Supporting Survivors is Easier Than You Think. Our Therapist Weighs In
Recently a friend of mine disclosed that she had been raped twice in the same night by two different men in her early twenties. It was gut-wrenching to know that she had endured such a trauma, but even more so that she had hidden this from most of her friends and family AND carried this with her for more than a decade. I wanted to cry when she told me – with her, for her, I don't really know. Like many women, she only recently felt ready to share her story. She rallied behind other survivors and posted her #MeToo, having only disclosed her story to her parents and brother less than a month before the social media movement took off.
The unfortunate reality is that sexual abuse has been going on for ages. The only difference now is that it's finally front and center in the news and our Facebook feeds. And while the patriarchy hasn't totally crumbled yet, these rumblings are the beginnings of a societal shift. Just being able to have these conversations in the public sphere is a (small) step forward. Holding perpetrators and politicians accountable though – well that might take a while.
In the meantime, it's our job to support the women coming forward. But that's no easy task. Many of us are worried about saying the wrong thing or making it about us in a desperate attempt to relate. Fortunately, we've called in the pros. We've turned to Janie McGlasson, LMFT for ways that we can support women who have been sexually assaulted. And the more we can support each other, the more we can keep the conversation going. And the more we can keep the conversation going, the more we can hold abusers accountable and show them that the days of women suffering in silence are so damn over.
1. Keep it to yourself. The MOST important part of being supportive to a person that has experienced trauma is to be a SAFE person to them. Let them know that their information is safe with you.
2. Offer empathy. This is the process of feeling sadness/anger/etc. WITH the person, not more than and not less than. Offer more I am heartbroken with you than Oh you poor thing.
3. Listen. Allow them to say as little, or as much, as they want. Statements like "I want to listen to support you if/when you want to talk more" and "How have you been feeling about what you recently opened up about?" provide space, but without making someone feel as if they have to talk.
4. Go easy on the advice. Only give advice if they ask for it, and even then give it loosely. Some women want to go to the police about assault, some feel re-traumatized by it. You are allowed to give advice if you feel confident that they have asked for it, also allow them to go in the opposite direction of that advice without relational consequences.
5. Do not make it about you. It's okay to share if you have been through something similar. But especially if someone is sharing for the first time, remember that they get the floor first and you can share your experience or how you handled it only after they have felt heard.
6. Believe them. Believe them. Believe them.
If the #MeToo movement has stirred up strong emotions and experiences for you, contact Janie McGlasson, LMFT at email@example.com to set up an appointment.