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"...that first instance of telling your story to someone else will make or break how easy recovery is going to be for you.” ~B. Piper, sexual violence expert

A big thanks to the many people who listened to me and worked on this episode collaboratively. For additional information I would highly recommend these resources:
OUR WAVE -- a safe place for victims/survivors to tell their stories
ENGAGE by UPLIFT -- a YouTube video series to get help
KATI MORTON -- Mental health channel
RAINN -- anti-sexual violence organization

When a survivor discloses a sexual assault experience to you, it can often be difficult to know how to respond appropriately. While every situation is different, the following are suggestions from survivors and their advocates. First, listen. Rather than starting with doubt, start by believing. Allow the survivor to lead the conversation. Match the terminology of the survivor and do not label their experience for them. Avoid asking questions and let the survivor know you are glad that they told you. It is important to recognize that silence is okay.
Next, support the survivor. Affirm their courage and strength. Ensure that they are safe and ask “how can I be helpful?” Validate their feelings. Most importantly, respect the decisions the survivor makes even if you do not agree with them. Remember, this person has had their power and control taken away from them so it is important that they have control over this conversation with you.
Next, refer and connect the survivor to resources. There are a variety of local and national organizations devoted to comprehensive crisis intervention, advocacy, and support. You are not expected to be an expert in this topic, but directing survivors to people who are will help them get continued care and allow them to receive tailored information for their needs.
It is important to note that if the survivor that discloses to you is under the age of 18, it is your responsibility to report the situation. This may feel counterintuitive given what we told you above about supporting survivor decision-making, but investigation is incredibly important for the child’s continued safety. If you need to report the situation, be transparent and try to explain why you need to do so.
In all situations, if possible, be sure to follow up with the person to show them that you care. Finally, be gentle with yourself. You may feel anger towards the situation or towards the perpetrator. You may feel helpless that you can't relieve the survivor of their suffering. You may feel guilt that you didn’t notice the situation sooner. You may even worry that you did not say the right things. Know your feelings are valid and if you need to seek help for these feelings too that is also okay. Just by listening and being there, you are doing enough.

Our Wave, a non-profit dedicated to supporting survivors of abuse and their website our is a safe space for survivors of sexual assault, abuse, and violence to anonymously share their stories.

Dr. Doe's contact info:
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 (00:00) to (02:00) I'm ready.  

R: Hi Lindsey.

L: Hi.  

R: This is about you and your experience and getting what you need so if you want to stop or repeat or take a break or change anything, you get to call the shots, okay?  

L: Okay.  I went through an abuse experience and I reported it to people and it didn't go very well and I didn't understand why there was so much trauma involved in this case, especially when I was separated from the perpetrator.  I moved on in a lot of ways with my life and then I found out that there were additional victims and learned that there's a primary victimization, where a perpetrator does harm to a victim who might also identify as a survivor, but then there's this concept called secondary victimization, where in disclosing that abuse to another person, if it's not responded to with compassion, that creates a whole another layer of victimization, secondary victimization.  

 That trauma from the secondary victimization can compound the side effects of the primary abuse and so people are experiencing more depression, more irritability, more confusion, more shock, more stress, all of those things are worsened when they aren't heard.  Not even if they don't get help, like, the person doesn't fix it for them, that they are not heard.   (02:00) to (04:00) We live in a culture that does this thing called victim blaming.  For me, I victim blame when I want desperately to believe that the victim did something to cause the abuse so that I don't have to cope with the fact that abuse could happen to me.  I wanna believe that I have self control over it, so if I don't say certain things or I don't do certain things, then I won't get their results.  In blaming victims, the victims don't get to recover.  They are left to question their sanity and they don't just feel like the perpetrator is scary to them, they feel like the whole world is scary to them.  And I'm so mad.  And it's just coming out as sadness, and I worked so hard to write this, to study with attorneys and crime victim advocates and detectives and you people who have survived and--and I just didn't know how else to get it out.  It's this really beautiful thing that you, my friend who's sitting on the other side of your iPhone, is modeling how to hear me as the (?~3:46) of how to hear people.  It's pretty cool of you.   (04:00) to (06:00) If I could write the episode, it would be instructions on how to respond compassionately to abuse disclosure.  We would just spell them out.  The first thing you do is to listen and validate and that looks like shutting your mouth and not saying anything and then kind phrases like "I'm really glad you told me about this",  "I believe you", "You didn't do anything wrong", "This is not your fault", "I'm here", anything that stays with them and doesn't question their experience or their reality because it's traumatic.  

