|– written by Serena Truong, VAVP communications intern|
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault includes any unwanted sexual contact, use of sexual images, or words. It is never the victim’s fault, no matter what they were doing or wearing.
In a statewide survey of adults in Virginia, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 5 men said they had been sexually victimized as children. Over half (51%) of women experienced sexual assault before the age of 13, as did 39% of men, according to a brochure by Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance Child Advocacy Task Force. LGBTQ survivors are often mistreated or misunderstood by law enforcement if they try to report, & are often turned away from services meant to assist the survivor. Oftentimes the perpetrator was someone the survivor knew beforehand.
Some common reactions after sexual assault include self-blame, denial, substance abuse, and nightmares/flashbacks of the incident. Any and all reactions are a valid part of a survivor’s healing journey.
Green flags when discussing SA with healthcare/service providers, family, and friends:
– Listening and showing compassion without judgment
– Directing the survivor to local resources
– Allowing the survivor autonomy & control over what happens next
– Maintaining the survivor’s confidentiality
– Validating a survivor’s gender identity and pronouns
Red flags when discussing SA with healthcare/service providers, family, and friends:
– Asking about the survivor’s victimization when others are around
– Using the term “rape,” as some survivors may not label their experience as such
– Only asking about specific types of violence or recent violence
– Expressing value judgments
– Misgendering or belittling one’s gender identity during the course of the discussion
There is no wrong way to heal after sexual trauma. Survivors are never at fault, and are not obligated to report to the police, especially those who’ve had previous negative experiences with law enforcement.
National resources for people of color:
https://sisterslead.org/ – National organization serving to end sexual assault for BIPOC survivors.
VAVP’s LGBTQ resources and info: https://virginiaavp.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/LGBTQ-Sexual-Assault-Awareness-1.pdf
Other resources: https://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications/2020-04/friends_and_family_guide_final.pdf