What to say to a sexual assault survivor

At least 1 in 4 women attending university or college will be sexually assaulted by the time they graduate. Did that statistic alarm you? It should. Though Canadian universities have come leaps and bounds in just a few short years, our work isn’t done. Many universities now boast specially-designated staff and counsellors and sexual harassment policies on campuses, when, often times, survivors just need to hear a few simple words to know they’re supported. Here a few of those phrases that speak volumes to a survivor.

“I believe you”

One of the most common reasons survivors don’t disclose sexual assault or harassment is they don’t think anyone will believe them. That’s why the most powerful thing you can say to a victim is “I believe you”. Disclosing an assault to someone takes a lot of courage so it’s important that you’re receptive and supportive to what they have to say. This may make the difference in them deciding to report their assault to authorities and seeking professional help.

“It’s not your fault”

The survivor may feel a lot of shame associated with their attack. They may even feel they’re to blame for what happened to them. It’s imperative that you let them know that no one is to blame except the attacker. Whatever you do, do NOT question any of the victim’s actions as this gives the impression they did something to “get them attacked.” (Examples include “were you walking alone?” or “what were you wearing?”)

Listen

Remember to be respectful of the wishes of the survivor. They may want to seek professional assistance or file an assault report with the police. However, it’s entirely possible they may just want someone to listen– someone they can talk to and confide in. Listen to what the survivor needs and provide it for them. And once they’re ready, then you can ask…

…”How can I help?”

If they do, in fact, want to seek out legal or health assistance, find out what the resources are in your area. There are many confidential and free resources available for survivors. Support them in finding the right people to talk to, without trying to “solve” the problem for them. Here are some resources in the Calgary area you can refer them to.

“You’re not alone”

Let the survivor know they aren’t alone. Make sure they know you’re there if ever, and whenever, they need to talk. Also, let them know that there are service providers in the area who are trained to help victims of assault.

 

SAMRU is hosting Rape is Real and Everyday: A Comedy Show on Wednesday, October 18th at 8 pm in the Hub. Come show your solidarity with survivors of sexual assault as these performers (and survivors themselves) joke it out on one of Canada’s toughest topics. Hosted by Emma Cooper, this comedy segment features comedians sharing their experiences with sexual assault and harrassment. Between performances, Cooper shares anonymous cards, written by audience members featuring their own jokes and stories. This event is free for MRU students, $5 for non-MRU attendees.

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