We talked about listening and validating.  We're gonna talk about how if the abuse is physical or sexual in a way where there is bodily evidence, you could say things like, "Hey, I really care about you and I wanna make sure that you're safe.  Can I take you to the hospital?  I know you really wanna shower right now because you have this person on you, and I just encourage you to hold off until we can talk to someone who can help guide us through this process."

In my research, I've found it was really interesting when people talked about putting clothing that might have fluid on it or whatever, (?~5:12) hair, nails, and things like that can hold DNA.  Putting that in a paper bag rather than a plastic bag and it was just this one little tiny thing that reminded me, we aren't properly taught about how to recover from abuse.

Perpetrators are less likely to come after us if they know that we will speak up for ourselves and we are more likely to speak up for ourselves if somebody hears us.  

 I don't even care if the person believes the other person at this point.  Like, I want that.  That is the goal.  But if you could just not do harm, I would take that.  Like, just listen.  I would take that.   (06:00) to (08:00) If you can believe, yeah, oh my gosh, that's a thousand times better.  That is the validation, right, that we're looking for because as victims, we're scrambling in our head, should I figure out how this could happen, how this person who was so wonderful could do so much harm.  But hell, like, if you feel like you can't sort through the right and wrong and like, who--just--what is real and what is not real, I don't care.  Just--just shut your mouth.

If you can trust your friends, your co-workers, your relatives, whomever is disclosing to you, that what they experienced is real, oh my god, the impact.  

R: What do you think would have been different for you if you were believed when you told somebody the abuse was happening?

 L: I mean, my whole life would be different, and that's not to say that I'm not grateful for my life, but it would be so different.  I wouldn't have so many severed relationships.  I wouldn't be afraid of certain parts of town.  I wouldn't have to dodge parts of social media or grieve.  So much of my time right now is going into hearing about the other victims and working to prevent additional victimization.   (08:00) to (10:00) Investment of time and energy and heart that would all get to go into other things like my job that I haven't been able to focus on.  That's not to say that I'm not grateful to be there for them.  I am.  There is just--that would be different.  I would be able to be there for them as friends and colleagues and not a warrior.  I didn't know I was gonna cry this much.  

R: Is there anything else that you want to say?

L: I want to give a voice to all the amazing people who helped me try to write this.  Oh gosh.  One thing that I found helpful when talking to anybody, this includes survivors, is that they are talking and then they pause.  I try to count to ten in my head so that I give them enough time to decide whether or not (?~9:19) before rushing in with some sort of solution or a clever thing to say.

I think that it's really important to let survivors lead the conversation because so much control has been ripped from them.  They have lost their power in being victimized and the one thing that I can do for them is to give them control over the conversation about that abuse, then I'm gonna do it.

 Another thing that I learned is we have this human tendency to ask people what happened.  We want them to recount the abuse so that we can go through again and like, pick out the things that we could or could not control so that we could or could not get different results and in doing that, we're asking them to relive the abuse.   (10:00) to (12:00) Responding 101 would be do not ask them what happened.  Don't ask them to recount the abuse.  Just hold space.  Shut up.  If you're a friend of the victim, know that you're not obligated to make them feel better.  Abuse isn't something that can be fixed, so take that pressure off yourself.  Let that expectation go.  Just be there.  Remind your loved one why they are valuable and get help for yourself.

