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Supporting a survivor

What You Can Do If Your Friend Has Been Sexually Assaulted, via The Huffington Post:

The conversation about sexual assault usually centers around frightening statistics and failed responses from college institutions. Those stories need to be told, and loudly. But as we discuss the pain of sexual assault and how we can prevent future violence, we also need to talk about the other side of the narrative: helping survivors heal.

Despite increased awareness about sexual assault, it remains an understandably difficult topic to discuss. So many people simply don’t know what to say when they find out a friend has been sexually assaulted.

But helping a friend who is a survivor of sexual assault isn’t really about words. It’s about listening without judgement and providing sensitive emotional support. It’s about understanding that survivors can heal — and that having the right allies to support them is critical to helping their recovery process. Here are the most important things you need to know in order to be one of those allies:

1. Believe them.

As Working Against Violence, Inc. puts it: “The greatest fear of rape survivors is that they will not be believed.” That fear is part of what keeps so many survivors silent. It follows that one of the best statements of support you can offer is a simple, “I believe you.”

2. Be supportive, and help them seek out the right resources.

Encourage your friend to take control of his or her physical and mental health. Jill Mayer, a licensed professional counselor and former clinical director of Women Organized Against Rape told The Huffington Post that, in the aftermath of a sexual assault, she recommends locating a local rape crisis center on the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) database.

She said that it’s important to encourage your friend to seek immediate medical attention, have a rape kit done and be tested for STIs and pregnancy. A rape kit exam is used to gather forensic evidence within the 96 hours after an assault. If possible, Mayer recommends having a rape kit exam done regardless of whether the survivor definitively intends to report the crime, as doing so keeps future options open, and a rape crisis center can provide a list of local hospitals that offer that service. Rape crisis centers also typically have counselors on staff who can provide psychological help to survivors and court advocates on staff who can provide information about their legal options.

3. Assure them that what happened is not their fault.

It’s all too common for victims to blame themselves. “There’s also a level of shame and embarrassment surrounding being sexually violated… Survivors may feel like the assault was their fault, but the blame is solely on perpetrators,” said Mayer.

Survivors may be more apt to blame themselves if drugs or alcohol were involved, or if their perpetrator was a friend or intimate partner. (Loveisrespect.org has excellent resources for helping a friend being sexually abused by a partner.)

Further, if your friend is a man, he faces the painful, enduring societal myth that men cannot be raped or sexually abused. As an ally, you can do survivors a great service simply by reaffirming that their trauma and pain is valid, no matter the circumstances. Mayer also suggested urging survivors struggling with self-blame orinternalized rape myths to seek counseling.

4. Listen, and don’t press for details.

Opening up about these experiences can be scary and painful, and it’s important not to pressure survivors into divulging memories that may be upsetting. As The Healing Center puts it: “Listen, listen, listen.” Resist the impulse to gather all the facts; and let your friend decide what information he or she wants to disclose. Focus on being a supportive sounding board as your friend works through his or her feelings.

5. Respect the decisions they make in the aftermath.

The unfortunate truth is that many sexual assault survivors are further traumatizedwhen they choose to report their assault to the authorities. You don’t have to look far to find examples of victim-blaming during police interrogations or slut-shaming in the court room. Given these realities, it’s upsetting, but not surprising, that only 36 percent of survivors report their assault to the police, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Ultimately, each survivor deserves to make an independent decisionwithout external pressure. If your friend does choose to go forward, your support will be meaningful. If not, it’s critical to reserve your judgment.

6. Respect their recovery process and encourage them to heal constructively.

After sexual assault, survivors may experience a wide range of emotional and physical reactions as they recover and heal. Community Crisis Center, Inc. outlines some of the most common reactions to sexual assault, which include emotional withdrawal, disturbance of sleep and eating habits, and avoiding activities that may trigger traumatic memories. Mayer warned against telling your friend to “Just get over it” or suggesting potentially destructive coping mechanisms, like a night out of drinking. Respect that your friend may need alone time, but let him or her know that you’re there if they need company.

