Survivors and Supporting Survivors of Sexual Trauma

Would you know if a friend or family member was the survivor of a sexual assault? Not necessarily. Many survivors do not talk openly about their assaults—not even to close family and friends. The reason for this choice is because our society has a history of treating sexual assault survivors poorly.

You can find numerous examples of survivors being blamed for being sexually assaulted. The comments below are just a few statements survivors have heard people say. Each statement is followed by reasons why the comment is wrong:

“The person asked for it.”

Impossible. You cannot ask to be assaulted. An assault occurs without consent!

“That is what happens when you act like a tease.”

You have the right to set your own personal standards on how far you feel comfortable engaging in sexual activity with another person. You always deserve to have your standards respected.

“You can’t be getting it on with someone and then stop.”

You always have the right to stop. If you say, “Yes” and then change your mind, you have the right to stop in the middle of whatever you are doing.

When an assault takes place, the assailant is at fault. The assailant took the action, not the survivor. Our society does not blame the victim of other crimes such as robbery, burglary, and auto theft. For example, you don’t hear anyone state that a person shouldn’t have been wearing a nice watch or driving a cool car. We have no excuses for blaming the survivor of a sexual assault.

Imagine being sexually assaulted and then hearing someone blame you for the assault. Imagine if the person blaming you was a family member or a friend. Would you want to continue talking about the assault? Blaming the survivor is a major cause of survivors not speaking out about their assaults and not reporting the assaults to the authorities.

Supporting Survivors

How have you reacted when you heard about a sexual assault case? From the comments that you made, will a survivor think you are going to be supportive? Starting today, say the right words. Talk to everyone you care about and share the following message (referred to as “Opening the Door” for survivors):

“If anyone ever has or ever does sexually touch you against your will or without your consent, I am always here for you. Always.”

Avoid adding statements such as, “If anyone ever does anything to you, I’ll kill the person.” Comments of retaliation or violence will often scare the survivor and keep them from telling anyone what happened. Focus the conversation solely on supporting the survivor. Why is it important to begin to tell everyone you can within the next few hours and days? You never know when someone has been or will be sexually assaulted. If a person hears you “Opening the Door” and is sexually assaulted months later, the survivor is likely to remember that you are a safe outlet. Or, if the person had been sexually assaulted in the past, they may see you as the one person who will be helpful and understanding.

Now that you have opened the door for a survivor, what do you say when someone tells you they were sexually assaulted? Many people mistakenly respond by saying, “I’m sorry,” which survivors frequently feel is a statement of pity.

Instead, show respect and admiration for the survivor by saying:

“Thank you for sharing with me. Clearly, you are strong and courageous. What can I do to help?”

Let the survivor decide what to discuss. Listen closely. When “Opening the Door” for a survivor, you have the opportunity to make a positive impact on the life of another person.

In this video message Mike Domitrz, international speaker, author and founder of The DATE SAFE PROJECT talks about how we can all support survivors as well as how survivors can set boundaries, especially during the holidays or anytime there is a social or family event.

“If you are a survivor, please know that you are amazing, strong and courageous and you deserve to have your voice heard.”- Mike Domitrz

*Reprinted with consent from The DATE SAFE Project and Mike Domitrz

Mike Domitrz is on a mission to create a culture of consent and respect through The DATE SAFEProject. As one of the leading voices for helping children, young adults, parents, educational institutions, organizations and the U.S. Military discuss dating, sexual decision-making, consent, and sexual assault, Mike speaks to tens of thousands of people yearly around the world, providing positive how-to skill sets and helpful insights for romantic relationships, sexual intimacy, and being safer.

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