"What happens when people open their hearts?...They get better."
- Haruki Murakami
I am a social worker. I have been a volunteer for 12 years as a sexual assault response team advocate. I'm a business owner of a psychotherapy private practice and spend my days doing clinical work. Likewise, I'm very committed to activism and educating others about sexual abuse. Tragically, sexual abuse is very common. Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. As a society we minimize and have a lack of awareness around the prevalence and impact of sexual crimes.
April is sexual assault awareness month. Whether you know it or not, you have someone in your life who is a survivor of a sexual crime. In honor of this month, I want to share how you can best support a survivor. When someone shares that they were violated, believe them. Believe people when they share they have been sexually abused or assaulted. Believe people when they share they are being or have been harassed, stalked, or threatened. Believe people when they share they have been discriminated against. Believe people when they share that they have a broken heart. Believe people when they tell you that they are going through hell and struggling to make it through the day.
If you want to support others don't do this:
Do not coach people on how to change their perspective on what happened.
Do not tell others to get over it and move on.
Do not try to explain things from the point of view of the person/people who hurt them. That's a form of gaslighting.
What believing people looks like:
Get quiet and listen.
Whenever they are done sharing say, “Thank you for trusting me. I believe you and stand by you.”
Remember that when someone is vulnerably sharing, any unsolicited advice will feel patronizing and land as criticism.
It takes courage and strength to share stories of our pain, especially when it involves abuse. To all of the survivors reading this: I believe you, I support you, and you are not alone or to blame for what happened to you.
If you are struggling with past trauma or care about someone who is, please contact me. Trauma isn't something you just “get over.” I'm happy to set up a complimentary phone call and connect you with a professional who can help.