7. Help them seek other lifelines.

According to Mayer, the most important thing a survivor needs is a healthy support system of allies. But you can’t provide that on your own. Mayer cautioned against taking on the responsibility of being a sole lifeline or playing the role of therapist. “It’s very important to lay down a boundary line,” she said. She also recommended helping your friend identify people in their lives who can offer that support, and encouraging your friend to seek counseling or support groups. (You can find these local resources through the RAINN network.) Ensuring that your friend has other shoulders to lean on makes it easier to keep your own boundaries in place.

8. Take care of yourself and don’t be afraid to seek out support.

Being a good ally can be emotionally draining. Mayer told The Huffington Post that allies “could be getting traumatized or burnt out by the information that they’re hearing and can start to feel hopeless and depressed themselves.” Don’t dismiss those feelings. If you become overwhelmed, seek support from friends, family or professional counselors. RAINN has excellent resources about self-care for friends and allies. You can’t be part of your friend’s support system if you aren’t taking care of yourself.

Ultimately, being a good ally isn’t about saying “the perfect thing” that makes everything better. It’s about offering compassion and understanding as your friend heals.

Tips for supporting a survivor

How to Offer Support After Rape, via Bangor Daily News Blog:

In a devastating stroke of coincidence, I have had multiple friends over the past month or so reach out to me immediately after experiencing sexual assault. Part of this is likely selection bias: I speak and write about sexual assault often and I’m open about the fact that I am also a survivor, making me an obvious candidate for such a discussion. In reality, rape and other forms of sexual assault happen constantly, all around us, and because of the nature of the crime, we will never know who all of the survivors among us are. Every person – literally, every person, and that includes you – knows someone who has been sexually assaulted. Low-end estimates place about 1 in 5 women as survivors of sexual assault. Sexual assaults are seriously underreported for a variety of reasons, and so the actual proportion is quite likely higher. Transgender people are even more likely to be survivors of sexual assault. Cisgender men are less likely to be sexually assaulted, although there are a small percentage of men who are also survivors.

Many people think that if someone they knew was a victim of rape, that they would be aware of it somehow. You might be one of the people who thinks that. Inaccurately, they imagine that when a rape occurs, it is reported to the police, followed by an investigation and trial that makes headline news, and a perpetrator who is brought to justice. This is very, very rarely the case. Some victims report but most do not. Some victims tell friends and family, while others guard their experience as a poisonous secret. As much as everyone agrees that rape is among the most horrible crimes a person can commit, the role of the victim/survivor is a socially stigmatized one. Hearing about rape makes many people visibly uncomfortable. They may ask questions that could be interpreted as requests for “proof” of the victim’s innocence or the rapist’s crime (“Who did it?” “When did it happen?” “Where did it happen?” “Were you drinking?” “What happened exactly?”). They may get angry and try to involve themselves in the situation inappropriately. They may be dismissive. There are a lot of ways to respond poorly to a survivor who wants to confide in you. Unfortunately, most people who choose to reach out for support following rape will experience some or all of those poor responses.

Here is my guide, which is neither exhaustive nor official, to be a supportive person to survivors of rape and sexual assault.

1. Even before you are approached by a survivor, be deliberate and careful about the way that you discuss sexual assault cases in the public eye or in your social circle. Unless you have absolute proof that a sexual assault did not happen, do not express doubt about the survivor’s account. Examples of absolute proof: the accuser and the accused live in different countries and have never been in the same place at the same time; the accused died before the accuser was born; the accused was in a coma when the assault occurred; etc. Examples of ridiculous statements that are not proof: “I know that A didn’t rape B because I know A and he’s a really cool guy”; “A can get all the sex he wants, there’s no way he raped anyone”; “B is a total crazy liar, you can’t trust anything she says”; “I just don’t think it happened/I have a feeling it didn’t”. This doesn’t mean that you have to speak out against the accused – if you have doubts, just don’t say anything. The rate of false reports for sexual assaults is infinitesimally small and the burden of proof already falls on victims. The repercussions for keeping your opinion to yourself are basically nonexistent, while the repercussions for airing your skepticism are pronounced: you will alienate the survivors in your life. You will establish yourself as a person who doubts survivors. If someone close to you is the victim of sexual assault, they may choose not to share that information with you because they fear you will accuse them of lying. Be aware that when you discuss sexual assault, you are never just discussing the situation at hand. When you can, side with survivors. Stand with survivors. The people around you will remember your words in the future.

