Content warning: This article contains mentions of sexual assault.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), which means it's time to recognize how we can better support survivors. After my assault, many well-intended friends said things that have caused more harm than help. If someone finds the courage to share their story with you---feel honored that they trust you. Instead of trying to advice or judge---listen. Consolidation and support are always welcome, but please refrain from saying these five things to someone who has experienced sexual assault.
1. Why didn't you fight back?
It's a known fact that when facing trauma, the brain initiates what's known as "the freeze response." This quite literally paralyzes someone in fear. Even if someone has the ability to fight back---it might not be safe to do so. I guarantee the survivor did everything they could to make it through the moment.
2. I know them. They would never do that.
Okay, so maybe this person has never caused harm to you. But it does not mean they are incapable of sexually assaulting someone else. Believe someone when they tell you they experienced sexual assault.
3. Why did you go there?
More than half of all assaults are committed by someone known to the survivor. Going to someone's house/apartment is not "asking for it." Hanging out with someone you perceive to be your friend is not an invitation to be groped. It is never the survivor's fault.
4. Boys will be boys.
No. Stop allowing boys and men to get away with criminal acts because "that's just how they behave." Do better.
5. But you said yes before.
Consent can be withdrawn at any time. Just because this person is a significant other and/or you've agreed to certain sexual acts before does not mean you are entitled to be used at any time. No means no. "I'm not sure" and "maybe" also do not equal yes. Consent is freely and clearly given.
Unfortunately, it's estimated that every 73 seconds someone is sexually assaulted in America. When someone shares their story with you, do not take this privilege lightly. It is not your place to judge. Don't assume fault. Just listen and say, "I'm here for you."
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, visit RAINN or contact 1-800-656-HOPE.