If Someone Tells You They've Been Sexually Assaulted, Here Are Some Steps To Helping

If Someone Tells You They've Been Sexually Assaulted, Here Are Some Steps To Helping

When worse comes to worst is not the right time to to prepare yourself to help a victim of sexual violence.

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Sexual assault is the subject that everyone would prefer to skirt entirely.

The violence of the crime, the commonality of it in today's society and the ramifications it causes all make rape and sexual assault not so easy to talk or even think about. It's easy to put distance in between your mind and this reality, telling yourself "that's the kind of thing that only happens to other people."

Similar techniques are employed with things like severe illnesses, horrific accidents, and other violent crimes. However, it's not so effective for something that affects almost 1/4th of women and 1 in 6 men. When you're face-to-face with this worst-case scenario, it's not the best time to scramble for information or next-steps. And what better time to learn this than during Sexual Assault Awareness Month?


1. Start By Believing

I cannot stress enough how important this step is.

I learned in a sexual assault survivor support group while recovering from my own rapes that if the first person a victim confides the assaults in does not believe them, there's only a 1 percent chance that they'll report the assault to authorities.

Besides that, it's important to consider all they may be risking by confiding the assault in anyone. Most rapes and sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, so survivors could be outing the true nature of their romantic relationships, might lose their jobs or even risk sustaining more physical harm from the attacker.

This is why it is so important to believe right away. Many think that to believe immediately is to choose to overlook facts when actually only between 2 and 8 percent of reported rapes are false.

Even if they tell you they were abducted and abused by a flock of alien geese with the bodies of Danny Devito, confiding trauma is a huge step for survivors, so validation is the easiest way to show your support.

2. Actions to Avoid

After an attack, often times people might feel violated, disempowered and victimized.

Because of this, tone is everything. Instead of insisting to take them somewhere—be it a crisis center, hospital, police station or even out for a beer—it's better to explain that these are your recommendations and why instead of issuing a command. Phrasing like "You need to," or "I'm going to take you," further take the power away from the victim instead of allowing them some measure of control when they've just been forced into a situation without any.

Equally important is to give them as much physical space as they need. Even if it might be coming from a place of love and support, insisting that the person touch you with a hug, hand-hold or even shoulder pat after experiencing trauma related to their body might do more harm than good. Even if you know the person and that's typically their go-to in terms of typical lines of support, check first before making any moves.

In the event of a rape, evidence can still be collected from a rape kit up to 72 hours after the assault has occurred, and sometimes even past that. With that said, if at all possible, you should encourage the victim not to bathe or clean anything related to the assault before going to the hospital.

While a trip to the hospital is neither typical nor always needed in terms of the physical health of the victim, it is better to be safe than sorry and try to avoid disrupting DNA evidence in case they make the decision to report the crime later down the line. However, as mentioned above, this decision should never be made for them, and it is typical for victims to want to bathe immediately after being subjugated to sexual violence. If the victim has already bathed, advising a trip to the hospital is still a good move.

Finally, if possible, clothing and other articles that could be considered evidence should be carefully stored in a paper bag if the victim is OK with it, as these too can be examined for evidence if they choose to press charges.

3. What—And What Not—To Say

To believe is one thing, but it's another to know just what that sounds like.

The key element in communicating with survivors is to start in empathy and not to stray from that for whatever reason. Below are some examples of phrases and questions which are commonly used in conversations with survivors but can inadvertently make the situation that much worse.

Blaming and Shaming:

"Why were you there in the first place?"

"I thought you were smarter than that."

or

"I told you they were no good and to be careful."

Minimizing the Event:

"I've heard that can happen. You should be fine."

"That doesn't sound that bad."

"It'll all be OK."

"At least they didn't..."

or

"It could've been worse."

General No-No's That Are Pretty Well Known, But Can't Hurt To Be Reiterated:

"What were you wearing?"

"How much did you have to drink?"

"You didn't try to fight back?"

"Had you hooked up before?"

All of these, even if meant well, take the blame off of the perpetrator and onto the victim. Despite the factors the victim may or may not have contributed to setting the scene, it is the fault of the perpetrator and theirs alone for committing the act. No one but yourself can be held responsible for your own actions, as no one has ever sexually assaulted themselves, nor has anyone ever been "asking for it" (What does that even mean? "Can I get a little more trauma and violation of personal sovereignty? I need a little more of that in my life. Please and thank you!") The only factor that matters is the attacker's decision to commit a crime.

Instead of blaming, minimizing or trying to contextualize what happened, your first and foremost concern should be their physical well being (it should go without saying that there would be a mental and emotional effect.) The most straight-forward way to address this is with a simple, "Are you hurt?" or "Do you need to see a doctor? I can drive you or come along if need be."

After this has been assessed, here are some phrases most survivors (myself during my recovery, certainly) would probably appreciate hearing:

"I'm so sorry that happened to you."

Disclaimer: This should be used with discretion. While this reaction was heaven-sent during my recovery, if the main reaction you're seeing from the victim is anger, it could incite a stronger one, now aimed at you.

