As Domestic Violence Awareness Month turns 30 this year, Woodhull renews our pledge to work to end sexual violence. Our fundamental human right to sexual freedom requires, among other freedoms, that all people should be free from domestic and sexual violence.
Taking actions to be a better advocate for survivors, personally and politically, moves us from awareness of the problem to concrete ways in which we are responding to the epidemic of sexual violence in the United States.
Survivors face many personal and social barriers to talking about their experience, here are a couple of ways that you can help change the culture.
Listen and Believe Survivors
Fears that they will not be believed can often silence survivors. Giving them the time and space to share while openly telling them “I believe you” may seem like a small thing to do, but its effect can be enormously comforting. Actively listening to what the victim has to say and offering verbal affirmation validates what they are feeling and experiencing. Allow them to tell you as much or as little as they want (or need) to. You become a trustworthy ally they know they can go to. Providing this kind of support is essential.
Don’t Expect a Certain Reaction
Acknowledge the way that they are processing their emotions. Don’t assume or tell them that they should be feeling a certain way. Respect their autonomy. Everyone reacts differently. Pushing them to feel better or worse than they do can be invalidating, as if their response is wrong. This can further silence and isolate them for fear that they will receive similar feedback from others. As much as you may want to immediately fix the situation, you can best support them by neither minimizing or catastrophizing their experience.
Be Physically Present
Just as creating emotional space is important, physically being there for the victim can help them feel safe and supported. Carve out time to spend with them while creating a comfortable environment. Don’t push them to go out anywhere if they’re not feeling up to it. Instead listen to what they want. If you’re staying in, create a cozy space filled with warmth, support, and understanding. You may not always know what to say, but just being there can mean so much.
Learning as much as you can about the processes for reporting assaults can take some of that burden off of the survivor. Organizations like Know Your IX and National Sexual Violence Resource Center offer data about legal policies and cultural barriers regarding sexual and domestic violence. Researching these processes can help you as well as the survivor better understand what resources exist and know what rights they have in these situations.
Get Involved in Anti-Sexual Violence Politics
Being vocal about your support in the face of policy makers and those who spread misconceptions about sexual violence breaks down rape culture. Be vocal about your support of sexual assault and domestic violence survivors. Attend rallies in your city or on your school’s campus. Sign petitions, donate to organizations working in the anti-sexual violence movement, write and call your congress people to urge them to vote for policies that protect survivors and hold perpetrators accountable. The more people who speak out against sexual violence, the more seriously it will be taken. Not only are you a support for those in your life directly affected, but you stand up for survivors across the board when you show up
These five tips are just a few of the ways that we can all show up for sexual violence survivors. Together, we can create safe spaces, hold perpetrators and policy makers accountable, and ensure that survivors are met with the compassion, support, and justice they deserve.
For more information on sexual and domestic violence visit: