Respect Anonymity

Link to "What Happens When We Treat Anonymous Stories of Sexual Assault Like Gossip Items"

Link to “What Happens When We Treat Anonymous Stories of Sexual Assault Like Gossip Items”

It gets under my skin when someone I do not know asks me “Well did you report?” when they hear or read that I was assaulted. I know they’re looking for a reason to doubt my story. Whether they intended to be cruel or not, it’s a form of victim blaming. Victims do not owe explanations for what they did or did not do after being assaulted.

I did report although I didn’t want to. My job title is Victim Advocate and it was a very hard thing to do! But had I not reported it would not have lessened the validity of my experience.

Respect the manner in which a survivor chooses to tell their story. Respect that it is their right to tell as little or as much as they want. Don’t ask intrusive questions: it’s none of your business whether they reported the assault or not, whether they were drinking at the time, etc. Don’t be judgmental. Don’t assume they’re looking for pity or “victim status”; take their story seriously. Don’t treat their story like a game for you to win or a puzzle for you to solve.

Their story is not an episode of Law and Order. It’s real life with real consequences and very real emotions. Respect the trauma that person has experienced and do not say or do anything that could potentially revictimize that person.

Talking about sexual assault is hard. It takes a lot of courage. Honor that courage. And honor that person’s choices. It’s their choice to report or not (reporting a crime does NOT automatically put the criminal in jail…very few assailants ever serve jail time so do not hold that over a survivor’s head). It’s their choice who they tell and when. It’s their choice to remain anonymous and/or to allow their attacker to remain anonymous.

All you need to do when you hear or read a survivor’s story is believe them. Keep your opinions to yourself.

For more information, read: 12 Ways to Support a Survivor of Abuse, Helping a Friend Through Abuse, Why Victims Don’t Report and Why Shaming Their Choice is Detrimental, What NOT to Say to Male Survivors, What to Do if Someone You Know Sexually Assaults Someone Else

Can an Abuser Change for Good?

Link to "Can Abusers Change?"

Link to “Can Abusers Change?”

Women and men remain in – and return to – abusive relationships for many reasons. For example, it is not uncommon for victims of abuse to remain in the abusive situation because they believe that the abuser will change. This is most common in situations where the abused individual has a great emotional investment in their abuser (i.e. dating or marriage relationships). They love their abuser, despite the violence, and so they hope that some day the abuse will stop.

Is that false hope? Do abusive people ever stop? Violence is a learned behavior and, thus, it must be unlearned.

Before answering the question, “Can an abuser change for good?” we should consider two illustrations of abusive behavior*:

1) The Cycle of Violence represents the three most common stages of the abuser-abused relationship. These stages repeat over and over until either the abuser chooses to stop, the abused leaves safely, or outside intervention occurs. The three stages are commonly referred to as

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2) The Cycle of Abuse pertains to multiple individuals. The three stages of abuse come into play here but the cycle of abuse, when intervention or purposeful change does not occur, has the potential to continue for generations. History repeats itself. Things cannot get better without serious change on the part of the abuser or the removal of the victim.

While growing up in an abusive home does not guarantee that a child will become abusive it does increase that likelihood. Men and women can become abusers just as men and woman can become victims. Furthermore, a girl who grows up watching her father abuse her mother is more likely to enter into the cycle of abuse in future relationships. Likewise, a boy who watches his father abuse his mother is more likely to continue that cycle. Like the wheel on a bicycle, the cycle of violence cannot stop until someone pulls on the breaks or something obstructs the path ahead.

Children watch their parents and other trusted adults. That’s how they learn their social clues, their coping strategies, their reactions to stress, the appropriate behavior toward other people. When all a child has seen is abuse, it is natural for that child to grow up to display those same violent tenancies. It is not an excuse for their actions (there is NEVER an excuse for abuse) but it does explain the psyche of some abusers and it is a starting place for that abuser to learn new patterns of behavior.

Keep in mind that, just like an abusive person can grow up in a loving and healthy environment, so can a non-abusive person grow up in an unhealthy and hostile environment. Abusers abuse first and foremost because they desire to exhibit power and control over another, usually weaker or vulnerable, person.

Photo Source: Save the Children

Photo Source: Save the Children

Photo Credit: Save the Children

Photo Credit: Save the Children

I have had victims ask me if I think their abuser will change. I hesitate to offer my own opinion of anyone’s situation simply because I am not that person. I’m not there to witness and experience what they do on a daily basis. I don’t want to give false hope (“He/She will definitely change.”) anymore than I want to be discouraging to someone who loves their abuser (“What makes you think he/she would ever change? I don’t see that happening!”) It’s not a bad idea to keep your opinions to yourself when supporting a victim of sexual or domestic violence.

