This past week has been extremely emotionally draining, from attending two conferences, working on my thesis study, and trying to keep up with everything surrounding the recent hearing. It is a triggering time for survivors of sexual assault and abuse, and discouraging for victims (present and future). As a researcher of sexual assault victimization and perpetration, I’m exhausted, but trying to stay hopeful. I struggle with how to communicate my thoughts about this topic on social media and with the public because it’s a lot of pressure, makes me vulnerable, and it isn’t an easy topic to talk about – but at the same time I feel a sense of obligation, like its my duty to say something. And I have a lot to say. But I will break this up into a series of posts over the next while.
One message that resonated through the conference on campus sexual assault that I want to leave you with is how important it is to BELIEVE victims. As few as 1 in 5 victims actually report their sexual assault, so they don’t get the health they need. Victims are more likely to tell someone close to them about the assault than legal authorities. It is important to consider how we treat victims who come forward. If victims feel judged, blamed, shamed, or treated like they are lying, making it up, or not remembering correctly, victims can undergo “secondary victimization” through which they are traumatized by the social reactions they receive in response to disclosing theirs sexual assault, on top of the trauma they are bearing from the victimization.
What can you do?
When someone discloses that they have been sexually assaulted or abused, avoid asking “why” questions because they can come off as accusatory and make survivors blame themselves. Instead: 1) listen to them, 2) assure them you believe them, 3) be supportive and 4) ask how you can help. #StartByBelieving
For more information on the #StartByBelieving campaign, visit their website. For resources on how to get help, visit my resources page for a list of websites, phone numbers, and shelters you can contact. And as always – I’m here to talk. #IBelieveSurvivors