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How To Support A Sexual Assault Survivor In The Workplace

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Having a self-avowed sexual predator running for US president is a huge trigger for survivors. During the 2nd presidential debate, rape hotline calls spiked.

Having been a counsellor and crisis interventionist, I have supported people who only began dealing with horrible experiences after a trigger in their environment. And far as emotional triggers around sexual abuse go; this election is a doozy.

Especially with supporters who in the name of politics, are defending the indefensible, survivors can re-experience their violations. Right now, in the US election, decency and human rights have been relegated to second place, even by people of faith. This acceptance or minimization of a rape culture while women bravely step forward can be a toxic soup of emotions for survivors.

Ten things to do when someone tells you their story:

  1. Believe them. Fear of not being believed or having their experience minimized or normalized is a huge problem in reducing rape culture.
  2. Clearly state to them that this is not their fault! Tell them that this is horrible and unacceptable and they are not to blame.
  3. Listen with respect and compassion and patience. They are overwhelmed or may be unable to express themselves easily while they find their words and reconstruct what happened.
  4. Listening to this may be uncomfortable for you to hear or difficult to identify with. It helps to frame it to yourself with how good your relationship must be that they trust you. This reframe will help you be a better listener to let them express themselves.
  5. Ask them how you can help.
  6. If they want to go somewhere such as the police or a clinic, you can offer to accompany them and wait in the waiting room with them for the first visit.
  7. Get informed. Get guidance. Processing another's difficulties is hard on us. If this is a close relationship or is triggering emotions in yourself, it is helpful for you to access support for yourself.
  8. Ask them who else they want to talk to about this. Help them explore the resources beyond legal ones.
  9. Authentically tell the person how courageous they are to come forward and to deal with this. Remind them that they have been resilient with other difficulties and to trust in themselves and the tools they have.
  10. Check in regularly by asking them if they are OK.

Five things to NOT do:

  1. People sometimes ask why the survivor took so long to come forward. There are many factors that will stop a person from coming forward. Some include not feeling emotionally safe, strong negative emotions they are experiencing and fear of reprisals. Even though the law has a statute of limitations, our emotional healing happens at different times outside of those parameters depending on the circumstances and triggers.
  2. Victim blaming. Asking questions like: "What were you wearing?" "Why didn't you hit them?" "Why were you there in the first place?" "Had you been drinking?" The problem is not the victim: it is the perpetrator that committed a crime.
  3. Do not impose what we would do. We can tell them we are there for them and that we will support them, but not what to do.
  4. Don't treat them differently or like they are fragile. Let them guide you as to where they are now. Some days will suck. Other days will be normal. There is an ebb and flow to healing.
  5. Do not insist they tell you everything. They are not on trial here and some people never fully disclose.
  6. Do not share your own personal experience while they are telling you theirs. You can do so at another time. It can be appropriate to say something like "I believe you because something similar happened to me. How can I help you right now?" Just keep the focus on them.

Seven things to remember
1- Women and children and men can all be the victims of a sexual assault. They should all be believed and supported.
2- Sexual assault is a crime of power and control. Unlike what the current Republican nominee might think, it is never a compliment about a person's sexual desirability.
3- There is nothing intuitive around these situations. Let's face it, whether we are the victim of a sexual assault, or we are the person being told about an event, most of us don't really know how to react. So if you are a backseat driver who says "she should have" or "he should have"; please stop "shoulding" on people. It is judgemental and not helpful.
4- Survivors have many feelings that have nothing to do with culpability on their part. They second guess themselves and feel guilty that maybe they did something to allow this to happen or didn't do enough to stop it. Repeat that they are not to blame. Say it with compassion and conviction.
5- When they know their attacker, they may feel betrayed or confused about whether they should continue the relationship. Victims of abuse don't always realize that they have been abused. They don't have a benchmark for what happened.
6- Mostly, they feel powerless. Being non-judgemental and accepting of what they are saying will give them a safe place to heal and find their resilience and courage.
7- The timing for facing this is different for everyone. As this week is showing, some people are scarred for years and never speak to anyone until a trigger comes along where more empowering circumstances are present.

My first crisis interventionist job was in women's shelters in the early 1980's. At the time, raping a wife was not considered rape. She was after all, his wife. You know, like his property.

In domestic violence cases, the police always wanted the victim to talk it over with their abuser to move on. Can you imagine being mugged or beaten and then being told by the police that you should "make nice" with your abuser?

We keep hoping that society has evolved beyond accepting the mouth breathing, self-entitled, alpha males. But reading that 36% of Americans are still supporting the Republican nominee, that's 1 out of 3 people, this disgusts me. This suggests to me that Darwin was wrong. Evolution is not always about moving forward.

This week's news has brought back many personal emotions which I will be able to process and be OK. I also know that that will not be the case for everyone.

Just remember that you or anyone you know deserves respect and there is help. Feel free to reach out to me.

I facilitate dialogues around taboo topics in organizations. If you are thinking your key stakeholders need to tackle a trickier topic like this one and don't know where to start, maybe I can help. Let's have a conversation! Click here.

The most successful leaders are not infallible when faced with someone who "drives them crazy!" Monique's strategies to empower others to stand up and take control of their personal and professional lives are appreciated by all who meet her. As a Speaker, Facilitator and Consultant helping to reduce conflict and increase collaboration, Monique Caissie draws from 30 years of crisis intervention work to help others increase their confidence to feel more heard, respected and happier. In her quest to better manage the difficult people in her life, she has studied human relations, spiritual texts, psychology and 12 step groups. Check out her website.

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