That being said, it is possible for the cycle of violence to end. It is possible that the cycle of abuse can end. All it takes is one person stepping up to say “I will not behave this way anymore” or saying “I’m leaving” or saying “I’m going to help you”. It isn’t that simple. A victim of domestic violence is at their greatest risk for violence and homicide when they are preparing to leave and in the act of leaving (click here for an exit plan to keep yourself and your children as safe as possible when leaving an abusive relationship). It’s not something to assume can happen overnight.

AWARE

Link to “Profile of an Abuser”

Most abusers will apologize for their actions at some point (and blame the victim for causing those actions): the honeymoon stage. This gives many victims the false hope that change has occurred and that the relationship will now progress healthily. Then, when the abuser again acts out (the tension and violence stages), it becomes all too easy for the victim to blame themselves for starting the cycle up again.

It is never the victim’s fault. Abusive people choose to act in abusive ways. The actions of another person are not sufficient cause or reason to be violent through words or actions.

Note that a change in an abuser’s behavior ought to be obvious and should be observed for an extended period of time. The abuser should be able to demonstrate that he/she has formed and will follow completely new habits of behavior. It is not cruel to keep your distance until your abuser can prove to you without a doubt that they have chosen to alter their behavior and their mindset toward you. Your safety is your first priority.

DomesticShelters.org (linked above) provides this list of actions that can indicate that an abuser has really, truly changed and is willing to work on their behavior to benefit their family and others around them.

  • Admitting fully to what he has done
  • Stopping excuse-making
  • Making amends
  • Accepting responsibility and recognizing that abuse is a choice
  • Not declaring themselves “cured,” bur rather accepting that overcoming abusiveness is a decades-long process
  • Demonstrating respectful, kind and supportive behaviors
  • Not blaming their partner or children for the consequences of their actions
  • Changing how they respond to their partner or former partner’s anger and grievances
  • Not demanding credit for improvements they’ve made

For more information, read:

Warning Signs of an Abusive Personality

Abusers: Ending the Cycle of Violence?

Abusive Red Flags Everyone Should Know

12 Ways to Support a Survivor of Abuse

*Note that the terms “cycle of violence” and “cycle of abuse” can be interchangeable and were assigned specific definitions to avoid confusion for the purpose of this post.

Sarah Ogden Trotta: “5 Things to Consider After a Recent Sexual Assault”

Link to "5 Things to Consider After a Recent Sexual Assault"

Link to “5 Things to Consider After a Recent Sexual Assault”

Every sexual assault is different. Every victim is unique. Therefore, there is no “one size fits all” response when an assault occurs.

After an assault, you will likely feel dazed, perhaps in a state of shock, and you will experience a wide range of emotions in a short amount of time.

However that looks for you, it’s okay. It’s normal. Allow yourself to feel those things and work through the trauma of what has just been done to you and know that it’s not weird or wrong. You’re allowed to cry; it’s not a sign of weakness. You’re allowed to laugh; it’s not a sign of apathy or indifference. You’re allowed to feel numb or angry or confused. You’re allowed to want to protect the person who just hurt you. You’re allowed to still love them. You’re allowed to want to escape, to dissociate yourself from the world around you. Why? Because there are no invalid feelings when it comes to your reaction to trauma.

Sexual assault requires a grieving process. Don’t worry if your experience isn’t the textbook definition of grief, if it doesn’t match someone else’s grief journey. You have a soul, not a paper binding. While the traditional five stages of grief are revelatory and helpful, everyone will grieve differently. Don’t worry if you’re still reeling from the shock of it all when people around you start asking, “Aren’t you over it yet?”

At the same time, self-care is key to healing. You may find that coping with what has happened comes in the form of self-harm: cutting, alcohol or drug abuse, etc. You don’t need to feel guilty for that. You are doing what you can to survive. Work out healthier ways to cope but don’t beat yourself up if you revert to self-harm on a bad day or during an especially difficult time. You’ll find suggestions for healthy coping strategies below.

Coping After Sexual Violence

Coping Strategies for Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

Coping Strategies: Flashbacks, Painful Memories, and Panic Attacks

Dealing with Psychological Trauma after Abuse

Understanding Post-Trauma and Shame

Why Victims Don’t Report and Why Shaming Their Choice is Detrimental

Link to "5 Reasons Shaming Survivors into Reporting Rape is Counter-Productive"

Link to “5 Reasons Shaming Survivors into Reporting Rape is Counter-Productive” by Sian Ferguson

The vast majority of victims of abuse – particularly sexual and domestic violence victims – choose not to report the crimes committed against them. In cases of rape specifically, it is approximated that no more than 20% of all assaults will ever be reported to law enforcement.

For those who have never been a victim – and even for some victims who chose to report and had a positive experience – it can be difficult to understand why someone would choose to remain silent when they have been assaulted or abused. Their silence will often lead people to assume that they’re just making the story up or “it can’t be that bad” if they won’t even tell the police about it. Many people believe that violence would not happen as often if all victims would report. The logic seems to be that the more rape victims report, the more rapists will go to jail and the safer the world will be. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

In the US, roughly 2% of all accused rapists will ever spend time in prison for their crime. Just because a victim reports, does not guarantee a guilty verdict (NOTE: a court does not need to proclaim guilt for the assault to have occurred). Nor does it guarantee that that person will never rape again.

