It’s an all too true fact that domestic violence is closer within our community than many would like to acknowledge. 1 in 4 women experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. After we let the magnitude of this problem sink in, where can we turn to educate ourselves and the public on this issue and provide support to survivors?
On Thursday, October 17, 2019, The Junior League of Boston in partnership with Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) conducted a training for members on how to respond to disclosures of sexual violence. The material and conversation for the evening pivoted around empowering the survivor and reassuring the confidante, if treated like other crises events, they already have the tools to respond appropriately with empathy.
Warm Up: Pipe-burst Scenario
What is a crisis event? Take the example of waking up in the middle of the night to the pipes bursting in your home. How does the person feel and react? Their immediate plans are ruined, they must contact authorities like their landlord and insurance, they may experience upheaval such as having to temporarily relocate while repairs are made. Framing the experience of sexual violence under a similar light provides context for understanding what the survivor may be going through.
With this exercise of crisis handling, we show that we already have the needed emotional tools to respond to a disclosure. A commonly asked question in this workshop is “I don’t want to make it worse” but, when we use empathy from this position, we won’t make it worse.
Common Reactions to Trauma
Recognizing common reactions to trauma allows you to build empathy for what they may be going through so we may have the best response as being empowering and enthusiastic. In addition, it can allow you to recognize someone may be at risk for more harm.
- Believing the world is not safe
- Preoccupied with thoughts of death or dying
- Replaying or re-experiencing the event
- Feeling hopeless, powerless, defeated
- Difficulty trusting
- Out of control
- Anger or rage
- Using medications, drugs, or alcohol to cope
- Clinging to people or pushing people away
- Sexual risk taking; multiple partners, not using protection
- Becoming pregnant
- Difficulty making decisions
First Response – A Guide to Sexual Assault Disclosure
The acronym SEEK is used to remember how to respond to sexual assault disclosure.
- Safety – immediate physical concerns, immediate emotional concerns, privacy, confidentiality
- Empower – let the survivor decide what to talk about, normalize their reaction, provide options, be respectful of their decision, be aware of your language (don’t make assumptions)
- Empathize – believe the survivor, put yourself in their shoes, validate their experience
- Know – know your role is not to be everything, utilize what is available (e.g., BARCC hotline)
Visit the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) website
Highly trained and supervised volunteer counselors and staff are available to support survivors of sexual violence, their families and friends, and providers. Call the 24×7 Rape Crisis Hotline 800-841-8371
Visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) website
For anonymous, confidential help available 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)