout every relationship touched—including those relationships that are estranged. Being in relationship or not with specific people is an important choice that is yours (and yours only) to make. We strive to support one another without imposing any directive on how to navigate those choices and relationships.
21. [Green] The person who harmed me was a not a family member. Can I still join a Circle?
Yes, definitely. While Hidden Water works with entire family systems, we know that the family system is impacted in a very similar way when the person who harmed you was outside the family system such as clergy, babysitters, neighbors, teachers, coaches, older friends, and even strangers. The impacts of childhood sexual abuse permeate the lives of adults in very similar ways whether the person who did the harm was someone within the family system or not. Additionally, childhood sexual abuse impacts the whole familial system regardless of whether the person who harmed you was a family member or not.
22. [Green] I was harmed as a teenager. Can I join a Green Circle?
Yes, definitely. Hidden Water Green Circles serve all people who were sexually abused or violated as a young person — which we define as under the age of 18. Relatedly, we do not set an age cut-off if the person who harmed you was not an adult. For example, it is not uncommon for a young person to be sexually abused by another young person.
23. [Purple] I was a child or teenager when I caused harm. Can I join a Purple Circle?
Yes definitely. Purple Circles welcome anyone who identifies as a person who has caused harm — regardless of the age you were when you caused it. Like the other Circles, Purple Circles draw people with all types of experiences and stories, and the richness of the group is generated from those differences of experience.
24. [Purple] Will I get in trouble if I come forward about having caused harm to someone?
Hidden Water Circles are for healing and taking responsibility, not punishment. Hidden Water is not meant to be used to build a case against anyone for criminal prosecution, and we will not gather evidence from anyone. We do not keep a record of anything that happened in Circle, and beyond contact information, we will not keep any records of any kind. We only collect contact information and will do everything we can to preserve your right to confidentiality. You are welcome to use your first name and your initial for your last name if you would like when you are registering. All of that said, Hidden Water is also not meant to replace a criminal prosecution should a victim choose to pursue that course of action. Please also see FAQ, “Is everything confidential?”
25. [Purple] If I participate in a Purple Circle, can this count as therapy that is mandated by my parole or can this help reduce my sentence in court?
No. Hidden Water Circle Keepers do not function as therapists or counselors, therefore while our Healing Circles can be profoundly therapeutic, they do not comply with court-mandated counseling regulations. More importantly, participation in Circles of any color should be completely voluntary and for no other purpose than to further your own healing. Hidden Water does not provide any proof of attendance or completion of our Circle programs, and participation in our Circles cannot be used as a means of appeal, for a reduction of court sentences, or as part of a sentence mandated by a court.
26. [Purple] If the person that I harmed does not want to participate, what can I do?
We suggest joining a Circle! We have had people come through Purple Circle even when the person that they harmed is not participating. We create an opportunity for each person to do their healing work without needing any specific person to participate in the process. We have noticed that even one person doing their work can change the dynamics of an entire family or community. Circle creates a community system of sorts which often results in taking away the feeling of isolation and the sense you are alone in the work.
People who have been harmed are often burdened with the well-meaning questions: “what can I do to help you?”, or "how can I fix this?", or “why can’t you forgive me; what more can I say or do?” Our answer is: come to your own understanding of how to heal, and join a Purple Circle if you sense that you can't do that alone. Doing your own healing work takes some of the burden off the person who was harmed by not requiring them to help you figure out how to help, or how you can feel better, or asking them to teach you the way towards healing while they are working to find that path for themselves.
BLUE & ORANGE
27. [Blue/Orange] I want to support my sister/ brother/ spouse/ partner/ friend/ child, but why would I need to be a part of a “Healing” Circle when the abuse did not happen to me?
The impact of childhood sexual abuse reverberates throughout the entire family system and society as a whole. Those who are or were close to a loved one who was harmed (or who caused harm) have their own unique pain and challenges. Because the focus tends to be on the persons who were directly impacted by sexual abuse or violation, there is often little support for friends, partners and family to process how the harm has impacted their own life or that of the other family members.
Blue and Orange Circles strive to support members of a family system and community in processing the questions that often come up, such as: Could I have done anything? Do I need to take more responsibility (or less)? What has been the impact on my family and relationships because of what happened? How have I experienced secondary trauma reactions? What do I do with my own anger, depression, guilt, and helplessness? How do I relate to the person who harmed my loved one? How do I relate to the person who my loved one harmed? Is it okay that I feel harmed by the reactions and negative play-out of the person I'm supposed to support? How do I help break the silence in my family system? How do I support my own healing so that I can more effectively support the people I love?
Yes! We believe that Blue Circle participants play a crucial role in healing a family system or community, and preventing abuse from cycling into the next generation. If you were impacted but not directly harmed, we have found that once you do your own healing work, you often have a greater capacity to take on a crucial healing and leadership role by preventing the family system or community from denying, deflecting, minimizing and/or justifying the abuse. We often encourage those that were harmed to find the first Blue person who would be willing to step up for them as a support person inside the family system. This is how we ultimately create a healthy healing environment inside a family system or community - one Blue participant at a time.
29. [Blue/Orange] I know there has been some kind of sexual harm in my family but people are unwilling to talk about it. Can I join one of these Circles?
Yes. A common response to childhood sexual abuse in families and communities is the unwillingness to address what happened or even the attempt to completely deny of the situation. This kind of response can be very harmful to all members of the family system, particularly the person who was harmed. It is, therefore, a courageous and healing step to join a Circle and break that silence.
Blue and Orange Circles are intended to provide a space for members of a family system or friends of a loved one who has been impacted by childhood sexual abuse to process the pain and challenges in connection to the harm that took place. We encourage those who have not yet had much dialogue with others about what happened to join a Circle so you have a space to share about the questions and challenges that are coming up for you. The Circle can give you support while also helping you answer the questions “what happened?” and “what can I do now?”
30. [Blue/Orange] If the person that was harmed does not want to participate, what can I do?
We suggest joining a Circle! We have many people that come through Orange and Blue Circles even when the person in their life who was harmed is not participating. We create an opportunity for each person to do their healing work without needing the other people in the family or community to do so. We have noticed that even one person doing their work can change the dynamics of an entire family or community. Circle creates a community system of sorts which often results in taking away the feeling of isolation and the sense you are alone in the work.
People who have been harmed are often burdened with the well-meaning questions: “what can I do to help you?”, or "how can I fix this?", or “why can’t you forgive me; what more can I say or do?” Our answer is: come to your own understanding of how to heal, and join a Circle if you sense that you can't do that alone. Doing your own healing work takes some of the burden off the person who was harmed by not requiring them to help you figure out how to help, or how you can feel better, or asking them to teach you the way towards healing while they are working to find that path for themselves.
31. [Orange] I know sexual harm happened in my family, but I don’t know the extent of it. Can I join a Circle?
Yes. Childhood sexual abuse within a family system can be a confusing, scary and overwhelming experience to address — particularly for caregivers who were responsible for someone when they were harmed and/or when they caused harm. Orange Circles strive to support parents and other caregivers in processing the questions and uncertainties you may have, such as: Is there anything I can do now? Is it better to "let things be" or to try and understand what happened? Will asking these questions help or hurt my child? How might I support myself and my family in taking steps forward toward healing?
Joining an Orange Circle can be a courageous step toward uncovering the ways in which the sexual harm and the response or lack thereof) might have impacted the whole family or familial system, as well as an important opportunity to grieve. Parents, even to adult survivors or those who caused harm can play a critical role in healing the family system long after the events of sexual harm took place. Thoughtful reflection and consideration about what to do (or not to do) as the non-offending parent is often central to the healing of the family system.
We welcome people at all different stages of healing to join a Circle and believe that being with others who are also willing to be with inquiry and uncertainty is a powerful part of the healing process.