One of the most important things to consider is how much courage it takes to admit what violations were perpetrated upon someone’s body and mind. There could be numerous reasons why a person would hesitate to report the crime; fear of exposure, loss of status or career, coming into regular contact with the perpetrator, close scrutiny of personal life and habits, denial that it occurred, and re-traumatization, among them.
How can we support those who have been victimized to move from that status to one of survivorship? If someone confides in you that they have been assaulted,
- Let them know that you believe them.
- Remind them that they are not alone and that you will help them get through this.
- Ask them what they need.
- Don’t report it unless they give you permission to do so.
- Find appropriate resources for them (legally and physically and psychologically).
Remember that the impact of sexual assault lasts far longer than the physical violation. The aftermath of emotional scars can be lifelong. As psychotherapist Laurence Miller writes in his 2013 survey of rape causality: “No other physical encounter between human beings carries such a disparate potential for good or evil.” One rationale for that observation is that ideally, sex is meant to be a pleasurable experience, a means of expressing love and connection. When that sense of enjoyment is made to be something dehumanizing, it may render the victim unable to fully engage with partners and potentially lead to dissociation from one’s own body.