How to support survivors of assault

By: Samuel Smith, Columnist

Trigger warning: This article discusses sexual assault.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network), an organization that helps victims and survivors of sexual assault, every 92 seconds, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. Only five out of every 1,000 perpetrators will go to prison.

These are staggering statistics. Sexual violence can cause all sorts of feelings for a victim, can trigger mental illness such as anxiety, depression or PTSD, and trying to go through the courts and have the perpetrator charged can feel like being re-traumatized over and over again. The system is broken. But, there are things you can do to support your loved ones and yourself.
Be available. Be the person your friends and family know they can come to, that you’re a safe space. This may mean hearing about their day, but it could wind up that someone is open to you about their assault. Listen. It’s difficult when your friend or family member opens up to you about assault, but the University of Michigan has this really great article on how to support a loved one who’s a survivor of assault. The main things are, in my opinion, believe the survivor, let them make their own decisions (this includes who to tell, respect their privacy), and take care of yourself.

Talk about consent, and actively engage in consent. Show that it’s both okay to say no and to say yes. Decline a hug if you don’t want one. Ask for a hug if you do. Respect people’s boundaries. It’s simple. And if you see someone who may be in a situation where they can’t consent, or they look uncomfortable, speak up. Talk to the person. If need be, intervene.

Take care of yourself. If you’re a survivor of sexual assault, or you’re supporting someone who is, it’s important to take care of yourself and practice self-care. Don’t mentally drain yourself. Go for a walk. Go to therapy or counseling, and talk about how you’re feeling. Go on a walk or hike. Remember to take care of yourself. Being a survivor, a victim, or a supportive person can be and often is difficult. Remember, take care of yourself first. Your well-being comes before anything, especially after trauma has occurred.

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