In addition to funding, the NFL is committing to host violence prevention education sessions for all 32 NFL teams. Players, coaches, staff, and executives will receive education about domestic and sexual violence as well as information about resources and organizations in their own communities.
Back-to-school carries with it a lot of expected stressors — upcoming exams, issues with roommates, cramped schedules. But these aren’t the only pressures college students face. With 1 in 4 college-aged women identifying as survivors of sexual assault, it is not uncommon to have a friend disclose an experience of sexual violence. Receiving a disclosure from a friend can be extremely disorienting, upsetting, and often overwhelming. This mix of emotions can make assisting a friend a confusing experience. What are the best ways to support a loved one in this situation?
Do assess safety: The first concern when dealing with a sexual assault is the physical and mental well-being of the survivor. Without pressuring the survivor for any specific details, try to gently ask them if they feel safe in their home or workplace, or if they feel like they need medical attention of any sort. During your initial conversation with a survivor, it’s important to remember to pay attention to any clues of mental distress. Depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts are common issues for survivors of trauma, especially in the weeks and months immediately following an assault. If you notice signs of any of these issues, offer resources on both national (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, RAINN) and local (OCRCC, UNC Counseling & Wellness Services) levels.
Do respect the survivor’s choices: Sexual assault is a crime that specifically attacks a person’s autonomy and right to make decisions about their bodies. By listening carefully to the needs of the survivor rather than making suggestions or decisions for them, you are giving power and authority back to the survivor. This is an excellent way to help them feel that they’ve regained some control and normality.
Do appreciate the disclosure: Telling others, especially loved ones, about an experience with sexual assault is one of the most difficult things for a survivor to do. The decision to disclose is fraught with many unpleasant considerations: the possibility of reliving the experience during the disclosure, the chance of being blamed or belittled, the worry that they will be disbelieved or excessively questioned. All of these are very real possibilities being faced by a survivor who has decided to disclose. Respect all of these anxieties, and keep them in mind during your discussions. Thank the survivor for the trust they’ve placed in you, and reassure them that you believe them and would never blame them for what happened.
Don’t get emotional: An emotional response to a disclosure of this magnitude is completely understandable and normal. However, it is best to focus on the needs of the survivor, especially in the moments immediately following their disclosure. An overly emotional reaction such as anger or extreme sadness may be very alarming to a survivor and can make it difficult for them to remain calm. It is also important to keep in mind that the survivor is likely worried about your response and well-being, even in light of their own trauma. Keeping your emotions in check will be one less thing for the survivor to concern themselves with.
Don’t push for details: When tragedy strikes a loved one, it’s normal to want to understand as much of what happened as you can. While it may feel like it will communicate concern, asking a lot of questions could negatively affect the survivor and your conversation with them. Not only will probing questions serve to make a survivor relive their assault, some questions may even sound to the survivor like blame, even if they were not meant as such. Questions like “How much did you have to drink?” and “Why were you walking home alone?” have the potential to sound more accusatory than caring.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself: Although the safety and feelings of the survivor should be a main concern, it’s important to remember that you can’t help anybody without first caring for yourself. Secondary survivorship can be incredibly emotionally taxing, especially if the survivor is someone very close to you. Make sure to check in with yourself regularly, and don’t get lost in the support you’re offering to your friend. You can also access support for yourself from the OCRCC by calling our 24-Hour Help Line or participating in a support group for family and friends of survivors of sexual violence.
While these are all helpful suggestions, remember that what a friend needs most after a disclosure is for you to LISTEN. They won’t expect you to have all (or any) of the answers. The most beneficial thing you can do is to offer them your non-judgmental and open-minded support and concern.
Camille Zimmerman has been a Companion since 2013. She provides support and resources for survivors of sexual violence and is a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill.
The Monument Quilt is a new project from FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, a creative activist collective that uses the intersection of art and action to garner media attention and ultimately dismantle rape culture in society. The project hopes to provide awareness and support for survivors or sexual assault by piecing together tangible stories and experiences to create a public space for healing.
In the past, FORCE has projected survivor’s stories on the US Capitol Building, floated a Styrofoam cut-out of a survivor’s poem in the Reflecting Pool, posed as Victoria’s Secret launching a consent-based underwear line, and posed as Playboy releasing a consent-themed campus rape prevention guide. With their latest project, they are collecting thousands of stories across the country to establish The Monument Quilt for victims of sexual assault and harassment. With our help, they hope to quilt a lasting message in front of the National Mall that reads, “You are not alone.” FORCE explains on their website:
I started training as a Community Educator during my first semester of my first year of college. Going into the first meeting, I was pretty nervous — the room was filled with folks that were older than me as well as a couple of fellow college students. But we bonded quickly, and they became some of the people who helped me survive my first semester of school.
