Believing Survivors 101
An introductory guide on how to react to a survivors’ public and private claims and, in the process, not be a complete idiot
Hello and welcome! You may have noticed a number of assault survivors coming forward and making claims against their abusers. This short little guide will provide you with all the “tips and tricks” you need to behave like a feeling, compassionate human being in the 21st century.
While I am not a mental health expert, trained psychologist or medical professional of any kind, I am a fan of humanity and human beings in general. I have also been on this earth long enough to hear many survivor stories, mostly told in hushed voices and darkly lit rooms. When a survivor is telling their story, they are not only coming into the light—they are the light. It’s a message of progress and healing, not just for them, but for everyone. So, get on the train of truth, because it’s moving fast!
Below you’ll find some (sadly) typical responses to survivor stories, and how to not be a complete asshole in response:
- When you hear a survivor tell her/his story, start by believing them. This should be your go-to. Full stop
- It doesn’t sound that bad…” How the hell do you know? Were you there? Do you seriously think this 50-word statement wraps up the entire relationship? Sit back down, junior. And be grateful you can’t relate.
- “If abuse happens between couples, it must be consensual.” Oh, contraire! Abusers are unfortunately very, very, very good at what they do. They often seek out pliable victims and thrill at destroying them.
- “You could destroy his/her reputation/career by telling this story!” So? What about the survivor and the hellfire they went through to be able to even talk about this? There’s an entire backstory of horrific days and nights filled with extreme pain and an attempt to stay alive—none of that did anything for their career, I promise you. Besides, the abuser needs to seek professional help, too. Maybe this is the path to receiving it.
- “What good does coming forward do now?” Telling the truth provides an example of courage and strength for all those suffering.
- “Why didn’t they report/say something sooner???” Imagine someone is holding your face underwater for a reeeeeeaaaaallllllly long time. The water, in essence, is the abuse. They didn’t report because they couldn’t then. All you can do is applaud them now.
- “They’re doing it for the attention/sympathy/whatever.” If someone makes false claims, there will be proof of that, and this person needs another kind of help. Otherwise, you lose absolutely nothing from offering them compassion from the beginning.
- “How could he get abused…a guy?!” Of course, he could. It’s people like you that make it difficult for men, culturally, to come forward and receive the support and help they need. So, change your thinking now, please.
- “All these stories are coming out—they can’t all be true!” Why not? Because you don’t want them to be? Because you’re afraid someone will tell a story about you? Or, is it because it’s unpleasant? Stop making it about you, please. Or, by all means, get the help you need to deal with your own trauma.
When in doubt, seek out the advice of a professional counselor or doctor.
This list represents the basics of developing a human-like level of compassion and caring for those around you. This list also provides non-medical approved insights and opinions into navigating the reactions of cohabitating on Planet Earth. If we’re all in this together, please start acting like it.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
Stop it Now! 1-888-PREVENT
National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (422-4453)