1. “I believe you.” (The Witness)
One of the biggest fears survivors have about coming forward is that others will not believe them. And even some of the most well-intentioned friends and family members can make the mistake of seeming doubtful.
This is because sexual assault is such a horrible thing to have to think about. It is a natural reaction to want so badly to believe it didn’t happen, that one might actually experience some doubt.
The truth is, however, only between 2-10% of all accusations are found to be false, which is no greater than false reports for other crimes (https://icdv.idaho.gov/conference/handouts/False-Allegations.pdf).
If your loved one is confiding in you about sexual assault, it is important to convey unwavering belief in his or her story. If you find yourself having any doubts, consider how hard this is to hear, how badly you want to believe this did not happen, and try to work through those feelings so you can be supportive.
2. “It’s not your fault.” (The Owl)
Survivors also fear being blamed. And again, even some of the most well-intentioned friends and family members can accidentally convey this message.
When someone is telling us about his or her experience of sexual assault, it is natural to also (sometimes unconsciously) be thinking, “Could this happen to me?” Victim blaming is a phenomenon that occurs out of our wish to believe we are safe. If we can point to something the victim did to contribute to the assault, then we can hang onto the belief we could prevent something from happening to ourselves.
The truth is, sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. Nothing gives anyone the right to assault another, and unfortunately, there may be nothing anyone person can do to prevent it in the moment. Also, there is no wrong reaction to assault. Fighting, fleeing and freezing are all natural, biological reactions to imminent threat. It is much easier to make decisions in hypothetical situations. Everyone is different, and you cannot possibly know how you would react until you are faced with it yourself.
If you find yourself struggling with this, consider how it feels to know you may not be able to prevent this from happening to yourself or another loved one, and try to work through those feelings so you can be supportive.
3. “I will follow your lead.” (The Dancer)
If you have the first two down, you may feel tempted to jump to action and serve as your loved one’s strongest ally and advocate! And that’s great, but slow down…
One of the most important aspects of the trauma your loved one experienced is a complete loss of control. Now more than ever, restoring that sense of control is going to be of the utmost importance.
You can support the idea of coming forward or pressing charges by letting them know you have their back no matter what. But if they are not interested, don’t push it! Maybe right now just listening and conveying your support is most helpful. Let them know you are willing to hold their hand no matter how they want to proceed – and at whatever pace they see fit!
If you find yourself struggling with this, consider how painful this is to sit with, how badly you want to make it better, and try to work through those feelings so you can be supportive in a way that is helpful to your loved one.