How to Support Survivors: From Ally to Accomplice

By: Jimanekia Eborn

Hi, it’s me Jimanekia Eborn, also known as the Trauma Queen. I have worked in mental health for over a  decade. Within the last year of transitioning my work to focus on sexual education, I found my space in working with Trauma Survivors. It was as if I was able to merge the two worlds that I loved so much. Helping sexual assault survivors and supporting those that love them.

I am writing this article to help you! Yes, you. The one who may be bout to scroll past this article. YOU! This has been a really wild year, 2018 that is. Some parts of it seemed very long, while other parts seemed very fast and very shortcoming. The #metoo or Me Too movement has come to the mainstream light, and I am ecstatic. IF you are not familiar with the Me Too movement it was created by Tarana Burke in 2006. The Me Too movement was founded to help survivors of sexual violence, particularly Black women and girls, and other young women of color from low wealth communities, find pathways to healing. Our vision from the beginning was to address both the dearth in resources for survivors of sexual violence and to build a community of advocates, driven by survivors, who will be at the forefront of creating solutions to interrupt sexual violence in their communities. Over the past year, this has become a household term. This brought upon lots of survivors opening up about their stories, and many others looking for how to support them.

This is for you, those that love and know a survivor. This is to support you to better support them. In the US, 1 in 3 female-identified individuals and 1 in 4 male-identified individuals have been sexually assaulted. And with numbers like that, there is a very large chance that you know someone that has been sexually assaulted. We are not taught how to necessarily deal with extreme forms of trauma as much as we try and as much as we are only trying to help. There is no specific body and/or gender that should be looked at any differently. All survivors should be supported, no questions asked.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Cisgendered (you identify with the gender and body parts you were assigned at birth) women can find more direct support than any other gender, but that does not mean that they are the only ones that deserve support. All bodies need to be supported and to be seen. There are specific marginalized individuals that experience sexual assault at a higher rate. Statistics documenting transgender people’s experience of sexual violence indicate shockingly high levels of sexual abuse and assault.  in 2 transgender individuals is sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their lives.1 Some reports estimate that transgender survivors may experience rates of sexual assault up to 66 percent, often coupled with physical assaults or abuse.2 This indicates that the majority of transgender individuals are living with the aftermath of trauma and the fear of possible repeat victimization.

What does an ally/accomplice look like? Friends, family, employers — humans that are not crappy. An “ally”, as opposed to an accomplice, is a term used to describe someone who is supportive of sexual assault survivors; you recognize the sexual and intimate partner violence is an issue in our culture and you will not tolerate it. It means that you will be a proactive bystander and actively work to reduce rape culture and victim blaming, while encouraging healthy relationships. You continue to educate yourself and others in your community, and remain committed to supporting survivors.

   Types of Allyship

·         Individual: Addressing the attitudes and beliefs of individual people.

·         Relationship: Addressing factors based on relationships with peers, intimate partners, and family members.

·         Community: Addressing factors based on community and social environments, including relationships with schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods.

·         Societal: Addressing larger, macro-level factors such as gender inequality, religious or cultural belief systems, societal norms, and economic or social policies.

So how can you be a good ally or an upgrade to that an ACCOMPLICE? I offer you this upgrade, so let’s understand the difference. There are allies who talk a good game, want to do better and may mean it by all means. But, then there is an accomplice. An accomplice is in the trenches and working side by side with survivors — fighting the fight when they are not around. An ally can be seen as more performative than an accomplice, who is constantly working day in and day out to help the world change and be a better, safer place –as well as actually putting all the things that they are constantly stating into action.

There are a lot of ways to support your friends if they tell you something scary has happened to them — and there are a lot of ways to not support them, or make them feel unsupported.

There are many questions that lead you down a nasty rabbit hole. Although you may be
attempting to assist with the situation, it is something we call
victim blaming, which is when a survivor feels like you are accusing them of being at fault for what happened to them.

Questions such as:

1.   Why did you go to that party?

2.   Where you drinking? Well, how much did you drink?

3.   What were you wearing?

4.   Why didn’t you say “stop”?

These kinds of questions never really land where you think they are going to land. They often come off as if you are attacking your friend instead of supporting them. Here are a few questions you can use instead.

1.   How can I help you right now?

2.   Would you like me to get you some resources?

3.   What do you need right now?

A lot of the time they may not even be able to answer these questions right away. They may only be able to sit, and be in that moment. While, that is a common response, letting your friend know that you are there and open and willing to support them can do a lot more than you think. They will need time to process what has happened, regardless of if this happened two years ago or two days ago. It has taken them a lot of effort to share this information with you. So please be mindful that they trust you enough to share with you. That means
they find you to be a safe person in their lives.

There are many things to be aware of when you are supporting a survivor:

·         Understand how your own experiences, values, and perspectives related to sexual and intimate partner violence are influenced by your own social identities and the social identities of others.

·         After someone is assaulted, meet them where they are at

·         Ask the survivor what they need from YOU. They may not know what they exactly need at that moment, but you are allowing a door to be open by saying, “It is ok that you do not know what you need right now, but I will be here when you need someone”. Follow that with, “Is that ok?”

·         Give the survivor the space that they need. Ask them if it is ok that you check in with them, to see if they need any support and how they are doing. If they are a “yes”, then discuss how much of a check in would be ok. You do not want to overwhelm them.

·         Do not force your thoughts, or ways of healing onto the survivor. Continued learning is something you should be doing, to build up your own library of information for when that person is ready to take in all that information.

·         Be patient — there is no set time for a survivor to be able to do things that used to be easy for them

·         Do not discuss the incident with others. Do not break their confidentiality. It is not your information to share with others.

You can be the change. You can be the support system to help someone that is important to you in their time of need. They trust you to be that person. But, if you feel like you cannot handle it, IT IS OK! It is a lot, and you may need to find your own assistance during this time. You can also utilize the resources we have provided. Let your friend know how you feel. You can thank them for trusting you, while also letting them know that you may need extra support and/or offer to go to a support system together.

This is just the start of a conversation that is ever-growing and can look different for every survivor.

Jimanekia Eborn is a Queer Media Consultant, Comprehensive Sex Educator, and Sexual Assault & Trauma Expert. Her podcast mini-series, Trauma Queen, focuses on normalizing the conversation around assault, and how different the experience of healing is for all of us. She has been working in mental health for over a decade which has inspired her passion for building safe spaces, sharing education, and opening up the conversations we’re all too scared to start, but desperately need to be having.


Want to learn even more about helping sexual assault survivors?

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