By Anwen Bryony
It’s unimaginable what women who’ve been harassed, abused, and assaulted go through, especially with the stigma attached to all of the above. Recovering from a traumatic experience is a long, difficult, and painful process, and sexual assault survivors need as much support as they can get.
Showing your support doesn’t need to be in the form of grand gestures. If you know someone who has been or is in a similar position, little acts of kindness can go a long way in helping them heal.
1. Listen and believe
The fear of being doubted is one of the main reasons why many sexual assault survivors choose not to come forward. Hip Latina noted that only about 2-10% of sexual assault reports turn out to be untrue, too small a number to start discrediting every woman who comes forward. Listening to and believing a woman’s account can be very validating and might even empower them to pursue legal action against their abuser. Don't be aggressive when interrogating them. Instead, try to make them feel that you're truly willing to give them your time to listen to their story. It’s also very important that you express your belief and support.
2. Reserve judgment
Sexual assault doesn’t happen because a woman gets drunk or is wearing a short skirt. It happens because someone decides to cause harm. Be careful with your reaction to a woman’s retelling of the events. Even simple questions such as “What were you wearing?” might come off as if you’re trying to shift the blame on to the victim. Don’t be judgmental or accusatory with your tone.
3. Honor their privacy
It’s natural for survivors to want to resist touch and A Plus recommends asking for consent when it comes to physical contact. Even if it’s your partner or family member, respect their boundaries and make sure that they are comfortable. Privacy, however, doesn’t just concern physical aspects. Don’t speak in behalf of a survivor. Let them tell their story their own way and when they want to.
4. Make them feel comfortable
When a sexual assault survivor opens up, ensure that you create an environment that will make them feel safe whether it’s with music, tea, or lighting. Bustle also warns against discussing their experience in public unless they approve. Let them lead the conversation and don’t force them to talk about a subject that they’re not ready to disclose.
5. Introduce them to more support systems
In some cases, sexual assault survivors want to reach out to help centers or support systems but are ashamed of doing so. Do some research on local support networks that are available and offer their contact details to survivors, or better yet, offer to go along with them. Aside from hotlines or support groups, you can also try to look for a psychologist and arrange one-on-one sessions. Maryville University details that psychologists have a deeper understanding of the complexities of interpersonal connections because of their knowledge in social psychology. This can help survivors with the process of healing as well as reconnecting with other people.
6. Call out victim blaming and rape culture
As discussed here on Kota Alliance, our main goal is to ensure that hashtags like #MeToo will no longer be necessary. It starts with calling out victim blaming and rape culture when you see it. If someone makes a rape joke, tell them why it isn’t funny. Tell people you know why it’s never okay to blame a woman’s assault on the way she dresses or acts. Teach them that the perpetrators should be held accountable for their actions and not their victims. Confront harmful language when you hear it, even if it’s something that’s meant to be innocent. Start by educating the people closest to you and that could cause a ripple effect and make a world of difference.
Article written by Anwen Bryony specifically for the Kota blog.