"How can I help you?" or "What do you need from me?"

"I'm here to talk if you need it.", "Do you want me to sit/stay here with you for a bit?" or "Let me know if you need a minute/some space."

Then, once they're ready: "If you want, we can talk about your options."

4. Know What's Available

The best way to help someone after they've been assaulted is to know the resources available to them as the victim and yourself as an ally.

As mentioned before, the best first-step after hearing the victim out is to go to the hospital. It's important to note that if a person goes to the hospital and receives treatment for rape or sexual assault, there is no mandate that they must then report the assault to authorities. Even if a rape kit is performed, that can be kept as evidence if the victim chooses to report at a later date or not be used at all.

The other benefit of going to the hospital is that the medical professionals there will have a more comprehensive knowledge of the area's therapy, crisis center and counseling options which can be utilized to address the victim's mental health.

If someone does choose to report, there are a few avenues they may take. However, college students have the majority of options available to them.

For one, if both the victim and the accused are students at any state university, reporting can be pursued through the Title IX department. Even if the parties go to different universities, the schools' departments can still work together to pursue justice. Every state school has one, and it's their jobs to address and investigate sexual misconduct on college campuses. Through this, the victim may choose to pursue disciplinary action or else simply report the attack to attain any protections that may be needed. Moreover, if they choose to report but opt out of an official investigation, this report can be considered in other accusations of sexual misconduct levied against the perpetrator in the future which betters their chances of being found guilty.

University Police departments are similar in that a victim may report and pursue charges or else report merely for their own safety. However, the actions taken by University Police differ from campus-to-campus, so a comprehensive understanding of their policies should be accessed through the school's official website.

Finally, anyone, whether student or otherwise, can report to a standard police department in the area the incident took place. As with the two above options, a victim has the choice between the two types of reporting. However, criminal investigations differ from those of student misconduct, so victims and allies are encouraged to consult a Victim's Advocate for more information. These individuals are trained in offering information, dealing with the specific needs of victims, providing resources and offering support for a victim if a criminal investigation is pursued.

5. Follow Through

After having an open dialogue with the survivor, and after they may or may not have pursued one of the various resources, it's easy to wish that the whole event never happened. However, the best way to be there for a survivor is to keep the line of communication open.

People deal with trauma in many different ways, so it's important to keep the empathetic address of anything that might happen next.

While it might seem that they're "fine", or they're obviously not, you've already followed every step available to you to help them. Therefore, you're most effective now to remain an open and nonjudgmental avenue for them to turn to if they need to talk, cry or ask advice. While you should still encourage them to seek professional help, being there as part of their support system can be more helpful than they let on.

I've seen both sides of the coin—spiraling as a victim, and helping out as an advocate—but even I can't give a totally comprehensive guide to what to do in these kinds of situations. With that said, I strongly recommend referencing more official channels of getting information.

Sam Houston State University's Title IX department has links to resources and information covering a vast range of misconduct, sexual or otherwise, that may be helpful.

If you are not a student, many domestic abuse shelters feature similar opportunities to learn, whether on their websites or through events, programs and campaigns.

Finally, as this Sexual Assault Awareness Month continues on, I encourage everyone to seek out a local calendar of events so you can either teach, learn, share your story or hear others'. Like I said before when worst comes to worst is not the right time to prepare yourself, so use this month and the efforts of advocates everywhere to be ready.

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To The Person Who Feels Suicidal But Doesn't Want To Die

Suicidal thoughts are not black and white.
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Everyone assumes that if you have suicidal thoughts that means you want to die.

Suicidal thoughts are thought of in such black-and-white terms. Either you have suicidal thoughts and you want to die, or you don't have suicidal thoughts and you want to live. What most people don't understand is there are some stuck in the gray area of those two statements, I for one am one of them.

I've had suicidal thoughts since I was a kid.

My first recollection of it was when I came home after school one day and got in trouble, and while I was just sitting in the dining room I kept thinking, “I wonder what it would be like to take a knife from the kitchen and just shove it into my stomach." I didn't want to die, or even hurt myself for that matter. But those thoughts haven't stopped since.

I've thought about going into the bathroom and taking every single pill I could find and just drifting to sleep and never waking back up, I've thought about hurting myself to take the pain away, just a few days ago on my way to work I thought about driving my car straight into a tree. But I didn't. Why? Because even though that urge was so strong, I didn't want to die. I still don't, I don't want my life to end.

I don't think I've ever told anyone about these feelings. I don't want others to worry because the first thing anyone thinks when you tell them you have thoughts about hurting or killing yourself is that you're absolutely going to do it and they begin to panic. Yes, I have suicidal thoughts, but I don't want to die.

It's a confusing feeling, it's a scary feeling.

When the depression takes over you feel like you aren't in control. It's like you're drowning.

Every bad memory, every single thing that hurt you, every bad thing you've ever done comes back and grabs you by the ankle and drags you back under the water just as you're about the reach the surface. It's suffocating and not being able to do anything about it.

