As people continue to come forward and begin to share their experiences whether they choose the words consent violation, assault, sexual assault, rape or other descriptor it’s important to let them tell their own story/stories and actually listen to what they are saying.
Every person coming forward has had a unique experience. Multiple people may have similar experiences, but no two will actually be going through the exact same experience. Even those who have been violated multiple times by the same perpetrator find that while experiences may be similar, they are never identical. Experiences are colored by more than just the people, location and action. We need to accept this and not try to fit their experience into our boxes while we try to show understanding to them.
People in these situations need support. But just as every person and every experience are unique, so is the support they need and how they process it. Some people need to be surrounded by others to feel safe, another person might feel suffocated by that same level of attention. Some need to shout from the rooftops for all to hear and others would rather curl up and hide from the attention that it brings. We tend to show support and love in the ways we want to receive the same, but that’s not always the way the other person needs. It is important to learn what works for that person – if you aren’t sure, ask.
Some will use the word victim, some will use the word survivor, others might say endurer. Some might switch between these words and others depending on where their head is at at a particular time. Respect their choice to select the label that fits them at that time. This isn’t a time to play the semantics game.
Respect that everyone processes information differently. Some people talk it out, some people think it out, some people punch holes in walls. Hopefully people find a way to process that minimizes additional damage to themselves (physical and / or emotional) and often suggestions from others are welcome. When suggestions become more than just suggestions, you might be compounding the situation by inadvertently taking away that person’s agency again – even though you are doing it to help them and in a well meaning way, forcing your version of support on them can feel less than supportive.
For those learning of the violation that someone has gone through, there is often a feeling of helplessness, anger, disbelief, disgust (with the situation – not the victim), etc. Recognizing and owning these as your reactions to the situation can make you more mindful of what you say and what energy you bring to the victim. People can be very sensitive to the emotions of others around them and if someone has been through a consent violation, assault, rape, etc, they may very well be second guessing themselves on many levels, it then becomes harder to sort out the emotional input of others.
Let the person know you are there for them, but be honest if you aren’t sure how to help. By allowing them to answer questions like, “What can I do to help?” or “How can I support you?”, or even just by saying “I’m here for you whenever you need / want.” You are giving that person a way to start rebuilding their agency and allowing them to start empowering themselves again.
copyright 2017 Limits Unleashed