Did you know that one of the main reasons victims/survivors do not report being raped or sexually assaulted is the fear they will not be believed? What will your reaction be if someone tells you they’ve been sexually assaulted or raped? We all play a part in transforming the way we respond. Your reaction makes a difference. There’s a simple answer – Start by Believing.
Unlike other types of crimes, victims/survivors of sexual violence are often doubted and blamed when they disclose what happened to them. These reactions can increase the trauma victims experience, and decrease the likelihood they will report the crime or seek medical assistance. When sexual assaults go unreported, offenders are not held accountable for their crimes. Unfortunately, research shows that rapists attack an average of six (6) times. This is a very scary consequence for not supporting and believing victims/survivors.
Victims/survivors typically disclose what happened to them to family and/or friends first, even before reporting to the police. If your reaction to sexual assault victims/survivors comes from a place of belief instead of doubt and blame, victims will be more likely to seek help and report what happened to them. Equally important, victims/survivors who receive positive responses have fewer physical and psychological symptoms.
In April 2019, my office launched a public awareness campaign in Summit County, called “Start by Believing.” The goal of this campaign is to improve the reactions of our community through education so they are better informed when a victim/survivor of sexual violence discloses. Start by Believing provides an opportunity for our community to learn about the realities of sexual assault, how trauma affects victims, and to say “we hear you, and we are here to help.” The philosophy is that “if we can change what happens in that moment of initial disclosure, we can prevent a devastating cascade of harms and instead, put sexual assault victims/survivors on a path toward justice and healing.”
For more information about Start by Believing, please visit www.startbybelieving.org.