North Texas Daily

Q&A: How to be an ally of SA survivors according to Dr. D

Q&A: How to be an ally of SA survivors according to Dr. D

Q&A: How to be an ally of SA survivors according to Dr. D
August 05
11:22 2020

We asked and Dr. D answered.

In this Q&A, psychology professor Terry Davis, whose students call her Dr. D, has been asked multiple questions on how to go about being a support system and ally for victims/survivors of sexual assault. With the North Texas Daily’s special publication for sexual assault awareness, this Q&A gives insight and advice to those in need of information on how to be a supportive ally to survivors. Davis has experience teaching about sexual assault, including in her advanced psychology course Sexual Behavior, and with being a personal ally to her godchild.

The Daily: How should someone go about being an ally to survivors of sexual assault?

Davis: Understanding that most victims/survivors of sexual assault are reluctant to report the assault.  They do not trust that they will be compassionately heard.  So if someone is comfortable enough to come to you, you should make sure they feel they are in a safe space and that you will not discuss their trauma with anyone; confidentiality is key to being a help to someone that is feeling extremely vulnerable.  They should be encouraged to report the abuse because it will assist with regain[ing] a sense of control.

Because a friend or family member is typically the first person a victim confides in after an assault, each individual’s personal reaction is the first step in a long path toward justice and healing. Knowing how to respond is critical — a negative response can worsen the trauma and foster an environment where perpetrators face zero consequences for their crimes.

Because rapists attack an average of six times, one failed response can equal five more victims. Start by Believing will lead the way toward stopping this cycle by creating a positive community response, informing the public, uniting allies and supporters, and improving our personal reactions. The goal is to change the world — and outcomes for victims — one response at a time.

Is being an ally to survivors important, why or why not?

Yes, it is extremely important for survivors to have allies because if they feel alone with no one to talk to or anyone to support them they can fall into depression.  Anxiety is common for survivors to face and without a support system, their anxiety level will be higher.  Being an ally can be rewarding for you to know that you have helped someone move from victim to survivor.  Make sure that you, the ally, have faced any of your own issues so that you do not use their issue to help you through yours.  Countertransference can be detrimental for the victim/survivor because they will figure out that this is more about you than it is about them.

What’s the best way to show support to a survivor if they are opening up to you?

Actively listen, the more they can talk about the trauma the closer they become to healing.  It also gives them the strength recall the trauma and report it.

Do you have a personal example of being a support system to a survivor?

The young lady that I became her support system was 11 years old.  Her biological father, who had been in prison most of her life, had assaulted her.  When he got out, she was his target.  Her mother did not believe her, and she was my husband and I’s godchild. I was a military spouse, so I did not live anywhere near them. So when I found this out, what had happened, I took her with me and got temporary custody of her.

The first thing that I did was let her know she was safe now, I allowed her to talk about whatever she felt comfortable with sharing.  I also got her a therapist and a social worker.  My role was really to be there as her support system, listen to her and had her to know that we were there to help her through this trauma.  She lived with me for about two years and later went to live with my mother, her grandmother.  It was a rough road for her; the memories of the trauma was invasive.  She often felt like it was something she had done wrong and that she must had deserved this.

The counseling helped some, but the support truly helped.  She is now 36 years old, married, she is a repertory technician and has a teenage son.

Is there anything you should avoid when a survivor is opening up to you?

Yes.

Judging. Example: the victim went to a party and she is wearing a crop top blouse with cleavage and some short shorts.  You cannot look at her and say, “Well, look at what you have on, what did you think was going to happen.”  Clothes or the lack thereof is not an invitation to sex.

What are some common ideas people have of sexual assault that are incorrect and why are they incorrect?

Sexual assault is the only violent crime in which society expects a person to fight back. This myth that if they do not fight back then they must have wanted the encounter.

Myth:  No does not always mean no, it is a teasing tactic to play hard to get.

Truth: No actually means no.

Myth:  Most rapes are by strangers

Truth: Most rapes occur by someone that is known to the victim

I know not every person is the same, so what are some important things to keep in mind when trying to support a variety of survivors who have been through assault experiences so different yet are considered the same thing — sexual assault?

Every individual that have been through this trauma should be viewed as an individual; their situation is unique to them.  Survivors are different even though the experience was in nature the same, it was different for each of them.  It is important to remember if you try using the same method for each survivor that you will not be effective because you are trying to use a method that work with another individual. It worked well for them, however, the person in front of you is perceiving their situation is not being attentively heard; they may feel re-victimized.

What are some things people should try to put in perspective about survivors?

Victims looks like you or I.  Remember to focus on assisting the victim/survivor through this trauma.  No judgment zone, they have to feel this is a safe space. Reiterate to the victim/survivor that this is not their fault and they did nothing to deserve this.  Side note:  Even if a person walks down the street completely nude… no one has a right to take advantage of this; being nude is not an invitation even though society may say, “Well, they were asking for it.” Which we know that if someone is walking around nude that there is something else going on and it is probably not about them wanting sex.

Featured Image: Psychology professor and undergraduate adviser Terry Davis poses for a portrait in her office on Oct. 16, 2019. Image by Bertha Smith

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Rebekah Schulte

Rebekah Schulte

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