By Laura Palumbo, Communications Director at NSVRC
Each of us has a survivor of sexual assault, harassment, or abuse in our lives. In some cases, we know someone identifies as a survivor because they have trusted us with this information. More commonly, we move through our lives and relationships alongside the unspoken reality of those who have experienced the trauma of sexual abuse.
Author and survivor Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” When someone you know shares their story of sexual trauma with you, it is a sacred gift of honesty, vulnerability, and trust. This gift is also an invitation to believe and support the survivors in our lives and the countless untold stories surrounding us.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” — Maya Angelou
While Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a time each April to shine a light on prevention and share support for survivors, in the midst of a global pandemic, this all takes on a new significance. For many survivors, social distancing limits access to services, medical care, and community supports — and social unrest and crisis are often linked to increased risk of sexual assault and abuse. That’s why our support for survivors now is more critical than ever.
During SAAM this April, in the midst of a global pandemic and social distancing requirements, here are six ways for us all to support survivors online.
Reach out during this critical time
Survivors of sexual assault and other forms of trauma may feel unexpectedly triggered by the ways their daily lives have been impacted by this pandemic. Surrounded by tragic news and the overwhelm and uncertainty of this time, many are feeling helpless and afraid. A support system now is critical as retraumatization and trauma triggers amplify feelings of isolation and lack of control. Send a text or message through social media to ask how the survivors in your life are doing. Let them know you are there and available to listen — even if it’s not in person. These small steps foster a sense of connection and serve as an important reminder they are not alone.
Share self-care reminders and support
No one is immune from the mental health impacts of this crisis — and for those who have a history of anxiety, depression, PTSD, disordered eating, or other mental health needs, this time is all the more challenging. If a survivor in your life is looking for resources and support beyond what you can provide, you can encourage them to reach out for help online. There are online support groups available, and survivors and their loved ones can find support from RAINN’s chat hotline. Now more than ever, it’s also important for survivors to find self-care activities that work for them — here are some survivor-specific ideas for getting started.
Model digital consent
As we spend more of our time connecting through our devices, it’s important to practice digital consent. Just because you aren’t talking to someone face-to-face, it’s important to think through how your actions will affect someone and ask questions if you don’t know. When someone shares something with you over a device, whether it’s a photo or a personal story, it’s important to ask permission before sharing with others. By modeling these respectful behaviors, you show the survivors in your life — and others — that you’re a safe person to talk to should they need someone to listen.
Share messages of support in physical and digital spaces
There are lots of ways you can show your support for survivors that are social-distancing friendly. Decorate the windows of your organization or home with teal ribbons and messages of support. Practice self-care and create your own unique “I Believe Survivors” poster with the help of this coloring page. Online, you can help show your support for survivors by turning your social spaces teal with the help of these gifs, Instagram stickers, share graphics, videos, and a teal ribbon background for your Zoom calls.
Donate to your local rape crisis center
According to a survey of local programs by the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, 40% of programs have seen an increase in demand for services since the onset of COVID-19. Many programs have had to cancel their fundraising events, leaving them without adequate resources to respond to survivors’ needs. Programs also need equipment and platforms in order to shift to remote work. Find your local rape crisis center and consider making a donation or even hosting an online fundraiser to support their work.
Share hope (and hardship)
The survivors in our lives need hope right now, but they also need us to recognize how hard this situation is and the ways they may be struggling. Survivors also need us to see their struggle, to see and acknowledge the challenges and negative emotions they are facing, to see the load they are carrying, not with the goal of taking it away, but to remind them of their strength and resilience. If you are concerned for a loved one who may be experiencing domestic violence, sexual violence, or child abuse at home right now, Futures Without Violence has 8 suggestions for how friends and family can offer support during this time of physical distancing.
Since 2001, NSVRC has coordinated the national Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaign observed every April. This year’s theme, We Can Build Safe Online Spaces, is all about ending online sexual harassment and abuse. Join the campaign by accessing free resources at nsvrc.org/saam. Resources are available in Spanish at nsvrc.org/es/saam.