The hardest part is you never know when these thoughts are going to come. Some days you're just so happy and can't believe how good your life is, and the very next day you could be alone in a dark room unable to see because of the tears welling up in your eyes and thinking you'd be better off dead. You feel alone, you feel like a burden to everyone around you, you feel like the world would be better off without you. I wish it was something I could just turn off but I can't, no matter how hard I try.

These feelings come in waves.

It feels like you're swimming and the sun is shining and you're having a great time until a wave comes and sucks you under into the darkness of the water. No matter how hard you try to reach the surface again a new wave comes and hits you back under again, and again, and again.

And then it just stops.

But you never know when the next wave is going to come. You never know when you're going to be sucked back under.

I always wondered if I was the only one like this.

It didn't make any sense to me, how did I think about suicide so often but not want to die? But I was thinking about it in black and white, I thought I wasn't allowed to have those feelings since I wasn't going to act on them. But then I read articles much like this one and I realized I'm not the only one. Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, and my feelings are valid.

To everyone who feels this way, you aren't alone.

I thought I was for the longest time, I thought I was the only one who felt this way and I didn't understand how I could feel this way. But please, I implore you to talk to someone, anyone, about the way you're feeling, whether it be a family member, significant other, a friend, a therapist.

My biggest mistake all these years was never telling anyone how I feel in fear that they would either brush me off because “who could be suicidal but not want to die?" or panic and try to commit me to a hospital or something. Writing this article has been the greatest feeling of relief I've felt in a long time, talking about it helps. I know it's scary to tell people how you're feeling, but you're not alone and you don't have to go through this alone.

Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, your feelings are valid, and there are people here for you. You are not alone.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-800-273-8255


Cover Image Credit: BengaliClicker

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I Agree With Brian Kemp's Heartbeat Bill, But I'm Still Pro-Choice Because It Isn't Only About Me

By being pro-choice, we leave room for everyone to make their own decisions, which is their right.

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I remember years ago, I visited the Bodies Exhibit in Atlanta with my AP Biology class and Human Anatomy classes. In the exhibit, they have one room dedicated to how a fetus grows in the womb. I remember seeing that a fetus does not have a heartbeat until five or six weeks and I vividly remember saying to my friend that I would be able to understand getting an abortion if there wasn't a heartbeat yet. If we declare someone dead when their heart stops, then isn't it fair to declare that someone isn't alive until their heartbeats?

To some, I sound extremely cynical, but when approaching the argument of abortion laws, I try to think about every woman, not just myself. I know that many people are against abortion due to religious reasons, and I support that. It is a valid reason. However, not everyone is religious. I know what the Bible says, but we cannot call out one sin when we are drowning in so many other sins. We cannot force non-believers to conform to a law set in place because we are afraid that God would not want it or that we are allowing the world to be a broken place.

We are all living in our own sin and just as Jesus said, "You who is without sin may cast the first stone". We cannot fight against abortion and say, "this is what the Lord would want" when we are ignoring so many other things that He would want for us. I understand the religious argument and I agree, there is nothing wrong with the idea of the argument, my problem is that we are a bunch of sinners calling out other sinners as if we are holier than thou. It is not an easy solution, but I pray that pro-lifers could see that being pro-choice doesn't mean you are pro-death, but that you want to allow women to make their own decisions while we, as believers, pray for them. That is what God would want.

In one semester of Women's Health, I have learned more about both the male and female anatomy, menstruation, ovulation, and pregnancy, than any white male in office will ever learn in their lives. They don't care enough to learn about how the female body works because they hyper-sexualize women and do not see them as human beings. If these men do not understand how the female body works, how can they be in the position to make decisions about the female body?

So, here's where it gets tricky. I agree with Brian Kemp's heartbeat bill personally.

I would support that if it was only a law for me.

But this is not how our government works.

When we put a law into place, everyone has to abide by it. So, when we make these laws out of our own egotistical or religious beliefs, we are showing everyone that we do not care what anyone else believes. By being pro-choice, we leave room for everyone to make their own decisions, which is their right. We do not have to agree, but we have to agree to disagree.

Voters, I encourage you to do your research. Do not simply be pro-life or pro-choice because of what your friends believe or what you see on social media. Make an educated choice. But, do not think only about yourself and your beliefs. Think about all the women of Georgia now and for generations to come. Think about how this bill would affect demographics, public education, orphanages, and finances. Make the educated vote not just for yourself, but for everyone.

Women, we are fortunate to have the right to vote and it is critical that we stand up and exercise that right. These elected officials have declared war, they are threatening to take our rights away, this is our time to fight and our votes are our weapon. They want unborn children to live, but they are not willing to fight for those children once they are born. We are at risk of receiving life in prison meanwhile rapists are receiving six months to fix years maximum. Even if you are pro-life and support anti-abortion laws, I hope you vote against this bill because the punishment is no solution. If you see the punishment as fair, I hope we can stand up against rape so that rapists receive punishments that fit their crime. If we can put the same energy we use to fight about abortion in to fighting against other inequalities in our justice system, imagine where we could be.

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