Thursday, April 16, 2009

Steps to Empower Survivors of Sexual Assault

Believe them - Believe them without question or hesitation is one
of the most important things you can do. Never question a person’s
actions, details of the assault or why they feel the way they do.

Help them explore their options - Empower them! Let them know
they are not alone and remind them of available resources (campus
counselor, campus or community rape crisis center, women’s center,
hospital, police department, etc). It is always up to the survivor to
make choices that will affect their healing process.

Listen to them - Offer your support and time. Let them know they
can talk to you about their experience when they are ready.
Never blame them - Say clearly and with care, “It was not your
fault.” It is important that you help them understand that no matter
what happened, it was not their fault.

Allow them to react - Remember, there are many ways for a survivor
to respond. It is important not to ask a lot of probing questions.
Your presence can reassure the survivor and allow them to work out
their feelings in a safe environment.

Helpful Phrases:
• What do you want to do?
• How do you feel about that?
• Do you want to?
• What would you like?
• What is the best thing that could happen?
• What is the worst thing that could happen?

Phrases to Avoid:
• Analyzing, interpreting: you’re doing that because…
• Dominating or interrupting conversation
• Warning or instructing: If you don’t ____, you will regret it.
• Questioning or grilling: When did it happen,
where did it happen, why did you do that?
• Offering solutions: I think you should____.
• Providing overly positive evaluations: I’m sure you will be fine.

Learn more and get other great tips at

1 comment:

meninmytown said...

My name is Keith Smith. I was abducted, beaten and raped by a stranger. It wasn't a neighbor, a coach, a relative, a family friend or teacher. It was a recidivist pedophile predator who spent time in prison for previous sex crimes; an animal hunting for victims in the quite, bucolic, suburban neighborhoods of Lincoln, Rhode Island.

I was able to identify the guy and the car he was driving. Although he was arrested that night and indicted a few months later, he never went to trial. His trial never took place because he was brutally beaten to death in Providence before his court date. 34 years later, no one has ever been charged with the crime.

In the time between the night of my assault and the night he was murdered, I lived in fear. I was afraid he was still around town. Afraid he was looking for me. Afraid he would track me down and kill me. The fear didn’t go away when he was murdered. Although he was no longer a threat, the simple life and innocence of a 14-year-old boy was gone forever. Carefree childhood thoughts replaced with the unrelenting realization that my world wasn’t a safe place. My peace shattered by a horrific criminal act of sexual violence.

Over the past 34 years, I’ve been haunted by horrible, recurring memories of what he did to me. He visits me in my sleep. There have been dreams–nightmares actually–dozens of them, sweat inducing, yelling-in-my-sleep nightmares filled with images and emotions as real as they were when it actually happened. It doesn’t get easier over time. Long dead, he still visits me, silently sneaking up from out of nowhere when I least expect it. From the grave, he sits by my side on the couch every time the evening news reports a child abduction or sex crime. I don’t watch America’s Most Wanted or Law and Order SVU, because the stories are a catalyst, triggering long suppressed emotions, feelings, memories, fear and horror. Real life horror stories rip painful suppressed memories out from where they hide, from that recessed place in my brain that stores dark, dangerous, horrible memories. It happened when William Bonin confessed to abducting, raping and murdering 14 boys in California; when Jesse Timmendequas raped and murdered Megan Kanka in New Jersey; when Ben Ownby, missing for four days, and Shawn Hornbeck, missing for four years, were recovered in Missouri.

Despite what happened that night and the constant reminders that continue to haunt me years later, I wouldn’t change what happened. The animal that attacked me was a serial predator, a violent pedophile trolling my neighborhood in Lincoln, Rhode Island looking for young boys. He beat me, raped me, and I stayed alive. I lived to see him arrested, indicted and murdered. It might not have turned out this way if he had grabbed one of my friends or another kid from my neighborhood. Perhaps he’d still be alive. Perhaps there would be dozens of more victims and perhaps he would have progressed to the point of silencing his victims by murdering them.

Out of fear, shame and guilt, I’ve been silent for over three decades, not sharing with anyone the story of what happened to me. No more. The silence has to end. What happened to me wasn't my fault. The fear, the shame, the guilt have to go. It’s time to stop keeping this secret from the people closest to me, people I care about, people I love, my long-time friends and my family. It’s time to speak out to raise public awareness of male sexual assault, to let other victims know that they’re not alone and to help victims of rape and violent crime understand that the emotion, fear and memories that may still haunt them are not uncommon to those of us who have shared a similar experience.

For those who suffer in silence, I hope my story brings some comfort, strength, peace and hope.

My novel, Men in My Town, was inspired by these actual events. Men in My Town is available now at

For additional information, please visit the Men in My Town blog at