A Survivor's Support System
Living through sexual trauma - be it harassment, abuse or assault - is incredibly challenging. Survivors usually face all kinds of pushback if they step forward to share their stories. They can downplay the impact of their experiences and might not want to believe the treatment was actually abusive. Survivors may feel shame, embarrassment, guilt, fear or a mix of many other emotions that prevent them from speaking up. When someone has experienced sexual violence or misconduct, there is no “right” way to react to and cope with what they endured. But there are ways you can show your support for the survivor.
If a survivor has chosen to tell you their experience, it’s a major step and one that may open doors to other healing. When talking about what happened, try paying close attention to their body language and voice for signs of anxiety or stress. If the person you’re speaking with is uncomfortable, try to end the conversation gently and reassure them that what’s been shared is private. Don’t push for details and let them know that both they and what they went through are important and matter. What the survivor experienced may have happened yesterday, weeks ago or even from their childhood. No matter when the abuse took place, it’s valid and deserves to be recognized.
Ask for advice
One way survivors can seek justice is through civil litigation but it can be a nerve wracking thought, to consider asking for a lawyer’s advice. It’s no secret that sexual misconduct and assault are under-reported, and women have bravely shared their experiences only to not be believed or be told what happened wasn’t that serious. However, a lawyer’s role is to take on these concerns and not hesitate to stand up for the survivor. This can be a reassuring thing for a survivor, to know there is a legal team that has their best interest in mind and who will protect them if they want to pursue a case.
While being supportive, the survivor must be in control of their own healing. You can find resources and information, which is very helpful, but never put pressure on them to pursue specific options. You can also offer to attend meetings or discussions with them, to show your support, especially if they decide to speak with a lawyer. Having someone they trust, by their side, can be reassuring and comforting. Provide them with some tools to decide how to move forward and don’t judge, believing the survivor knows what they need for their healing or closure.
"No matter when the abuse took place, it’s valid and deserves to be recognized."
Most importantly, if you hear the survivor blame themselves for the harassment or assault, tell them it was never their fault. Remind them how important they are to the people in their life, how much they mean to you and how much better the world is with them in it.