In 2018, WHO released a report on gender-based violence stating that nearly 1 in 3, or 30% of women have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence. According to these statistics, you probably know or have interacted with a sexual assault victim but you probably didn’t know. It gets worse. According to a Truecaller report, 9 out of 10 women in Kenya have received a sexual harassment call or text. Whether it’s sexual harassment or assault, most victims stay quiet for fear of stigma and judgment. It’s safe to say that most of us don’t know what to do or say to someone who has been sexually assaulted. However, it’s no excuse to be ignorant. Here are some ways you can support a sexual assault victim.
- Believe Them
The first and most important way you can help a sexual assault victim is to believe them. This will, in turn, make you more aware of the language you use and look at them as a victim and not aggressor. Additionally, the victim may feel less ashamed knowing that someone believes them. Try not to ask questions like “what were you doing there?” or “what did you do?” Instead, you can use more supportive phrases like “it’s not your fault.”
- Empower Them
Sexual assault victims feel like their power has been taken away. Therefore, you can try to lift them up. Encourage them to take legal action if they haven’t since seeing their assaulter brought to justice can help them reclaim their power. Offer to go with them to give them additional support. They may also feel insecure about how the world will look at them after their experience. You can reassure them that you don’t think of them any different and in fact, think they are brave for speaking out.
- Do Your Research
It’s important to educate yourself on sexual assault whether you know someone who has been a victim or not. This will help you avoid giving out misinformation or saying something that might trigger a negative reaction. You can also research helplines and organizations that support sexual assault victims and share them online in case someone needs them.
- Create A Community
Victims of sexual assault can feel lonely and alienated especially if their assaulter is part of their community. They tend to separate themselves from the rest of the community due to shame. As a friend or relative, you can create a community for them by mobilizing their friends and relatives to offer support. However, ensure that you honour their privacy and only let them decided who to tell about the assault.
- Educate Your Friends
Rape culture has become so normalized that people are quick to blame the victim before calling out the assaulter. However, you can change the narrative by having conversations with your friends. The more you have conversations regarding sexual violence, the more people become more aware of the severity of the situation. If your friend makes an insensitive comment, call them out and correct them.
- Be Patient
Most sexual assault victims take time to recover from their experience. Some are never the same after. Try to be understanding and patient in their recovery process. Some victims may experience low self-esteem, low sex drive, and other issues. As a partner or friend, you can offer support by encouraging them to seek counselling and acknowledging their progress.
Here are some gender-based violence hotline numbers:
- 1195 (Healthcare Assistance Kenya)
- 1517 (UNHCR)
- 0711400506 (MSF Nairobi)
- 0702141431 (Mombasa Referral Hospital)
Check out Let’s Talk About Sex And Language