How Would You React?

Guest Post by: Diane Zalecki RN, Program Director, Safe Therapeutic Assault Response Team (START), HAVEN

There is no shame in grieving the loss of a loved one. No guilt when your home is broken into and your most treasured mementos are stolen from you. No one doubts your injuries when you are in a car accident. So why then are rape victims doubted? Friends, family, coworkers, law enforcement and even health care providers doubt them, their story, or maybe even their judgment.

Rape is just as unpredictable as any other tragedy that happens to people. In each case, the victim didn’t ask for the devastating tragedy, didn’t deserve it and may spend the rest of their life reliving the event trying to heal from it. Victims of tragedy often ask themselves, “Why me?”  Victims of the tragedy of rape ask the same question.

So the question becomes why do we hold rape victims to a greater scrutiny? Rape can happen to anyone, much like most life-changing tragedies. It is certainly a frightening thought but every two minutes another American is sexually assaulted. It happens at an alarming rate in every corner of the country and yes, in Oakland County too.

It happens to every age group and to both men and women. The victim can be rich or poor, old or young. Statistics tell us there are more women than men that are victims of rape. In fact, in her lifetime, it is estimated that one out of six American women has been the victim of a rape or an attempted rape. The only common statistic between them is that none of these victims deserved what happened to them. The fault lies squarely on the perpetrator of the crime but yet, we hold the victims of rape to a different standard. They deserve better than that, much better. They deserve to be believed.

Friends and family are typically the first people a rape victim seeks out after the terrifying violation of rape and sexual violence. What the victim needs is to be believed, simply believed. The biggest predictor of how a person heals from rape is the way the first people they tell react to what happened to them.

In many incidences, a victim notifies the police or goes to the nearest hospital and they are met with raised eyebrows and aggressive questioning. The victim begins to shut down and these reactions will live in their memory and further violate the victim. Many victims take back their accusations or recant. Then many professionals step back and say, “See, I didn’t think the rape really happened.”

The reality is that rape victims make a false report about as often as people report false robberies. But all reports of robbery are taken and then investigated. It would be hard to believe that a police officer would question a car accident victim in the Emergency Room about why they were driving on a particular road on the night of their accident. Why then are rape victims asked those same types of questions: “Why were you at that party?” or “Why did you talk to that stranger?”

Driving on a particular road, going to a party or speaking to a stranger is never the reason for tragic events that follow. That called is victim blaming. Blaming someone for what wasn’t his or her fault and denying the victim support is inexcusable. Victims are actually survivors who need support, starting with the simple act of believing them. Believing in the survivor is critical to healing process.

The month of April is designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It is a time set aside for reflection on what we as a community can do to address sexual violence. As an individual, I urge you to seek to understand your role in prevention and educate yourself on how to support a survivor.

HAVEN offers medical forensic examination for sexual assault survivors, including support, safety planning and counseling. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault please call our 24-hour Crisis and Support Line at 877-922-1274 for help. All survivor services are free of charge.

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