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Thorn: Supporting sexual assault survivors is more than just listening

Thorn%3A+Supporting+sexual+assault+survivors+is+more+than+just+listening
Collegian | Trin Bonner

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board. 

As Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month comes to a close, we must continue to hold space for survivors of sexual violence. Listening to the experiences of survivors and offering them love and support year-round is vital to promote healing and liberation.

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Sexual assault is an extremely common crime. One in four women, one in six men and one in two transgender individuals identify as survivors of an attempted or completed sexual assault. Additionally, 80% of survivors report that their assailant was someone they already knew, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. 

When supporting someone who has experienced sexual violence, it can be difficult to know how to handle the situation gracefully and be there for them in the ways they need.

First and foremost, it is essential for any supporter of a survivor of sexual violence to establish themself as a safe space. 

Lastly, always remember that someone who is offering their love and support to a survivor must also prioritize their own well-being. Helping someone process trauma requires extreme emotional labor, and someone in that position can become emotionally burnt out very quickly if they don’t prioritize self-care.”

When someone shares their experience with sexual violence, remaining calm, actively listening and promising confidentiality will create a greater sense of comfort for the survivor and will establish the listener as a safe and trustworthy confidant. Using positive and supportive language to uplift the survivor and remind them that they are loved will also help build trust. A simple, “I appreciate you sharing this with me,” can go a long way.

It is important to remember that whatever action the survivor takes in the wake of their assault is their choice and their choice alone. As a supporter, respecting the survivor’s boundaries and wishes during this time is of the utmost importance. It is crucial that they feel empowered, especially after experiencing an extreme violation of their autonomy.

Some survivors may look to press charges against their perpetrator, and if the supporter is comfortable with it, offering to go with them to speak to law enforcement can be greatly beneficial. Sharing such a vulnerable experience with law enforcement can be incredibly daunting, and having someone else in their corner can make a survivor feel far less isolated.

Other survivors may not feel comfortable taking legal action against their perpetrator for a variety of reasons. This could include not wanting to prolong an already traumatic experience, feeling like they lack substantial evidence to convict the perpetrator or feeling like there are power structures in place that will prevent the survivor from receiving justice. 

According to RAINN, on average, only about 31 in 100 cases of sexual violence in the United States are reported to the police. More often than not, survivors feel the circumstances do not allow them to safely and successfully seek justice. These feelings are valid and must be respected by the supporters in the survivor’s life. Whatever decision the survivor chooses, the best action the supporters in their life can take is to reassure them that whatever choice they make, they are loved, cared for and not judged. 

Lastly, always remember that someone who is offering their love and support to a survivor must also prioritize their own well-being. Helping someone process trauma requires extreme emotional labor, and someone in that position can become emotionally burnt out very quickly if they don’t prioritize self-care.

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Speaking with a therapist, journaling, making sure to eat well and get enough sleep and prioritizing enjoyable experiences and habits can help relieve some of the emotional burden. Additionally, setting up specific times to meet with the survivor to talk through their experience will allow the supporter time to process and ensure that they are not taking on too much. If the supporter is always “on call,” it can become overwhelming and draining. Establishing boundaries with the survivor can allow the supporter to be there and be the strongest support system they can.

No matter the circumstances, establishing yourself as a supporter can go a long way in what can be a long, arduous battle for many survivors of sexual assault.

Reach Astrid Thorn at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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About the Contributor
Trin Bonner
Trin Bonner, Illustration Director
Trin Bonner is the illustration director for The Collegian newspaper. This will be her third year in this position, and she loves being a part of the creative and amazing design team at The Collegian. As the illustration director, Bonner provides creative insight and ideas that bring the newspaper the best graphics and illustrations possible. She loves working with artists to develop fun and unique illustrations every week for the readers. Bonner is a fourth-year at Colorado State University studying electronic arts. She loves illustrating and comic making and has recently found enjoyment in experimental video, pottery and graphic design. Outside of illustration and electronic art, Bonner spends her free time crocheting and bead making. She is usually working on a blanket or making jewelry when she is not drawing, illustrating or brainstorming.

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