Talking About Sexual Violence
One in three Canadian women and one in six Canadian men will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes but the number of people who officially report their abuse is small. Many survivors don’t want to expose themselves to the shame and blame that gossip and public commentary targets at survivors. Blaming people for the violence or harm they experience is called victim blaming. Victim blaming is especially common against survivors of sexual violence.
What were you wearing?
Were you drinking?
Why did you put yourself in that situation?
Were you teasing him?
Why didn’t you keep your knees together?
Did you say no?
These are some of the questions that people – and in some cases even judges – ask survivors of sexual violence. They imply that the person isn’t telling the truth, that they could have avoided the assault if they really wanted to, and that they somehow deserved the violence. Those are dangerous questions because they remove the responsibility from the perpetrator. Those questions are also based on myths. Many organizations are working to better educate people about these issues so that survivors aren’t shamed or blamed for their assault. In Grey and Bruce there are also professional resources that can support survivors of sexual violence.
The Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Centre works out of the Owen Sound hospital. Their sexual assault nurse examiners can test for sexually transmitted diseases, test for pregnancy, and administer rape kits to collect evidence in case a survivor wants to formally press charges. They provide medical and counseling services to people of any sex or gender 12 years and older. The immediate medical risks of sexual assault are serious and survivors should access medical care as soon as possible. Family doctors and nurse practitioners can also refer survivors for the appropriate tests and services.
There are also resources in Grey and Bruce for people working through the longer term consequences of sexual assault. Women’s House Serving Bruce and Grey offers one to one and group counseling in Owen Sound for women survivors of sexual violence. The Men’s Program offers one to one counselling through the Male Survivor Program for men who experienced childhood sexual abuse.
Many survivors of sexual violence never disclose their assault. For survivors who choose to talk about it, the response of the first person they tell will determine whether they speak about it again. Statistically, every one of us knows someone who has experienced sexual violence. If we want to make it possible for survivors to talk about these issues and to heal then we all need to consider how we talk about sexual violence and how we might respond to a disclosure.
What would you say?
What would you ask?
Your responses don’t need to be complicated. They can be as simple as thanks for trusting me, I believe you, and how can I help? If you want to learn more, visit www.vpgb.ca or the SAPAAC website at www.gbhs.on.ca.