Listening to someone, you also experience a trauma and so it's really important to somebody who is receiving a disclosure, you get help.  That would be a hotline, a therapist, talking to someone else.  As an employer or teacher, when someone confides in you their abuse experience, you might offer an extension, time off, or an alternate project to complete that isn't triggering.  Something that would help the person feel acknowledged and understood.  

 Kati Morton, who is a fantastic YouTuber, does all her episodes about counseling and mental health, right, and what she said, "The victim and the perpetrator need to be separated, even if it means paid time off for all parties until there's a resolution.  Be it bullying, gaslighting, harassment, assault, or rape, people deserve to know they do not have to choose between their work or school lives, whatever that is, and them being safe.  If you're a stranger or acquaintance and someone tells you they've been abused, start again with listening and validating.  See if you can help them identify someone you know more intimately to talk with or direct them to other resources.  I talk about that in the description.  If the person who is reporting is under 18, you are mandated by law to report to authorities, and this may feel counterintuitive if you're trying to get that person power over their voice and decisions, so one thing that's really helpful is if you can be transparent with that--the minor person about your obligation to report and reiterate that they didn't do anything wrong.  They are not getting the perpetrator in trouble by reporting.   The perpetrator isn't well and by reporting, they may be able to get help and stop perpetrating. (12:00) to (14:00) As survivors, you feel like it's our fault if they report, because oh my gosh, all these consequences to the perpetrator and the people in their lives, they could lose their scholarship or their job or their--they could go to jail, and that is not the fault of the victim.  That is a result of the abuse.

Perpetrators, man, they work the people around the victim as well so that they can accomplish what they need to, being silent, just giving them what they want.  I also asked these individuals what the biggest mistakes are that we make as people receiving a disclosure and I want to go through those quickly.  

Asking too many questions, so, what happened, are you sure that's what happened, wanting details, etc.  Telling the victim, "Everything happens for a reason", or "God doesn't give us more than we can handle" because, and I quote, "You're disguising an 'it's your fault' with an existential package."  Also making sure that you're not pressuring the survivor to make a decision, so that's a decision about whether or not to tell someone else, to report, to collect evidence, to talk, to get help, to stay in a relationship with that person. 

Another mistake that people make is trying to turn the conversation so that it becomes about your abuse or your sister's abuse or even the perpetrator, where we're not listening.  We're saying, oh yeah, that happened to someone I know, I can totally relate, or yeah, this one time, that person did this to me, and then, you know, this thing that is so odd where we're like, oh gosh, I can't believe that the perpetrator would do that because he's such a nice guy.

I don't--I don't want to hear about how he's a  nice guy or you're confused about my abuse.  Nope!

 These crime victims advocacy groups were saying it's really important to match the language of the victim when you are resonding.   (14:00) to (16:00) So if I say I'm a victim, you can use that word with me, unless I ask you to do otherwise, and if I say I've been raped, use the word raped.  You don't have to add 'alleged'.  You don't have to add words or soften words.  If I tell you that this person is gaslighting me, that I'm being abused, don't reframe it for me.  Like, oh, this person is just criticizing you or this person's giving you constructive feedback.  That's not validating and that's--anything that I didn't say, I will put in the description, because I feel like that what I learned is so valuable.  

Maybe it's the most important thing that I teach on this channel, and that's why it's so hard, because I'm trying to control it being perfect.  I want the world to stop hurting you.  I don't know how to stop perpetration by abusers, but can I coach the people listening to the abuse on how to not create more trauma?  Absolutely.  And what if that happened?  What if we all felt heard when something bad happened?  I want people to stay curious.  Except in this one instance.  Just--you don't have to be curious about what happened to them.  Harm is being done when we don't respond to victims with compassion.  This one time, just listen.  

Did I do it?  Did I (?~15:45)  You're amazing.

R: So are you.  

L: We did it.  

R: Are you ready to shut it off.

L: Yeah.  

 R: Okay. (16:00) to (16:15)