Sexual assault is a crime perpetrated on 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men before the age of 18. Yet somehow there is a stigma that gives people an excuse to shame survivors. People are shushed every day when they try to speak out about their assault, but that does not have to be the case. Everyone should be a survivor advocate.
In order to make this happen, a survivor advocate is someone who looks at survivors of sexual assault and advocates for them no matter what. They have resources that can help the survivor and gives the survivors who can feel alone a person to talk to. For us, we do not necessarily need to be trained in trauma or have special resources to Title IX, but if someone discloses to you that they have been sexually assaulted you would know how to respond and be an active advocate for them.
This past week I had the chance to attend the NOVA– National Organization for Victim Assistance- Conference in San Diego. The conference focuses on bringing groups together that support survivors of trauma together for the cause of advocacy. I had the chance to talk to Title IX representatives in school systems and official survivor advocates in school systems and military installations about why they chose to work in the field. Many people told me that they chose that work because if they didn’t do it nobody else would.
This brings up issues with supporting survivors and the stigma that surrounds sexual assault. People do not understand that this is an issue faced by everyone no matter what religion, race, sexual orientation, or gender. There is no “one type” of survivor and when someone comes forward they should be supported by their communities. It may be a difficult thing to do based on individual experiences but here are some tips to support survivors.
The first thing you can do is listen. If someone discloses to you that they are a survivor of sexual assault, let them talk and tell them that you believe them. It may seem like a small thing to do, but letting survivors know that they are believed can impact their healing process immensely. Don’t appear shocked or ask questions because it can be hard to talk about it in the first place and they may see it like it is their fault if they are interrogated. Probing questions may be with the best intention, but they can re-traumatize the survivor.
After listening to their story and telling them that you believe them make sure that they know that this does not change your relationship with them. Survivors are people too and often times people focus on their trauma rather than remembering that they are a whole person. Continue to act as you did before remembering that now they may need some time to reflect on their thoughts. Don’t tell them they need to do anything because sexual assault is a crime of power and if the survivor feels like they have lost that power, it may make it seem hopeless to them.
The last thing you can do is teach others to support survivors. By sharing articles like this or bringing up conversations about how to support a survivor that can help change the stigma surrounding sexual assault.
Everyone should be advocating for survivors because if you don’t who will?