The college environment can be incredibly stressful for women and their allies in the fight against sexual assault. It’s easy to feel powerless and overwhelmed with the number of students who perpetuate oppressive ideas. The best way to combat this feeling is to put that anger and frustration into direct action — working with the Center is one of the best ways to do that.
Trainings are long, but filled with love and purpose. The time commitment is significant but so deeply worth it, and you really can’t have a bond with your fellow trainees without putting in that time.
Working with the Center gave me the chance to learn about rape culture in a safe environment. I wasn’t being graded, I had many opportunities to ask questions about the cause and effect of oppression, and I learned how to exercise self-care.
It was also a great chance for me, as a Women’s & Gender Studies major, to get a chance to see what day-to-day life is like while working for a direct service nonprofit. When you think of a rape crisis center, you tend to imagine somewhere cold and depressing, with lots of crying women and weird smells. But the Center radiates love and warmth. Every person there takes their job very seriously — but there’s also lots of joy and laughter in the room.
In the education trainings, we’re taught how to keep a conversation moving, dig deep, and avoid common conversational pitfalls. These skills come in handy in so many areas of life, and it’s great to learn them in a safe, non-judgmental environment.
I loved having the chance to connect with other students as well as adults from around the community. It’s so nice to get a break from the campus bubble and be around folks who are old enough to give you advice but are not, you know… your parents. It’s like getting to hang out with your cool queer aunts/uncles and help prevent sexual assault. Does it get any better than that?
Alice Wilder majors in Women’s & Gender Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. She has supported the Center in a number of capacities, including Start Strong Educator and Social Media Intern.
Safe Touch Educator training begins in August 2014, and Start Strong Educator training will begin in September. Find out more about our volunteer programs and how to apply at ocrcc.org/ce.
If there is one thing that has remained consistent about me over the years, it’s that I am always concocting some controversial haircut (kindly referred to as my “five-year hair plan”). Last month marked the third year I participated in Punk Cuts to End Rape for the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, and I couldn’t have been more excited to shear my mane for the summer. As the Administrative Services Coordinator for the Center, I feel it is both an honor and a privilege to sport a “punk cut” as I greet newcomers to the office.
Watching the Punk Cuts fundraiser advance, and foster more attention from the community, has left me inspired by the generosity and support of the area. What started off as a disordered house party, with haphazard haircuts, has transformed in merely two years, to a crowd-packed gathering, in a public venue brimming with supporters, professional hairstylists, a craft bazaar, and a total of seventeen shaved heads!
If you have never stopped and pondered the importance of language in our society and how it ultimately reflects, shapes, and reinforces cultural perceptions, take a look at Sherryl Kleinman’s “Why Sexist Language Matters.” It is a fairly quick and accessible read that argues the somewhat obvious but not always stated notion that language affects how we think about any number of subjects.
So when it comes to attaching a label and identifying a group of people like those who have been sexually assaulted or raped, it goes unstated that we have to be careful and deliberate. The term affects how we possibly view the people impacted by violence, our relationship to them, and our potential actions and the resulting consequences.
As a Master’s of Public Health (MPH) student at UNC-Chapel Hill, I had the great pleasure of being able to work with the Center, a team of my peers, and UNC faculty advisors to evaluate some of the Center’s school-based prevention programs. Instead of a thesis, the MPH program requires students to do year-long Capstone projects with local organizations, and five of us chose to work with the Center.
I was excited to be able to do my Capstone project on sexual violence prevention because I’d been interested in the field for a long time, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to work with a rape crisis center before. I was also really excited about the project itself: we evaluated the fourth and fifth grade Safe Touch programs, which focus on bystander intervention and cyber- and sexual bullying, as well as the seventh grade Start Strong program, which focuses on addressing gender stereotypes, differentiating between flirting and sexual harassment, and bystander intervention.
It’s like my main man Joe Biden knew it was my last Feminist Friday and came out with an awesome new website and PSA for the White House’s “1 is 2 Many” campaign, which is all about sexual assault on college campuses. Love you, Joe.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month just came to a close, and it’s a great time to look back at our events from the Shout Out to Cupcakes & Cocktails to Hollaback’s awesome screenprinting events. With these events we combined the catharsis of storytelling with self-care and direct action. When you work in violence prevention, it can seem strange to have a month for awareness when it feels hard not to be aware of interpersonal violence. But I think it’s helpful to think of SAAM as a time to heal and bring our passion for this work into parts of our community where awareness isn’t so high. It felt so gratifying to see people stopping in their tracks to read the shirts on the clothesline project, and I heard many of my friends say that they went out of their way to walk past the shirts on their way to class.
This week’s Game of Thrones was deeply disturbing – the executive producers decided to take a consensual sex scene in the books and make it a rape scene on the show. Like, they took what was already a pretty deeply messed up situation (a brother and sister having sex in a church which holds the body of their dead son) and made it even more disturbing. I’m mad, the internet is mad, what they did to these characters and to the show is not okay.