2. When someone comes to you for support following a sexual assault immediately communicate two things: that you care and that you believe them. Beyond that, allow them to steer the conversation. Don’t play 20 questions with them. They are in a vulnerable place and may feel obligated to respond, even if responding is not helpful to them. Examples of potentially helpful questions: “Is there anything that you want me to do to help you with this process?”; “Do you want to talk about it, do you want to talk about something else, or do you want to be quiet together?”; “Do you want advice or would you prefer for me to just listen?”. Many survivors won’t want to get into the gritty details of their assault and will find it re-traumatizing to do so. They may not want to identify their attacker because they fear retribution. Make sure to let the survivor know that they are not under any obligation to share anything they don’t feel comfortable sharing. The conversation is about them and their needs. If you are unable to prioritize their needs, tell them that you are not in a good place to give support and give them information to contact a sexual assault support line (for example, 1-800-313-9900 is the number for SARSSM’s 24-hour line).

3. Don’t physically touch the survivor (pats, hugs, etc.) unless they explicitly request it. Some people who are recovering from sexual assault will have a heightened sense of touch and feel very uncomfortable when people intrude on their physical boundaries. Rape and sexual assault are crimes against bodily autonomy. Regaining a sense of agency over their body is an important part of the healing process.

4. Don’t push the criminal justice system on them if they choose not to report their assault. Absolutely do not imply that they bear any responsibility for their attacker’s future victimizations if they don’t report. The process of having forensic evidence gathered for a rape kit is lengthy, emotionally exhausting, and traumatic for many. No one should feel pressured to go through that if they do not feel like they can handle it. Some victims may have good reason to believe that they will not have sufficient evidence for a conviction, even though their assault really occurred. Again, the survivor should be at the center of this conversation – not the perpetrator.

5. This might be the most subversive suggestion – in “gray area” situations (situations that felt exploitative but do not meet the legal definition of rape or assault), allow yourself to feel empathy for the survivor and take their experience seriously without faulting the other person involved. For example, if both parties are intoxicated beyond the point of consent and neither would have given consent if they were sober, both of them might feel traumatized in the morning. A sexual encounter where the victim does not say no or resist at any point (because they feel pressured or freeze up in the moment) may leave the other person completely unaware that they are having non-consensual sex. Obviously, these situations lend credence to the idea that culturally we should move toward a model of enthusiastic consent – where sexual encounters only happen when consent is explicitly and happily given (focusing on “only yes means yes!” rather than “no means no”). At the same time, it’s possible to understand that a lot of people assume, “They would tell me to stop if they wanted me to stop”. The emotional experience can still be traumatic and valid without casting a villain. Again, keep your focus on being there for your friend, not on punishing the perpetrator.

By treating the survivors in your life with respect, dignity, and support, you can help end the stigma that keeps so many of us silent.

Crime show viewers more likely to aid sexual assault victims

How interesting!

 

From Washington State University News:

