Sexual violence is in the news every day. Is it happening more you ask? No. Through education, community support systems, and the bravery of sexual assault survivors, more people are breaking their silence. Hence, the #MeToo movement. Perhaps the most powerful movement in decades!
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), one in four girls and one in six boys will experience sexual abuse before they turn 18-years old; one in five women and one in 71 men will be sexually assaulted during their lifetimes. Chances are, we all know someone who has been sexually abused.
Breaking the silence around sexual assault and abuse is also a result of better trained law enforcement, sexual assault advocates, hospitals that utilize sexual assault response teams, and prosecutors willing to take on cases that once were deemed “unwinnable”. However, the one, most important person in a sexual assault survivor’s life following this trauma, is most often the first person that they tell. How that first person responds can determine whether or not the survivor tells anyone else. Are you ready to be that first person?
Knowing the basics is a great start.
- Perpetrators can be strangers, acquaintances, friends, or family members.
- Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault; no one ever “asks for” or deserves to be sexually assaulted. Consent is absolute.
- Sexual assault is a crime with complex motivations that can include violence, anger and power, and sexual desire.
Remember, you can provide better support to the survivor if you also work to process your own emotions. Your needs and the victim’s are often not the same.
Providing support first and foremost is listening. Being patient, not interrupting, and taking it slow (you do not have to fill in a quiet moment) are also critically important. Some survivors feel like “they are going crazy.” Remind them that what they are going through is a result of trauma and is completely normal and understandable. “You are not going crazy.”
- Believe the victim and reassure them that you know the assault was not their fault, and that you still love them.
- Recognize that there is no right or wrong way to handle an assault and validate that the victim did the best they could under tremendous stress. Fear often paralyzes people. If they “cooperated” or submitted to an assault, that does not make them a willing participant.
- Encourage the victim to get the medical attention they deserve even if there is no apparent physical injury. In order to provide additional support for the victim going through a medical examination or the legal system, consider contacting a sexual assault advocate counselor/advocate.
- Allow the victim to talk at their own pace, despite your own possible discomfort with too much silence, or detail or repetition.
- Respect the victim’s decision to report or not to report. Only they know if they are up to the enormous challenge that reporting entails.
These are just some of the ways you can support a survivor of sexual assault. Please visit NSVRC for more information on how to support a loved one.
If you need help, call 800.656.HOPE (4673) 24/7 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area. You can also access 24/7 help online by visiting online.rainn.org.