H arvey Weinstein may not have attacked your girl, sister or mom, but chances are someone has… or will.
According to RAINN (Rape and Incest National Network), an act of sexual violence ranging from groping to rape happens every 98 seconds. That means every two minutes, someone is being victimized. Thanks to Alyssa Milano, countless victims of sexual assault are finding their voice by typing two words: #MeToo. While the media buzz around the actress’ rallying call for victims to speak up and out is empowering, there is the other elephant in the room. Thousands of people will learn for the first time that a person they love, and want to protect, has been violated in some way. Now what?
Today many folks are going to scroll down their timelines and find out their siblings, aunts, homies or all of the above have been abused by others. For many, the first instinct will be silence. Sadly, we live in a society where sexual assault is viewed through a lens of shame and taboo, and it’s easier to “just move on.” Another natural feeling is anger. Who did it? How can he or she punished? Then there’s the sentiment of pity. “Poor victim. What a sad situation. The world is so messed up.”
While all of these emotions are natural, it’s important to look past how you feel and focus on how you can be of help to a victim. Here are some things to consider:
Milano’s tweet was so important because victims are often harshly judged, relentlessly questioned, and second-guessed when they come forward after an attack. They are put on the defense, which effectively validates that they are at fault for being assaulted. A simple affirmation goes a long way. It lets the person know that she/he doesn’t have to hide or feel guilty for being attacked. An acknowledgment can come in many forms, ranging from liking a comment to sending a brief direct message letting the individual know that you are a source of support.
There is only one way to best support someone who has experienced a trauma: ask how you can be there. It sounds simple because it is. Don’t assume your loved one wants to hash out every detail of the incident on your couch or have you defend her honor, and be real with yourself if those options feel uncomfortable. Support has many faces. It can mean catching a movie together to minimize alone time when the person is down or helping them run an errand. Figure out what the person needs and be honest about what you can give.
3 Stay Around
It’s easy to ghost someone when you find out something that makes you feel awkward. But this isn’t about you. And the last thing a person who’s been victimized needs is to be hurt by more people she/he trusts. Instead of abandoning your loved one, be honest: “I saw your post and I’m not sure what to say.” Show up as your best, mature and loving self, and let that person take the lead. Be frank but tactful about what you can handle.
4 Speak Up
One of the best ways to support victims of sexual assault is killing the code of silence. If someone is being sexually aggressive, whether it’s physical or verbal, it’s important to speak up. Sexual predators are empowered by the shame and silence of others. Don’t co-sign deplorable behavior. Don’t act like you didn’t see something you know you witnessed. Don’t hesitate when you can warn someone about another’s “bad reputation.” Stop allowing perpetrators of sexual assault to hide in plain sight.
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