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Sexual Assault Disclosure

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As people working visible, caring roles in clinics, protests, and campaigns, Street Medics are sometimes approached for support from someone who has faced sexualized violence. The following is a short summary of suggestions to help prepare you for what to do in case this happens.

How to respond to Sexual Assault disclosuresEdit

The following protocol is a guide for responding when someone discloses to you that they have been sexually assaulted, harassed, abused, or emotionally abused. These skills can apply to a much wider range of emotional support work. Unlike many medical protocals, emotional support work does not have hard and fast rules; many diverse models exist.

The following is offered as a simple guide that could be incorporated into a Street Medic training.

ListenEdit

It is hard to come forward and talk about this. Listen to them, believe them, and validate them. Meet the survivor where they are: use their words to describe what happened. Reassure the survivor that their reactions are normal reactions to abnormal circumstances.

Be patient and give a survivor time to speak. Remember, sexual assault is never the survivor's fault. It doesn't matter what the survivor did or didn't do before, during, or after the assault. It was not their fault.

Give control back to the survivorEdit

Sexual assault is about power and control. Help the survivor to regain their sense of control by allowing them to make choices for themself. This means DON'T tell the survivor what to do, or even what you think is best. Keep your opinions and values out of it. Offer resources and options and allow the survivor the space to decide what they want to do.

Some things to keep in mind:

Ask! Ask consent before touching or hugging ("Would you like me to hug you?" not "Can I hug you?"-- ask what they want from you, not what you want to do to them).

  • Respect gender and other identities. Don't assume pronouns-- ask! Remember, survivors and perpetrators come in all genders, don't assume.
  • Offer resources and choices
  • Respect the survivors' decisions even if you don't agree with them. The assault may not be their biggest priority right now, or they may choose to deal with it in a way you disagree with (including returning to the perpetrator). Support them, offer what you can, and respect their decisions.
  • The survivor may choose to return to a place shared with the abuser. As a support person, don’t be caught off guard by this possibility. How can we express concern for this while encouraging and respecting the survivor's agency? “That concerns me given what’s just happened. Is that something you feel is really important?” Be prepared to do safety planning within that context. “Is there something we can do that would help you be safer tonight?” We want to avoid saying, “that’s a really bad idea.” Just because we’re withholding judgment, that doesn’t mean we’re withholding care and concern.

Note! As radical-minded folk we tend to avoid police at all costs. While police involvement may not seem "radical," neither is sexual assault. If survivors choose to pursue the legal route, that is their right and perogative. We as supportive allies should be able to support them through this process, or else help them access resources (like another medic, or a rape crisis advocate through a hotline or rape crisis center) so the survivor can get the support they need through the process. Support survivors if they choose to go the legal route-- it can be a very hard process to go through.

Focus on immediate safety and next stepsEdit

Ask questions to get survivors to come up with ideas for what they will do next. Do they need housing changes? a new ride home? do they have someone they can talk to at home? Do they want to eat or drink? What are some things they can do to ground themselvess-- go for a walk, deep breathing, yoga, smash inanimate objects, get peer counseling at the clinic, etc.?

What’s the Safety Plan? Encourage the survivor to create a plan for at least the rest of the day and the first night. Make sure that they have whatever they need taken care of, logistically or otherwise, to make the Safety Plan happen. Example: “I want to go to my sister’s.” What needs to happen to get them to their sister’s?

You may want to suggest some specific resources a survivor of sexual assault may want to access:

  • Emergency housing changes to quiet, safer space housing (if available)
  • A "rape kit," the medical exam for gathering evidence of a sexual assault in case the survivor chooses to press charges against the perpetrator. They can be done at a hospital or in some Rape Crisis Centers.
    • This is time sensitive! In many states, you may have months or even years to decide whether or not to press charges, but regardless, the physical evidence of sexual assault disappears within a 72 hours. Even if the survivor is unsure if they will press charges, it's important that they understand that they will need to get the evidence collected now.
    • If the suvivor chooses to get a rape kit done, they should not shower or change their clothes to preserve evidence, even though that is exactly what most survivors want to do after an assault. The clothes they wear to the exam will be taken as evidence.
    • Be aware that sometimes, even if the survivor does not press charges, they may be contacted by police who are sometimes alerted by the examiners that an assault took place.
  • STD/STI testing
  • Plan B (the morning after pill-- within 5 days, but the sooner the better) or pregnancy testing
  • Free counseling and many/all of the above resources can be accessed through the local rape crisis center, and for phone/online counseling: 1-800-656-HOPE orhttp://rainn.org/get-help

Self careEdit

By supporting people through crisis, we empathize with and take on some of their trauma. Getting counseling and support for ourselves after we've given support is an essential part of the support process. Additionally, supporting survivors of sexual assault can be draining and triggering. If you find yourself feeling triggered and need to process your own trauma while supporting a survivor, try to find someone else for them to talk to and find someone to talk to yourself .


Further resourcesEdit

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