Ultimately, it is not up to a victim to control the future actions of his/her rapist. Ending rape culture is not their responsibility. There are innumerable reasons – very valid reasons – for a person not to report. Making victims feel guilty or shamed for not reporting, “making the wrong decision”, is a dangerous attitude. Not only does it cripple that individual’s healing process but it sends a message to other victims that, unless they report, they will not receive support.

Reporting an act of violence like rape is extremely difficult. It takes a lot of courage. The outcome is out of the victim’s control and they have already lost so much control over their body through the trauma of the assault. Putting control back in the victim’s hands is one of the greatest gifts family, friends, law enforcement, advocates, etc. can give to that individual. Believe their story and support their decisions in the aftermath.

If you have been assaulted or abused, what happens next is your choice. You are the best person to decide whether or not police should be told. It’s your choice when and how to talk about what has happened to you.

Resource Highlight: No Ceilings

Link to No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project

Link to No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project

“To know how far we need to go to achieve the full participation of women and girls, we have to know how far we have come.”

No Ceilings uses data visualization and stories from women and girls around the world to show how far we have come, specifically since 1995, in promoting gender equality and how much is left to be done to ensure that women and girls are no longer bared from full participation in all areas of life. 1 in 3 women worldwide experiences some form of sexual or physical violence and achieving gender equality is imperative to the end that violence.

Julia Dieperink: “What to Do if Someone You Know Sexually Assaults Someone Else”

Link to "What To Do If Someone You Know Sexually Assaults Someone Else"

Link to “What To Do If Someone You Know Sexually Assaults Someone Else”

Julia writes (full article linked above):

What do you do if someone you know assaults or rapes someone?

What do you do if it’s someone that you care about who is perpetrating these heinous acts?

And while hopefully you don’t have someone in your life who is a perpetrator, particularly since most assaults and rapes are committed by the same small percentage of people, it’s still an important question to ask. It’s an important situation to ponder.

Because I thought I knew that answer to that. I thought I knew how I would react.

But now I’m not sure.

I have two very instinctual, and unfortunately contradictory, reactions to learning of sexual assaults:

1) Take no prisoners. Whoever the assailant or rapist was, they committed a violent crime that is designed to oppress and silence. They deserve the consequences [victims do not ruin the lives of the person who raped them].

2) There has to be a way to save everyone. Extreme offenders aside, surely rehabilitation is possible. Therapy is wonderful and there has to be something worth redeeming in most people. At least, I like to believe so.

But these two extremes that are happening internally don’t necessarily have a place in many people’s realities.

Because the reality is: Most assaults aren’t reported.

And even the ones that are have a depressingly small chance of being resolved in the just manner that all of us wish for.

So, given the complications inherent in a situation like this, what are some concrete steps that you can take?

Domestic Violence: an Exit Plan

Link to "An Exit Action Plan for Leaving an Abusive Relationship"

Link to “An Exit Action Plan for Leaving an Abusive Relationship”

Approximately 1 in 4 women are abused by their partners.

Why don’t they just leave?

There is an endless list of reasons, all valid and varied based on the situation.

Some must stay because they are financially dependent upon their partner. How will they be able to take care of themselves, their children?

Other stay because they have no where else to go. Abusers tend to isolate their victims, limit their resources and freedom.

Some stay hoping things will get better.

Others stay because they know that a woman is at greatest risk of being killed when she is escaping or just after escaping. They rightly fear violent, possibly deadly, retaliation.

Some stay because they’ve been told by people they trust that being abused is better than getting a divorce.

Others stay because they fear no one will believe them. Who will they be able to trust?

Some stay because they love their partner. Many abusers threaten to commit suicide if their victim leaves.

Domestic violence is about power and control. Leaving is not always an option.

Link to "Shades of Blue", a nurse's reflections on Domestic Violence

Link to “Shades of Blue”, a nurse’s reflections on Domestic Violence

When a woman (or man) does decide to leave, it may be a decision made with seconds to spare. Others may find help to get away. Either way, it’s wise to have a safety plan, an exit strategy. Domestic homicide is a stark reality and your safety (and possible that of your children) is a very legitimate concern.

In the links shared above and below, you will find emergency checklists – things you should have on hand in case you need to make a quick escape – and safety tips and precautions for when you leave and after you leave. Global contacts are also provided here.

Related Posts:

Domestic Violence Emergency Checklist

9 Domestic Violence Safety Tips

10 Answers to the Question, “Why Doesn’t She Just Leave?”

Katie’s Story: “A Letter to Women in Abusive Relationships”

How to Stay Safe After Leaving an Abusive Relationship