President declares April National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month
“I urge all Americans to support survivors of sexual assault and work together to prevent these crimes in their communities.”
I am often asked: How can I support a survivor of sexual assault?
1 – Listen.
2 – Believe.
3 – Be there. But don’t smother; don’t be overprotective or overbearing.
4 – Do something. If they haven’t told, help them tell. If they have told, help them take steps to healing, such as counseling or standing with them while they seek justice.
5 – Don’t use platitudes.
6 – Don’t tell them “Well, that was so long ago, you need to let it go.” Grieving and healing doesn’t happen on your timetable.
7 – Don’t ask, “Why didn’t you tell?” Don’t ask any “why?” questions. Those are loaded with blame.
8 – Be understanding. Sexual assault often manifests as anxiety, doubt, fear, depression, etc. Don’t make the victim’s withdrawal from you about you; understand it’s about what he or she is going through during the aftermath.
9 – Don’t try to fix their feelings, the pain, or hurry the healing process.
10 – Don’t join in or make jokes about sexual assault. Be sensitive to how this behavior sends the message, “What happened to you isn’t a big deal.”
11 – Be a voice, whether it’s to stand up for the victim, stand with them through any court proceedings or counseling, or to speak up for them when they are feeling voiceless. (But don’t assume this position. Never take power away from the victim, whether you’re just trying to help or trying to take over. They’ve already been overpowered enough.)
12 – Let them see you being an advocate for all who have been sexually assaulted. Speak out against sexual assault. One need not have personal experience to be a powerful voice in the prevention of assault crimes. Seeing friends speak out helps to say, “I have your back!” and “We will not ignore this problem!”
There are, of course, so many other ways to help, to support, to love those who have been hurt. But for me, and for many I’ve talked with and worked with, the first three are the top three:
And once you have shown you can be trusted with the listening and believing and being there, you will often earn their trust for the next step – doing something.
One final note:
If you have your own story, please don’t immediately share it with the person who just shared theirs with you. You can simply say, “I’ve had an experience with sexual assault, too. I understand.” Don’t try to outshine the moment they’ve decided to share with you by telling them your story (and we often do so without realizing it). Wait for the right time, or even for them to ask.
*Printable image from TESSA.