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12 Things to Say to a Sexual Assault Survivor — That Aren't 'What Were You Wearing?'

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Sexual assault is still a pretty taboo topic in most spaces. Archaic ways of thinking often places the narrative of most survivors on the side of blame instead of faulting the person actually responsible: the assailant.

Unfortunately, sexual assault survivors are often met with diminishing (and often toxic) language of “What were you wearing?” Or, “You shouldn’t have been over at a stranger’s house in the first place.” Or, “Well, we still live in a society where you have to be cautious of putting yourself in that position.” It’s a monologue of “you, you, you.” And the shame many sexual assault survivors feel from the assault itself becomes even more pronounced as they are silenced by people who claim to show support. More than anything, survivors want to be validated in their experiences — be reminded that they are believed, that it was rea,land that ultimately, you are here for them in whatever capacity they may need.

If you have a friend or loved one that is a sexual assault survivor and struggle to find the right words to say that actually echo your support, look no further. We spoke with The Mighty community about what to say to someone who opens up about their sexual assault.

Here’s what they told us:

1. “I believe you.”

“‘I believe you!’ That would have made a huge difference. The predator that was a family member and even when I confronted him, his wife (my actual aunt) said prove it happen and tell her when and where ‘cause he was never alone with me by ourselves long enough. He messed with me from age 9-13 and the fear I dreaded came true. No one believed me. [To them,] I was looking for attention!” — Sherry C.

“‘I believe you. I’m here to support you, listen, and even if it’s just to be here for your difficult moments. I want you to know, you’re not alone, and you do not need to battle it alone either.’” — Tatauq M.

2. “I’m so sorry this happened.”

“’I’m so sorry. I understand that recovery from a trauma like this is going to take a long time and you’re going to need support along the way. I’ll be there for you in whatever way you need, no matter how long your recovery takes. It’s OK if you don’t want to talk about the details of what happened. I hope you know that I love you, and my feelings for you won’t change based on your sharing this tragedy with me.’” — Krista P.

3. “You’re safe.”

“After a particularly horrible experience of sharing with someone, I learned that the three things I need to hear are: 1. I believe you, 2. I care 3. You’re safe. There are countless ways this can be communicated, and it doesn’t need to be stated explicitly.” — Kayleigh G.

4. “It’s not your fault.”

“The monsters in this world should have never been your burden to bear. You did not deserve one iota of what you went through, especially by someone you thought was a safety net. Defiled and devalued are not the same thing. I wish I wasn’t told it was my fault. That wearing skirts around men was an invitation. That I was trying to take their man.” — Krystan S.

“‘It wasn’t your fault.’ It is perhaps not as sentimental as some of the things others have shared, but no matter what happened or how, it can be hard not to blame yourself for what happened. It meant a lot to me to be reminded that what happened wasn’t my fault.” — Zoe L.

“My grandma told me it wasn’t my fault, which was a big thing for me because even though it happened when I was little and I barely remember anything, I had a huge amount of guilt and believed that I should have done something to stop it.” — Keleigh G.

5. “I’m proud of you for opening up.”

“Instead of ‘why didn’t you tell me this right after it happened?’, I would’ve liked to hear ‘I’m proud of you for being brave and opening up, even if it took a couple days.’ Sometimes a person needs time to process what has happened to them and to make sure it wasn’t just a nightmare. I remember telling myself as it was happening that I was letting it happen, even though I could not defend myself when I tried to.” — Holly B.

6. “I’m here for you.”

“‘I’m here for you.’ I had no family support, I had to go through the court process with a friend, whom I’m very grateful for. But having family support for such a traumatic event would’ve been amazing.” — Jeannie C.

“You didn’t deserve this. I may not know what to say but I am here. I went through mine alone, my rape resulted in a child. I never told a soul until after my son was born.” — Tanisa B.

7. “What happened to you is real.”

“I wish somebody had told me how real it was. How bad it was. I was drugged and didn’t remember much, and tried to push away what I did remember. Three weeks later, I tried to take my own life.” — Julie C.

“I would have loved to been told that it was serious. That it was a real issue and they believed me. I was told it was common for girls, and that I just needed to grow a backbone and deal with it. I was told I was imagining things. I was told I should have said something sooner. There was no support and it was really frustrating and discouraging for me. That was all from my parents, and it made it difficult to tell them things in the future.” — Kaitlyn R.

8. “This doesn’t define you.”

“‘This doesn’t define you.’ For me personally, I had multiple incidents close together. I’ve found it difficult to heal from it, and it has taken a lot of energy. Sometimes it seems like it’s the only thing I do. I just need that reminder that this terrible thing that happened is not the only thing in my life. Being a victim/survivor is not my only identity.” — Robyn C.

9. “Is This OK?”

“My new guy said, ‘If I ever say or do anything that’s triggering for you, please let me know so I can stop.’ I was in an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship for 20 years. Those words were huge. It’s been a year and a half with new guy and I hope I get to keep him.” — Viki S.

“‘I’m sorry. If anything ever makes you uncomfortable let me know.’ And the fact that he asked me for consent before every single little thing before he even knew what happened to me.” — Elizabeth D.

“My current partner is incredibly consensual and gentle when it comes to sex. They always listen to cues and if I have a breakdown, they’re so more than willing to stop and be there and give me whatever I need at the drop of a dime. I needed to know that everyone deserves to be treated this way, and I needed that experience.” — Shy T.

10. “What they did was wrong.”

“‘That was wrong. What they did was wrong. I’m very sorry that happened to you. Let me help you find all the help you need for as long as you need it.’ I waited 30 plus years for someone to acknowledge that the years of abuse/assault — that it was wrong.” — Sherry L.

11. “Don’t let anyone tell you your sexual orientation is because of your assault.”

“An old friend told me: ‘I believe you. Don’t let anyone ever try to tell you that your sexual orientation is because of your assault. You are beautifully made the way you are, and you don’t love women as a woman, because you were assaulted. You’re so much more than that.’ How many times I’ve been asked if I’m only [a] lesbian because of my assault.” — Mikki G.

12. “I love you.”

“I just confided in my husband that I’m a multiple times survivor of sexual assault. I was so scared he’d view me differently and leave. Instead he opened his arms and reminded me he loved me. I wish all survivors had that unconditional support.” — Gigi J.

Sexual assault takes many different forms, but one thing rings true: it’s never the survivor’s fault. If you’re struggling to find the words or ways to support your friend or loved one who has survived this sort of trauma, direct them towards these resources:

Photo by Remy Loz on Unsplash

Originally published: March 25, 2019
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