April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It’s very important to me because I was sexually assaulted when I was 19 years old. I was able to escape my assailant before he could penetrate me, which is why I refer to myself as a sexual assault survivor instead of a rape survivor.
Unfortunately, this didn’t stop the trauma from plaguing my brain for the past six and a half years. I’ve been through countless hours of counseling to help myself heal. Although there are parts of me that feel I shouldn’t speak up because my situation wasn’t nearly as severe as so many others, I also think it’s irresponsible for me to avoid talking about it when I have a platform to share my story and what I’ve learned from this experience.
Here are three things everyone should remember during sexual assault awareness month.
To say that I was annoyed when I first read about the #BelieveAllWomen movement would be an understatement. I appreciate the idea behind the movement and would get behind it if the name was #BelieveAllSurvivors because the creators behind this hashtag didn’t understand how toxic the idea of believing all women is. Women are just as capable of lying and being manipulative as men are. The creators of this hashtag likely never heard of the Duke Lacrosse Case and the story of the University of Virginia fraternity members being falsely accused of rape in a Rolling Stone article. Both of these stories not only harmed the men who were falsely accused but also harmed sexual assault survivors.
My experience of being sexually assaulted taught me who my real friends were due to the number of “friends” who didn’t believe me despite the fact that I had nothing to gain from telling my story. I wish I were alone in this, but it happens to more sexual assault survivors than you’d think. There are many reasons why women aren’t believed when they come forward about sexual assault, and false accusations are one of them.
Blindly believing all women who accuse someone of sexual assault does nothing but empower false accusers and harm survivors.
False accusations are rare, but they often happen in the public eye, such as the allegations against TV host Chris Hardwick and NHL star Patrick Kane. Both of these cases caused psychological damage to the men accused and helped contribute to the false belief that women make up being sexually assaulted to make money or seek revenge against an ex.
It’s important to empower sexual assault survivors (both male and female) to come forward, especially in a post #MeToo era, but it doesn’t erase the importance of due process. Blindly believing all women who accuse someone of sexual assault does nothing but empower false accusers and harm survivors.
Be Kind to Survivors, but Don’t Coddle Them
I remember walking passed a student club my senior year that was promoting an on-campus movie night for a documentary on campus sexual assault. I confided in one of the girls to tell her how thankful I was as a survivor that they were showing this documentary. She told me that I should think carefully before attending the event because the content could be “triggering” for sexual assault survivors.
This infuriated me. Although she was correct that content about sexual assault can be triggering for survivors, she came across as very patronizing and failed to understand that sexual assault survivors live with countless triggers every day.
Sexual assault survivors live with countless triggers every day.
She didn’t know that I had a plethora of excuses to get out of social events near where my assault took place because the thought of being near it made me nauseous with anxiety. She didn’t know that my chest tightened and my heartbeat quickened every time I saw a guy with a similar build to my assailant wearing the letters of the fraternity where my assault took place. She didn’t know that I ran the risk of running into my assailant every time I left my apartment, but that I saw moving on with my life and not letting him control every one of my thoughts as empowering.
In short, the last thing sexual assault survivors need is to be patronized and coddled. It’s important to be kind, but it’s even more important to understand that every sexual assault survivor is different. Some of us can’t stand to talk about it, and some of us tell our story because it helps the healing process. However, every survivor is similar in the fact that they are strong, and being patronized is downright insulting.
Going off my last point, sometimes it’s best to just listen to sexual assault survivors. Although all of us are different, I think I speak for many of us to say that it takes a lot of trust to confide in someone about our experience. If a survivor trusts you enough to share their story, it’s important to listen and not patronize. Avoid asking questions like “Why didn’t you leave?”, “How much did you have to drink?” or “What were you wearing?” because all that does is blame the survivor.
If a survivor trusts you enough to share their story, it’s important to listen and not patronize.
When it’s your time to speak, respond with care and compassion. The only question you should be asking is how the survivor feels and what you can do to help. Sometimes the survivor won’t want to speak about it anymore, and it’s important to respect their boundaries. Always approach a discussion with a sexual assault survivor with an open heart and be ready to listen.
For more information on how to comfort a sexual assault survivor, visit rainn.org
What To Do If You’re a Victim of Sexual Assault
It can be difficult to tell if you’ve been sexually assaulted. It took me several months to acknowledge that what happened to me was beyond inappropriate behavior at a party and was assault. If you need to talk to someone about your situation, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
If you realize that you were sexually assaulted right after or shortly after the incident occured, call a trusted friend to take you to the emergency room to get a rape kit done or call your local police department and follow their instructions. They will likely refer you to your local emergency room or have you come in for questioning. If you do have to get a rape kit done, it’s important to avoid showering (no matter how much you want to) before the test is performed to collect all of the evidence needed if you decide to press charges and/or prosecute.
Call a trusted friend to take you to the emergency room to get a rape kit done or call your local police department and follow their instructions.
When it comes to pressing charges, it’s entirely your decision. I would suggest talking about your situation with a therapist to help you decide what’s best for you to move forward in the healing process.
Sexual assault is an issue that we have always faced as a society. In recent years, it has been easier for survivors to come forward, but there are still things one needs to remember during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.