PULLMAN, Wash. – Viewers of prime-time crime dramas, like NCIS, CSI or Law & Order, are more inclined than nonviewers to see themselves intervening on behalf of the victim of a sexual assault, according to recent research at Washington State University.
Published in the January issue of the Journal of Health Communication, the study suggests prime-time television may be a successful medium for educating the public about sexual assault and encouraging positive responses, said Stacey Hust, associate professor in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication and lead researcher.
A once taboo topic on television, sexual assault has been depicted with increasing frequency in prime-time television programming, Hust said. Previous research indicates that crime dramas include nearly six violent acts per hour, about a tenth of which are related to sexual assault.
“Although content analyses have not established whether crime dramas portray individuals intervening in sexual assault, we knew from watching some of the programs that at least some episodes featured bystanders who intervened before the crime or who came forward to help after the crime was committed,” Hust said.  “We wanted to see if watching these programs was associated with bystander intervention.”
She and her colleagues fielded a survey to college freshmen to examine the link between crime drama viewing and intentions to intervene during a sexual assault. After controlling for previously identified factors known to influence intentions to intervene, the data indicated increased exposure to crime dramas was associated with increased intentions to intervene.
“Sexual assault is a particularly difficult problem to address with health communication campaigns, given adults’ discomfort with discussing the topic,” said second author Emily Garrigues Marett, a management faculty member at the College of Business at Mississippi State University. “This finding is exciting for health communication practitioners because it suggests that prime-time television may be a successful medium for educating the public on the issue and encouraging positive behaviors.”
This study’s findings are especially relevant given the prevalence of sexual assault in the United States. According to U.S. Department of Justice figures, nearly 1 in 6 adult women and 1 in 30 adult men will experience sexual assault within their lifetime.
“Increasing bystander intervention is critical to sexual assault prevention efforts,” Hust said. “Bystander intervention both creates an environment in which sexual assault is not tolerated and an environment supportive of victims—both of which are necessary to eliminate sexual assault.”
The full text of the article, “Health Promotion Messages in Entertainment Media: Crime Drama Viewership and Intentions to Intervene in a Sexual Assault Situation,” is available online here.

Break The Chain – One Billion Rising

It’s almost time to Break The Chains!

“Today, on the planet, a billion women – one of every three women on the planet – will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That’s ONE BILLION mothers, daughters, sisters, partners, and friends violated. V-Day REFUSES to stand by as more than a billion women experience violence.

On February 14th, 2013, V-Day’s 15th Anniversary, we are inviting one billion women and those who love them to walk out, DANCE, RISE UP, AND DEMAND an end to this violence. One Billion Rising is a promise that we will rise up with women and men worldwide to say, ‘Enough! The violence ends now.’ ”

Break the Chain Lyrics

Lyrics by Tena Clark
Music by Tena Clark/Tim Heintz

Intro-
I raise my arms to the sky
On my knees I pray
I’m not afraid anymore
I will walk through that door
Walk, dance, rise
Walk, dance, rise

I can see a world where we all live
Safe and free from all oppression
No more rape or incest, or abuse
Women are not a possession

You’ve never owned me, don’t even know me I’m not invisible, I’m simply wonderful I feel my heart for the first time racing I feel alive, I feel so amazing

I dance cause I love
Dance cause I dream
Dance cause I’ve had enough
Dance to stop the screams
Dance to break the rules
Dance to stop the pain
Dance to turn it upside down
Its time to break the chain, oh yeah
Break the Chain
Dance, rise
Dance, rise

In the middle of this madness, we will stand I know there is a better world Take your sisters & your brothers by the hand Reach out to every woman & girl

This is my body, my body’s holy
No more excuses, no more abuses
We are mothers, we are teachers,
We are beautiful, beautiful creatures

I dance cause I love
Dance cause I dream
Dance cause I’ve had enough
Dance to stop the screams
Dance to break the rules
Dance to stop the pain
Dance to turn it upside down
It’s time to break the chain, oh yeah
Break the Chain, oh yeah
Break the Chain

Dance Break Inst.

Dance, rise
Dance, rise

Sister won’t you help me, sister won’t you rise x4

Dance, rise
Dance, rise

Sister won’t you help me, sister won’t you rise x4

This is my body, my body’s holy
No more excuses, no more abuses
We are mothers, we are teachers,
We are beautiful, beautiful creatures

I dance cause I love
Dance cause I dream
Dance cause I’ve had enough
Dance to stop the screams
Dance to break the rules
Dance to stop the pain
Dance to turn it upside down
Its time to break the chain, oh yeah
Break the Chain, oh yeah
Break the Chain

(Repeat chorus)

February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

Throughout this month, our School-Based Advocates will be working with local area teens to educate and raise awareness around the issues.

