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.
The abuse and assaults that happened to me in my early twenties were never reported. The thought never crossed my mind. Why? Because I blamed myself. I did not even understand that what they had done was a crime. Now, my most recent assault was perpetrated by a stranger and I did report although I didn’t want to. My job title is Victim Advocate and it was STILL a very hard thing to do!
While I did report within a couple of hours had I decided not to report 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, When a Victim Reports: Courageous Vulnerability