Sexual assault is a very sensitive topic; it can be really hard to talk about and similarly it is not easy to respond to. Always remember that it takes a lot of courage for a survivor to talk about a sexual assault incident. Here are a few things you should avoid saying or doing when a sexual assault survivor chooses to tell you about what happened.
1. “What were you wearing?”
Even if you do not believe that how more or less revealing a person’s clothes is a justification for getting sexually harassed and you were trying to comprehend the whole situation, never ask that question. The victim usually feels like they are to blame, that maybe if they had different clothes on nothing would have happened. Do not trigger it.
2. “How far did he/she go?”
Never go further and ask about what actually happened unless they tell you. Not only is it usually hard to talk about the details, but they would instantly think that their trauma is only valid if the sexual harassment was in its full form. Maybe you are just trying to check up on them because you are worried, but that is not how they get it. Careful.
3. “How did you react when it happened?”
If the person does not mention what they did exactly, never ask them. Sexual assault survivors think they are being blamed for their defense mechanism whenever they are asked. Let’s say the person could not make a move due to the shock, asking them and waiting for an answer would make them rethink the million things they could have done but failed to. Eventually, they would feel that they are to be blamed.
4. “Are you sure?”
Of course they are sure! People who were sexually harassed usually question themselves a million times. During the situation and after it they usually doubt themselves, they usually try to find proof that it was real and that they are not just “imagining it”. Maybe that is not what you mean; you are just in shock and you would rather hear that this has not happened to them. But here is the thing, they would think you do not believe them, or just denying it just like their harasser, in most cases.
5. “You’re not the only one/It happens to everyone/Get over it.”
Never make them feel like it is normal for them to experience such a trauma, even if you find it common. Do not say it out loud, do not make them feel like they will live with it. Tell them they will get better and that they will cope, but never tell them that it is a ‘normal’ thing. Just because something happened to a lot of people, that does not make it less painful. Point the different ways that support may be provided to the person rather than normalizing their trauma or pushing them.
6. “You should have reported it!”
The first thing a person wants after experiencing a sexual assault is to get to a safety zone. They do not think logically. And in most cases, there is barely any evidence to proof what has happened. Saying this triggers two things: what they could have done and did not, and the fact that they have no evidence or proof of what has happened. Eventually, it leads to more doubt and rethinking of the reality of the assault.
6. “Don’t tell anyone!”
Do not encourage a survivor to hide their story. If they want to keep it private, you should not push them to speak out loud and get their revenge, at least in the beginning. But you should also not make them feel ashamed of something that was not their fault. It is their choice, it is completely out of your business.
7. “If I was there, I would have…”
But you weren’t. Your intentions may be good, but saying this only makes the person think about all the things they could have done differently and fall back into blaming themselves.
8. “It could have been worse.”
Do not compare it to other stories. Never try to make someone feel better about their accident by telling them that other people had it worse. Not only do you belittle their pain, but you also trigger their fear and anxiety that this will actually happen to them later.
9. Never joke about it.
Don’t ever try to make the talk less depressing by telling them that they are “too good looking” or anything similar, that would only make them feel like they called their harasser and they there are to blame.
10. “When did that happen?/But that was long ago.”
An incident may have happened recently or a long time ago, but that does not mean the pain is gone. Do not make them feel like time should have healed them but they are not letting it.
Since April is sexual assault awareness week, we thought we’d support to every survivor out there.
If you know anyone who faced any kind of sexual assault, be there for them, empower them, and help them gain their strength once again.. If you’re a mother please educate your children, tell them that nobody should ever come near their private parts, and tell them to always have a voice and speak up if anyone ever harassed them.. And if you’re a survivor yourself, please don’t be afraid to seek help. You deserve to move on with your life, to be happy, and we believe that you’ll be able to do it all over again.