On Supporting Survivors:
Throughout the advent of the #MeToo movement and others that bring the stories and realities of gender-based violence in our society to light, it’s become readily apparent that assault, abuse, and stalking are issues that pervade the lives of many people in our community. Still, despite the growing number of survivors that come forward, surveys show that because of the personal nature of assault and the variety of reasons survivors may choose not to disclose their experience, a large number of assaults are never reported. The most commonly used statistics estimate that one in five American women and one in thirty-eight American men experience attempted or completed rape in their lifetime, with statistics being even more servere for those in the LGBTQ, Native American, and multi-racial communities (CDC).
Given this information, it is more likely than not that each of us interact with a survivor in our day-to-day life whether they are a loved one, a coworker, a friend, or an acquaintance. We are not always going to be privy to the stories and experiences of those who have been affected by gender-based violence in our lives. Whether or not a survivor chooses to go public with their story, tell only a handful of people, only one, or maybe no one is solely up to their discretion and we, as individuals, may never be privy. Being a supporter of survivors, at its heart, has much less to do with providing care and empathy to the survivors you can identify, but rather, being an active supporter of survivors in your words, actions, and beliefs throughout your daily activities.
Follow these key tenants to ensure that you are actively working as a supporter of survivors:
In public and in practice, seek to understand and support.
Advertise your allyship! Participate in awareness events, such as Domestic Violence Awareness Month and local activities, fundraisers, marches, and drives that support survivors and promote gender-equity. Being a visible supporter shows others that you are an advocate for survivors and a safe person to talk to.
Be an active supporter in conversations about abuse, assault, and sexism. Challenge victim-blaming and sexist language in your day-to-day conversations. Men and women alike portray sexist beliefs, antiquated gender norms, and tropes of toxic masculinity in thoughts, words, and actions. Challenge the beliefs you and others have about gender and sexuality so that you may be part of the larger conversation around what societally held beliefs and social systems foster gender-based violence.
Be up-to-date on current news surrounding abuse, assault, sexism, and survivors’ rights. Stay in-the-know about what is going on in the community and nationally to be able to be an active participant and advocate for change.
Believe and Listen
Don’t push survivors to share more than they’ve offered; let them speak and share in their own time. Let these conversations be organic. If you’re not sure what to say or how to support them, ask them how you can be there for them and what you can do to help.
Don’t ‘trick’ survivors into reporting — openly disclose if you are a mandated reporter before they talk to you about their experience. Know your mandated reporter status and what non-mandated resources are available.
Use active listening skills and avoid ‘why’ questions. “Why” questions like “Why didn’t you call me to pick you up?” “Why didn’t you report?” “Why did you drink that night?” are accusatory and connote victim-blaming.
Know what resources that are available in your area, like hotlines, shelters, and programs like WRC’s, or campus resources and national hotlines. One of the most important things you can share with a survivor who has disclosed their experience to you is the knowledge that there is help available. Let them know they are not alone, there is help, and there is hope for healing.
WRC 24/7 Crisis Line: 760-757-3500
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
Empower survivors to make their own decisions. Do not tell survivors what to do or make decisions for them. Remember to listen and respond to what the survivor says they need – not what you think they need.
Be there to support the survivor as long as they need, or connect them with someone who can. Remember to ask before you touch a survivor. Don’t assume that physical contact, even in the form of a gentle touch or hug, will be comforting to a survivor.
And, through all of this, practice self-care! You cannot pour from a cup that is not full. Giving yourself time and space to think is imperative to staying calm and empathetic. Supporters of survivors are welcome to call in and talk to us about what are the best methods to talking with and empowering the survivors in their lives. No one approach is perfect and every person needs something different in their journey to healing and empowerment. The most important tenant is to believe them and to be respectful of where they are at in their journey so you may check in with them to know what support and resources they need at that moment.
For more information, tips, and guides on how to support survivors, check out Start By Believing’s website at www.startbybelieving.org