‘I Ask’ is the theme of the 2020 Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This emphasizes the importance of asking for consent in any sexual interaction. But there is another type of ‘asking’ that is just as important — if a survivor comes to you.
I ask… How can I help?
Truly helping is a very hard thing to do, because what a survivor most needs may be completely contrary to your own interests, expectations, or desires. But to be helpful, you must focus totally on what that person needs to heal.
A skilled therapist or counselor is trained what to say, and not say, and to understand small cues. They also have extensive knowledge of community resources available to survivors. We can encourage reaching out to professionals, but need to respect that that decision belongs to the survivor. It could be that, for various reasons, the survivor felt most comfortable coming to you. In the context of IU East, most employees are obligated to inform campus authorities of any allegation of sexual assault and misconduct disclosed to them and are also obligated to tell the survivor that they will do so. This is not a recommendation or suggestion; it is an imperative.
As a major trauma, sexual assault leaves complex and lasting pain. You may feel lost in how to help with such an enormous problem; how to truly be a friend. In such a crisis, remain calm. Believe the survivor, and tell them so. Empower the survivor to take control of their situation, in whatever way is meaningful to them.
Be prepared to listen. Most of what little you say should not be answers (and definitely not explanations) but affirmations of what you have heard. You have, fundamentally, three messages. It is not your fault. You are loved. And you are heard. Something as simple (and seemingly inconsequential) as repeating back what the survivor has said conveys that you care enough to really hear them.
The survivor may cry, or rage and scream, or have other strong emotions. Do not act scared or put off by this. That person has granted you permission to see them at their weakest and most vulnerable. Be prepared to listen a lot, and do not be impatient about progress. Healing can seem to proceed at what looks like a glacial pace to outsiders. The survivor is entitled to all the time they need. Recovery is a process, and a survivor needs someone who will be there for the long haul – your presence and openness to listen is what is most important. Your willingness to help them recover on their own terms.
It doesn’t matter what you want. It doesn’t matter what you think is the right course of action. You can offer a suggestion, but it is theirs to accept or reject. Take no action without their consent. The survivor might not wish to be touched; you should ask before touching or hugging them, even if you are certain they need a hug. The survivor may have ideas or priorities that seem strange or irrelevant to you, such as not wanting to feel ‘responsible’ for the culprit’s punishment or being concerned about the welfare of a rapist’s dependents. Remember, THIS IS THEIR RECOVERY, NOT YOURS. They are entitled to take whatever course of action seems best to them. If you suggest something, like contacting the authorities, the survivor is free to accept or reject the proposal. If they say ‘no’ – THAT MEANS NO HERE, TOO.
On the other hand, if they ask you to get them resources or establish contact with a health or law enforcement authority on their behalf, do that too. Strive to get them the best and most accurate resources available. You can make a difference. You can help a friend be a survivor, and not a victim. And even if you do not believe in yourself, know that they believe in you – they wouldn’t have asked otherwise.
The library offers numerous materials to help with difficult dialogues about sexual violence. Resources that may help include ABC of Domestic and Sexual Violence by Susan Bewley, Voices of the Survivors by Patricia Easteal, and The Sexual Trauma Workbook for Teen Girls: A Guide to Recovery From Sexual Assault and Abuse by Raychelle Lohmann.
Books that explore sexual assault on college campuses include Tackling Sexual Violence at Universities: An International Perspective by Graham Towl, Sexual Violence on Campus: Policies, Programs and Perspectives by Kathy Hotelling, and Sexual Violence on Campus: Power-Conscious Approaches to Awareness, Prevention, and Response by Chris Linder.
More advanced resources that go into special situations (such as those involving children) or for those wanting to become professionals include Counseling Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Claire Burke Draucker, Working with the Trauma of Rape and Sexual Violence: A Guide for Professionals by Sue Daniels, Sexual Abuse: Intervention, Coping Strategies and Psychological Impact by Olivia Parsons.
More information about being a friend to a sexual assault survivor can also be found online from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, the Center for Women and Gender Equity at UTC, and RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). Local contacts and information are available from the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault & Human Trafficking, including for Wayne County.
Throughout the month of April, the campus will be hosting a series of virtual events as a way to spread awareness about sexual assault. The IU East Campus Library urges you to participate virtually in these endeavors.
All month long: #IUE30DaysofSAAM
Respond to Instagram posts regarding Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Students with an IU East Crimson Card will be entered into a drawing for a $50 Crimson Card credit
Wednesday, April 29: Denim Day
Wear your jeans proudly to dispel myths about sexual assault, share online with #IUEDenimDay and tag @IUEastTitleIX
IU East is dedicated to ensuring the safety of all its students. If you have any questions or concerns about sexual assault on campus, contact IU East Deputy Title IX Coordinator Tracy Amyx, or access IU resources at the campus Title IX page, or at Stop Sexual Violence. Also, every Monday in April, check out the IU East Campus Library blog for more informational resources on sexual assault. If you would like assistance locating reliable information resources, you are welcome to Ask Us firstname.lastname@example.org.