How to Listen to Sexual Assault Survivors
Updated: Dec 9, 2020
According to the NBRB 2018 data, 1 rape is reported every 15 minutes in India. But the reality is that sexual offences are grossly underreported in the nation due to the stigma attached to it. Years might have passed by, when the victim finally gathers the courage to speak about it.
Listening to sexual assault survivors is an uncharted territory for many. As aforementioned, the stigma attached and the preconceived notions make it difficult to talk about too. Still, if the crime is done against any of our loved ones, it is important to listen. It is through listening that we primarily show that we care.
Following are some of the DOs and DON’Ts while listening to sexual assault survivors
‘I am honoured you trust me and told me this’ / ‘Thank you for sharing’ / ‘I am here if you want to talk’ / ‘You are not alone’
It is not easy for someone to talk about what might be one of the most traumatic life events of their life. Therefore, be patient and wait for the person to speak. Do not prompt them to speak more. This might break the trust they have slowly built in you.
‘Is it okay to hold your hands while you talk?’
Ask the person if it is okay to keep physical contact when they are speaking. This might give comfort to some. But for others, it might trigger the trauma related to the event.
‘This was not your fault’ / ‘You are not what was done to you’ / ‘You didn’t do anything to deserve this’
Self-blaming is quite common among sexual assault survivors. As their loved ones, it is our duty to reassure them again and again that it is the perpetrator who is at fault here.
‘I believe you’ / ‘I am so sorry this was done to you’ / ‘That was abuse, not healthy sexuality’
Believe when a person is saying that they are sexually assaulted. As their loved ones, it would be hard to digest. But this is a part of their truth now.
Recognise the courage
‘I respect you for addressing this’
As mentioned earlier, it takes a lot of courage to speak out. Acknowledge the strength of the person.
You might’ve a lot of questions. But try not to interrupt when the person is speaking. It might come of as your interest to know the details of the situation than you supporting them.
The way the person might have reacted in the situation and the way the person might have been reacting right now might be different from how you would’ve done it. It is important to understand that all of us are entitled to our reactions.
Reacting by saying sentences like “I can’t believe…” would make the person feel like you do not believe what they had said. Also, showing anger might overwhelm the person.
R. (2020, January 16). NCRB data 2018: 1 rape reported every 15 minutes in India. India Today. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/ncrb-2018-woman-reports-rape-every-15-minutes-in-india-1635924-2020-01-11