National Statistics: 

* Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year
* 1 in 3 teens in the US is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence
* 1 in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend
* 1/4 of high school girls have been victims of physical or sexual abuse

[For Teens]:

*  If you are in an abusive relationship…please talk to somebody that you trust:  parent, teacher, etc.  It’s okay to get help.
*  Know that it’s not your fault, and that you are not alone.  You deserve to be happy, and feel loved.  “Love is NOT abuse.”

[For Parents – tips for talking to your teens about healthy relationships]:

* Share the facts about healthy relationships…be sure to listen respectfully to your teen’s answer, even if you don’t agree. Then you can offer your opinion and explore other options together
* Set rules for dating…as kids get older, they gain more independence and freedom. However, teens still need parents to set boundaries and expectations for their behavior.
* Be a role model…you can teach your kids a lot by treating them and others with respect.
* Talk to your kids about sex…teach your children the facts about their bodies, sex, and relationships. Talking to your kids about sex may not be easy, but it’s important. You can help them stay healthy and make good choices as they grow up.
* Talk to your teen about any concerns…write down the reasons you are worried. Listen to your teen calmly, and thank him/her for opening up.

(Sources: healthfinder.gov & teendvmonth.org)

 

Survivor’s Words

Aftermath of a Flashback
By Anonymous  

It came with no warning, all the pain, sorrow, anguish, and horror.  The memory of rape is just as ugly as the rape itself.  Now that I remember, the hurt is hard to bear.  I must go on.  I have a son to feed, car payments to make, bills to pay, work to do, and school to attend.  The sorrow is like a dark, stormy cloud that is ready to explode its storm all over the place.  I’m tired of going on.  I must take responsibility for the running of my life.  I must use every ounce of energy I have just to get out of my safe bed.  I know I must live in today and trudge through this.  This is a part of the “healing” journey called recovery from rape.  Does my rapist go through this?  Probably not. He is happy in life.  I am not!  I’m angry that I have to do this while he sits back as if nothing has happened.  I wish I could too, but that is not a reality for me.  No matter how good I feel or successful I am, I will never be able to forget.  From time to time memories, flashbacks, and nightmares will happen.  yes I’ll go on with life, I’ll do my part to make this world better for survivors like me.  I may even have to arrange my life around all this stuff so that I can pick up the pieces of the rape and then move on.  Today, the weather fits me.  It is dark, damp, and ready to burst forth with tears, but holding them back until “the time is right.”  There is a chill that surrounds me.  There is also warmth in the air, it is a sign of hope that I’ll get better and survive.

 

(If you would like to submit a poem or story, for our blog, newsletter, and/or other social media sites, please e-mail SAVESoutreach@sapars.org.  Thank you!)

Active Listening

“The challenge is to listen with an open heart and mind, and to ask good questions, rather than to rush in to soothe, fix, advise, criticize, instruct, admonish, get defensive and do whatever else we do naturally that shuts down the lines of communication.

At its purest moments, listening reflects the art of being fully emotionally present without judgment or distraction.  Whenever we are fully present, we are not thinking about our work, or anything else.  We’re not judgmental.  Similarly, while listening, we are not formulating our response or considering how we might best present our case.  Our thoughts are not stuck in the past or wandering to the future.  We are fully open and receptive to what the person is saying without having to change, fix, correct or advise.  We are there with the person – and nowhere else.

We won’t listen well when our mind is already made up or when we have our own agenda.  In the latter case, we’re likely to be in a “talk-wait-talk” conversational mode (meaning we’re just waiting for the other person to finish talking so we can make our point) rather than a “talk- listen – talk” conversational mode.  As in all things, some folks have more natural talent at listening than others, but we can all get better at it.” 

– Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.

Active listening is important for all of our relationships (co-workers, family, friends, etc.), and it takes practice.  Sometimes, we miss vital information or feelings, because of the urge to jump in with our own stories.  If you find yourself talking with a survivor of sexual assault, please listen actively.  Do not shame, judge, or give advice.  It is often difficult for a survivor to open up, so when they do, be present, patient, and understanding.