Speak Up Against Abuse

Almost 15 years ago, Laurie Halse Anderson's groundbreaking novel, Speak, gave voice to young abuse victims. To celebrate the book's anniversary, its publisher Macmillan will match $15,000 in donations to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Donate today and help survivors of abuse find their voice.

Beata Santora, QDT editor
4-minute read

This April, in honor of the 15th anniversary of Laurie Halse Anderson’s classic YA novel, Speak, its publisher, Macmillan, is matching up to $15,000 in donations to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. April is also Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

To learn more about the campaign or to make a donation, please visit rainn.org/speak.

In addition to raising money, the campaign aims to raise awareness about sexual assault and to encourage survivors to open up about their experience to those closest to them. These conversations can be incredibly difficult for both parties, and many people don’t know how to react to such disclosure.

RAINN staff members have come up with the following ten tips for how to handle it if someone you’re close to reveals that they’ve experienced sexual violence.

Tip #1: Believe the Person

It can be extremely difficult for people to come forward and share their story. They may feel ashamed or they may fear being blamed for the assault. So when someone shares their experience with you, the best thing you can do is to believe them. Remember that you may be the first person they are disclosing this to.

Tip #2: Validate Their Experience

Sexual violence typically affects a person’s emotional, mental, and physical health. For example, some survivors may find it difficult to trust people around them. Others may experience bouts of depression and anxiety. Also, survivors may have physical scars that remind them of their abuse.

Validating a survivor’s experience is a powerful way to acknowledge what they experienced and how it affected their life. Use supportive statements such as:

  1. I’m sorry this happened to you.
  2. That must have been tough/scary for you.
  3. Thank you for sharing that with me – I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for you to speak about this.

Tip #3: Respect Their Boundaries

Allow the survivor to tell you their story on their own terms. Try not to interrupt or ask too many questions. You may want to know more details, but the survivor may not be ready to share that information. You can also show support and interest by nodding your head and maintaining eye contact. Avoid touching (hugging, putting your hand on their shoulder, etc.) unless they ask for this.

Tip #4: Remind Them That it Wasn’t Their Fault

Survivors may blame themselves, especially if they knew their perpetrator. Others may think they should have fought back during their attack. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse may feel conflicted if their perpetrator was their caretaker or parent.

You can try to help those who are struggling with self-blame by stating:

  1. You did not choose or cause your assault to happen. The only person responsible is the perpetrator.
  2. It’s difficult to fight back when you are in a scary or stressful situation. It was not your fault.

Tip #5: Honor Their Privacy

The survivor confided in you for a reason – perhaps they felt you would not judge them or that you could support them. After this disclosure, it’s important to respect their privacy. Before you share their story with others, make sure it’s okay with them. They may not be ready to take that step yet.

Tip #6: Avoid Giving Advice

It’s natural to try to give people solutions, especially if you have dealt with similar situations. But keep in mind that survivors may have already taken action. Instead of saying “You should report” or “You should find a therapist,” you can take a more supportive approach by stating, “Would you like me to provide you with some information that may help with healing and recovery?” If so, you can provide them with the information in tip #8.

If the survivor says no, respect their decision.

Tip #7: Ask if They Need Medical Attention

Survivors may need medical attention, even if the assault happened a while ago. You can ask, “Are you open to seeking medical care?” You can also offer to escort them to a hospital if you are comfortable with this. Keep in mind that if the survivor is a minor, the hospital may need to notify law enforcement about the assault.

Tip #8: Ask if They Are Open to Receiving More Support

Local agencies (often known as rape crisis centers) can provide emotional support, reporting information, and other services to survivors. To obtain more information about these services or to speak with a member of a trained staff, they can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE (4673) or go to online.rainn.org.

Both the telephone and online services are available 24/7.

Tip #9: Take Care of Yourself

It can be difficult to listen to survivor stories and to help those in need. So spend time with your own support system (such as loved ones and pets) or do things you enjoy (photography, watching a funny movie, running, etc.). Practicing self-care can help ease the stress that may come with helping others.

Tip #10: Know the Facts

Visit rainn.org to learn more about this issue and ways you can get involved in the fight against sexual violence. Donate during the month of April and Macmillan will match your gift. Learn more at rainn.org/speak.