How to be a good ally to someone who has experienced sexual violence
Taking about what happened after a sexual assault or harassment can be an important part of surviving, healing, responding to silencing that often comes with speaking up about sexual violence. Talking about it can be a way for people to surface the need accountability for what happened, even if that accountability only ever comes in the form of speaking their truth.[Adapted from Jasbina Masir: How to be a good ally to sexual assault survivors]
Advice from a survivor: If you want to be a good friend and ally to survivors, here is what we need:
- Believe us – In some ways, the most radical act you can do when someone discloses that they have been sexually assaulted is to believe them. My whole life I have been shamed and silenced around my experiences of sexual violence in explicit ways and micro-aggressions. As an incest survivor the very family member that regularly abused me as a child told me I that I am a liar and a whore so I would be too ashamed and not say anything. It’s tactics like this that help perpetuate rape culture, and whenever you question whether a survivor is telling the truth, you are complicit in that perpetuation.
- Listen to what we say and respect our boundaries.
- Don’t ask invasive questions – I promise you that survivors will bring up any details they think are pertinent. Please don’t ask for more than they are willing to tell you.
- Be Patient – This is really difficult to go through and when you ask invasive questions or admit to skepticism, you force me to hold your hand through being a good ally to survivors. That is not what I need right now. What I need right now is for someone to hold my hand. I would rather you say you are out of your depth, cannot, or do not want to support me or talk to me about this. I am asking for you to be a good friend and human being, not my therapist. Just listen if you are able. If you want to provide resources that might be helpful after gently asking me if they would be helpful sure. Other than that I simply want understanding and space to heal.
- Don’t give me advice, explanations, safety tips – Its so condescending, patronizing, and horrible when people tell me what I need, how I should have behaved, or what I should do. If that is your idea of supporting survivors, well that isn’t supportive for me and I need you to do better. Please.
- Please don’t make this about you – Whatever my response, irritation, shutting down, not talking to you, sadness, I will do my best to be very clear about where I am at but that might mean I need to just step out from the situation. I may not be able to hang out, and when I do it might need to be more low key. I may not want to be touched or touch you. Just accept these things, and my needs, and honour them. If you cannot do that right now, or need support, well for a while I can’t do that. I need to take care of myself. So often when I disclose I find myself having to do so much in the way of educating and supporting people. That should not be my job right now.
- Don’t minimize or derail the conversation – I am too tired to deal with “devil’s advocates” or assholes saying I have a “biased perspective” because I am a survivor. I have stats, but honestly this is not a message to debate. This is me stating what I need and what happened to me to a community of people that I really believe care about me.
- Please stop asking me if I have reported this assault. – I have, but often I have not and that is for a lot of really legitimate reasons. I really don’t care what you think about this matter because you are not me. Support my decisions around them and respect them. This is not about your justice, it’s about my survival.
- Don’t pathologize or make assumptions– I am a lot stronger and more complicated than most people have any idea about. In fact, I am probably one of the strongest people you know and this is the kind of strength borne out of sheer determination to persist through so much adversity. My story isn’t the worst but its mine, and I am dealing with it. So trust that I know myself.