In conversation with Anna Coutts-Trotter of The Survivor Hub

Established during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 by social work student Anna and academic Brenda Lin, The Survivor Hub is a survivor-led initiative that harnesses the knowledge and lived experience of volunteers to support, inform, and empower people affected by sexual assault.

TW: This article discusses sexual assault.

I meet with Anna Coutts-Trotter on a Monday afternoon - a day she generally blocks out to focus on running “pretty much back-to-back” meetings for Survivor Hub, a not-for-profit she established in 2021. She’s joining our Zoom from Broken Hill, where she is currently working with survivors of sexual assault as part of a social work placement as part of her university studies. 

In 2021, Anna joined up with a team, including academic Brenda Lin, to establish The Survivor Hub as a survivor-led initiative where volunteers share knowledge and lived experience to inform and empower those who have been impacted by sexual assault. Their work is changing the game in the survivor space - and is empowering and providing a safe space for young people across the country. Their flagship programmes are MeetUps, which are peer-led support groups and safe spaces for survivors to connect, share, and support each other based on their lived experiences. 

The Survivor Hub's focus on peer-to-peer learning rather than expert-patient learning distinguishes The Hub from similar organisations. It's this aspect of how Anna's team are approaching recovery and integration that she is particularly passionate about.

"Peer support is unlike anything else. To be able to sit in a space with people who just get it is a profound feeling,” she said. “We don't need to explain the basics, we don't need to justify or explain ourselves and our behaviour. We can speak freely and comfortably knowing that the others in the space have experienced the same or very similar to us."

The Survivor Hub's founding team.

Anna says that part of the value of The Survivor Hub's MeetUps being survivor-led is that volunteers and participants can share their own lived experience - including what it's like to interact with the legal system. Participants can “listen to them and make informed decisions” in regards to their own journey.

“You can hear people talk about court, and you might be considering court,” she says. “We never provide people with legal advice and say whether to engage or not engage with the court process, but we can share our lived experience.”

While the general statistic is that 13% of people report sexual assault to legal authorities, Anna estimates that around 30-40% of The Survivor Hub MeetUp participants are going through the legal process.

“It’s a time in your life where you feel the most lost and traumatised,” she says, “and you start to seek out information.”

In-person and virtual MeetUps are the core service offered by The Survivor Hub, but when they can around their full-time commitments, Anna and her co-founder Brenda Lin have even offered to attend court with survivors.  

Anna also has phone calls with survivors who are considering court, or have just finished the process. She says it’s “mainly young women who are around 18 years old - and with many, it’s because their parents saw the Australian Story episode [about Anna and The Survivor Hub] and have since reached out to me. It’s been incredibly profound for me, talking to someone who is the same age and gender that I was when going through the court process, and providing something that I didn’t have [at the time].”

After the episode aired, Anna received hundreds of emails and DMs (“it took me weeks to get back to everyone,” she says). While it was mostly survivors who reached out to her in response to her sharing her story, she was surprised to find another group reaching out to her, the fathers of survivors. She attributes this to the fact they many men resonated with the way her own father [Secretary of NSW Treasury Michael Coutts-Trotter] was included and shared his story in the episode.

Many weren’t sure what their space was to support their child - particularly with daughters. “I think there’s a huge gap in conversations we’re having at the moment in what parents can do,” Anna says. “Parents so often contact me saying ‘I’m so lost,’ or ‘I don’t know what to say or how to support her.’ People aren’t really talking about it that much, and the Australian Story episode kind of filled that gap there.”

Since the Australian Story episode, there has been a surge in demand for The Survivor Hub’s services and MeetUps. Anna says across 2023, they had around 800 signups. Now halfway into 2024, they've hit 900 signups. 

“We went from some MeetUp locations only having 3-4 participants, to now having up to 20 people show up. They now book out weeks in advance - pretty much as soon as they open up, it’ll book out.”

Facebook groups facilitated by The Survivor Hub are also a soft entry point for many survivors.

“You can still ask questions, and you can also post anonymously,” she says. “And it’s a beautiful place for people to support other survivors. It’s a healing and rewarding thing to use your experience in a positive way.”

The really big news? They’ll be launching new MeetUps in Canberra, Perth and Brisbane - after careful consideration. "We have so much demand across the country in terms of opening locations,” she says. “It’s really hard for Brenda and I to say no. We have to be careful when doing it - if we provide a service and then leave, you’re doing more  harm than not having opened it in the first place.”

In the long term, Anna and Brenda are hoping to take MeetUps to regional towns across New South Wales and Queensland.

Anna says The Survivor Hub’s new partnership with Bumble will help the organisation become more sustainable and scale. “They are also doing more than just providing us with a donation - they are also helping us with capacity building,” she says. 

I leave our chat in awe of Anna - she truly is a force to be reckoned with, and I am certain that we'll be seeing more of this powerful young woman on the national stage, as The Survivor Hub starts to scale and change the lives of more and more young people.

Want to support the work of The Survivor Hub? Anna says there are a few ways: referring loved ones who are survivors to the Survivor Hub; getting in touch if you have professional skills that the organisation could benefit from; and donating to help the team scale their work.

If you or anyone you know is affected by domestic, family or sexual violence and needs support, please call 1800 RESPECT.