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Dear Survivor, What An Advocate Wants You To Know

TRIGGER WARNING!

The content of this article is sensitive and may trigger some viewers. The following contains discussions of sexual assault/related topics. Viewer discretion is advised if you would like to proceed. 

Dear Survivor, 

What you have endured is one of the most difficult, confusing, and emotionally and physically detrimental experiences that a person can go through. I know that nobody can make it better or make the pain disappear–and that is okay. As an advocate, I see and hear the self-destructive words and actions survivors subject themselves to. I can’t help but think that part of this is that there is a societal expectation that talking makes it better, that all coping looks healthy and positive, and that healing is linear. However, these assumptions don’t remain true in real life. Advocates are aware of this, and we want you to know it, too. It is natural to heal differently than another person or to go through periods where healing isn’t possible at all. That is my first major takeaway-there is no standard for what the aftermath should look and feel like. There is not a “right” way to heal. 

I chose to become a certified sexual assault advocate out of a deep desire to be a support to someone who needed it. After all, that is what I would want–not someone to tell me what to do, how I should be coping, or even attempting to make me feel better. That is what advocacy is truly about, it is about support, and that looks different for each person. Along with the advocacy role comes the responsibility to empathize and understand what a survivor may be thinking. I have realized that to the majority of survivors, telling your story can be agonizing, especially in a world where we make you tell it again, and again, and again. There is a fear that you will not be heard, that you will be blamed, or even accused of being a liar. There is a fear of judgment from those that hear your story. Simply, there is the desire to not want to share such a personal violating hardship in the first place. You do not have to tell me anything to receive my support. That is what my role is after all–to be any role that you need. I do not have any expectations of you. That is my second major takeaway–there is no judgment. 

As an advocate, my role can be as simple as talking about other aspects of life or the assault, assisting with transportation, helping you devise a budget or a safety plan, providing information on resources for a variety of programs–or I can be there with you at the hospital or the police department if you choose to take those routes. In some cases, you may not want to talk at all, and that is an option. With an advocate, you have choices. You are the person that decides what you want to do, and I will support your decision no matter what. It is not my place to make decisions for you, nor will I try to do so. My entire goal is to help you discover what is best for you and aid with making that difficult process a reality. That is my third major takeaway–you are in control. I wear many hats, but they all come from the same shelf.

All in all, my overall message in writing this to you is to voice what the purpose of advocacy is and what I think is important for you to know. Throughout the overwhelming aftermath of a sexual assault, I think that informing survivors about what an advocate is and their role tends to be skipped over.  This is especially true if there are multiple parties from different agencies involved–it is understandably a situation that invokes emotional highs, and asking who each person is becomes draining and retraumatizing. It is simply not a priority when your safety has been violated. However, advocacy is not limited to the immediate period following an assault. We can be there for you even if it has been weeks, months, or years in order to seek out resources, pursue legal action, or aid in anything else. Your life is valid no matter how long it has been, and we are there to help.

In a situation where you feel that your humanity has been stripped away from you, I want to remind you that you are human. You are worthy. You are beautiful. You did not deserve it. You are not at fault. You are a survivor. You will find your own path to recovery, and I will be here to support you in any way you need.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit hotline.rainn.org.

Hello! I am a Forensic Psychology Major with Minors in Criminal Justice and Sociology. I am the secretary for Sexual Assault Awareness Team and am involved in STEP and Psychology Club at St. Ambrose University. In my free time I enjoy painting and embroidering, being a dog mom, and spending time with my friends!
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