The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
CONTENT WARNING: Sexual violence
Before the semester started, I was searching for electives that I could take. I mostly look into the Women’s and Genders classes every year. As I was scrolling through my class options, I came across one that caught my eye: Intervening-Prevent Sexual Assault. I had never taken a class like this – most of the Women’s and Genders courses that I took were about the different women of North America and beyond. As soon as I found this class, I knew that I needed to take it. The semester only started a couple weeks ago, but I feel like I’ve learned so much in this class already.
What I want to discuss more than anything is what you should never do when you’re approached by a victim of sexual violence.
“But shouldn’t you discuss what you should do, rather than what you shouldn’t do?”
I should, and I will. But sometimes, it’s more important to know what you shouldn’t do, because that could be extremely helpful to victims.
First and, in my opinion, most importantly, do NOT ask “why” questions.
“Why didn’t you call the police? Why did you drink that much? Why were you wearing that? Why didn’t you scream?”
Do you know what you’re doing in asking those questions? You’re victim blaming. Don’t ask them why they didn’t do this or that, especially if you’ve never been in their shoes. You don’t know what’s going through their mind. You don’t know how they’re feeling. And you don’t know what they’ve been through.
Secondly, if someone were to confide their trauma in you, the first thing that might come to your mind is going to the police if they haven’t already done that. That’s understandable. And if they want to go to the police, then do it. But if they don’t want to, do not pressure them. Don’t force them to go to the cops.
One of the main reasons a lot of survivors don’t report assault to the police is because of their fear. Making a report, starting an investigation (which may include an investigation of their bodies), going to court… they would have to relive their trauma. And the entire thing would be a long and gruesome process to add on to that. Unless they are ready and willing, never pressure them to report to the cops.
The last thing I would like to discuss on what you shouldn’t do is the way you might identify a survivor. In other words, don’t just look at them and think of them as a victim of a sexual assault. They are so much more than this horrible thing that happened to them. Nobody wants to simply be known as “the person who got raped.” Would you? I doubt it. I certainly wouldn’t.
If someone confides this terrible thing that happened to them in you, this is how you should respond:
“I’m so sorry that this happened to you. Thank you for telling me this. Is there anything that I can do for you?”
Simple, but powerful. Let’s break it down together.
“I’m so sorry that this happened to you.” You’re acknowledging their trauma. You’re sincere — you’re showing sympathy. There’s no blame towards them. You’re showing that they aren’t the one at fault here, that this is something that should never have happened to them, and you’re so very sorry that it did.
“Thank you for telling me this.” You’re expressing your appreciation that this person trusted you enough to tell you about this traumatic experience. Do you know how hard it would be for someone to put what happened to them into words? And how much harder it is to put it into words for someone else to understand? This is a very personal and terrible thing that happened to them. By saying the sentence above, you’re showing that you’re grateful you were trusted enough to have that told to you.
“Is there anything that I can do for you?” Let them tell you what they need or want. You don’t know what is best for them right now. Every survivor is different and will react differently to something like this. Instead of saying that they should go to the police or report it to an authority figure, ask them what they want. Let them express to you how you may be able to help them. Maybe they simply wanted someone to listen. You don’t know. So let them tell you, and work from there.
I would encourage everyone to take this course. Whether you’re a man, a woman, or other, this course is so incredibly important. Yes, the topic is uncomfortable, and yes, it can be terrifying to learn about things that you didn’t even know regarding sexual violence. But it’s so important and so necessary to understand these things so you can learn to prevent them from happening or learn to help people who have gone through it. Sexual violence is something that should never be inflicted on anyone. It should never happen. But it does, and more often than you might think. So I would urge anyone to take this course and learn as much as you can, because together we are stronger.