Believing Survivors is Suicide Prevention
by Emily Dehmer, Outreach Coordinator and Jesuit Volunteer
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Some populations are more impacted by suicide than others, and survivors of sexual assault have much higher rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts than those who have not been victimized. A national study found that 33% of those raped had contemplated suicide and 13% had attempted suicide. Research by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) shows that survivors of sexual assault are 10 times more likely to attempt suicide than those who haven’t experienced sexual assault.
Experiencing sexual assault is hard enough on survivors, but the reactions they receive from others also play a part in the high statistics of suicide. Survivors fear not being believed, and justifiably so, as those who have experienced rape are frequently blamed and told they “should have known better,” that they “deserved” for it to happen because of their attire or what they had to drink. Nobody is ever “asking for it,” and nobody deserves to be sexually assaulted.
The shame that comes with being sexually assaulted can be overpowering, and survivors often feel alone and isolated. When a survivor makes the decision to disclose to someone, the right response is critical. The way you respond to someone’s disclosure largely determines whether they will speak up in the future. So, what should you say?
Three little words can make a world of difference: “I believe you.” Ask the survivor what you can do to support them as they heal. Recognize that it took a lot of courage for the survivor to share their story with you, and be honored that you’re someone they felt they could trust enough to be vulnerable with. Be mindful of that.
Additionally, the following messages can be validating for survivors to hear:
- You didn’t deserve it.
- It wasn’t your fault.
- You’re so much more than what happened to you.
- You are not alone.
- You are brave in ways that you should never have had to be.
- Experiencing sexual assault doesn’t make you any less of a man.
- I’m here for you.
It’s equally important to respond correctly as it is to avoid saying the wrong things. Please don’t ask, “Why didn’t you report?” There are countless reasons survivors choose not to report what happened to them, and not reporting doesn’t mean that what they went through is any less real. Don’t assume you know what’s best for a survivor; only they can make that choice. Please don’t pry for details; the survivor will tell you more if and when they feel comfortable.
Believing survivors helps prevent suicide. By telling survivors that you believe them, you are communicating to them that they are not alone and that you support them. Those three little words can provide a survivor with the hope and strength to hang on and keep fighting.
To any survivors reading this, “I believe you.” You matter very much. You are worthy of love.
We’re in this together, and healing is possible.
If you have been sexually assaulted, you can reach out for support to WCA’s Sexual Assault Hotline at 208-345-7273 or the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. If you are dealing with suicidal thoughts, you can reach out for help by phone to the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or over text message to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.
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