It’s only 6 strokes of the keyboard but it makes an impact. Social media was abuzz last month with posts and tweets about incidences of sexual harassment and sexual assault that had happened to people in our country, locally and nationally. Women and men were posting revealing messages about their experiences of sexual assault at work, at school, and in their communities. This recent movement was in response to the national headlines about high-profile cases of sexual abuse and misconduct. So what was the point of this movement? And more importantly, did it work?
The point is simple: to raise awareness about how prevalent sexual assault and harassment is in our everyday lives and how it has become the norm in our culture. The victims who bravely shared their own experiences helped to contribute to the conversation about rape culture, respect and safety, and the magnitude of sexual violence in our country. And the stats back up just how prevalent it is. Over one third of women report experiencing unwanted sexual advances or unwanted verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature at work. One in 4 women and 1 in 6 men report experiencing a sexual assault in their lifetime (NSVRC, 2015). The perpetrators of sexual misconduct aren’t just Hollywood executives and politicians either. Sexual offenders can be individuals in a victim’s everyday life. In 8 out of 10 rapes, the victim knew their perpetrator. And 34% of individuals who abuse a child are family members (NSVRC, 2015).
Whether or not this movement worked is hard to measure. But what has happened is that the conversation has begun. More and more victims are feeling comfortable to come forward and share their stories in an effort to right the wrongs that have occurred. It’s important to remember, though, that for every story of sexual assault that has been shared, there were also victims who were not ready to share publically.
So what can you do? If you know someone who has been a victim of sexual harassment or assault, your response can be simple:
- Listen – Sometimes that’s all people want and need.
- Say “I’m sorry that happened to you” and “It’s not your fault” – You don’t need to make them feel better or try to fix it. It’s ok to simply acknowledge what has happened and begin to combat the self-blame that some victims experience.
- Don’t ask too many questions – Victims will share what they are ready to share, when they are ready to share it. By listening and acknowledging their experience, you are providing a safe place for them to tell what’s happening or what has happened.
- Encourage them to seek help – Some people need additional and professional support to deal with feelings surrounding their victimization. Provide referrals, offer to help make the call, or support them as they decide when it’s the right time for them.
For victims in Bucks County, NOVA provides free and confidential counseling and advocacy services. Victims, friends, and family members can call NOVA’s 24/7 hotline at 1-800-675-6900 to ask questions, raise concerns, or to seek services.
You are not alone. And we are here to listen.
Post written by: Kendal, Victim Advocate