Today is November 4, 2021, which means October is done for this year.  BUT, even though October, a/k/a Domestic Violence Awareness Month, is over, domestic violence has not yet ended. So I’m offering one more segment on DV.  About supporting survivors.

First, understand a bit about abusive dynamics. The abuser is seeking power and control over their partner. Part of that process can be by socially isolating their target, the survivor. That can happen by physically moving away from family and friends, or by socially alienating family and friends when together, or by telling the target that others are not good or healthy for them. Or by even outright banning contact, and engaging in abusive behavior if that dictum is violated.

Sometimes the survivor does not recognize the abusive dynamic, because they are emotionally invested in making the relationship work. Or they recognize the abuse but do care about and love their partner, and view the abusive incidents either as deserved or one-off acting out due to stress. Or they recognize the abuse and want out, but the abuser won’t let go without a fight.

When I was working on the DV crisis line, a common call was from family or friends of those in abusive relationships. They wanted to help support survivors, but did not know how. What to say, what to do, what to offer, how long it would take. On the flip side, survivors often struggle to find really useful support.

Second, understand this is a long-term process. A person doesn’t get into an abusive relationship overnight, it takes time and cultivation. They may try to leave several times, but something goes wrong and they return.  That can be frustrating to others around.

As I mentioned, the abuser is trying to control the survivor. As family and friends who care, we don’t want to fall into that same pattern by telling the survivor what to do: survivors too often hear that they need to leave now, that this has gone on too long, to just get out of the relationship, not just whine about it, and feel free to contact me when you’re serious about leaving.

Or family and friends sometimes ask what the survivor did to antagonize the abuser. Maybe you’re not good enough, you’re too selfish, you’re not being a good partner, you vowed til death do us part, “we” don’t just split up families.

These are not the most supportive options, although those who say these sorts of things are sure they are coming from a caring place.

Instead of “what did you do to get into this mess,” you could say “I’m concerned about your safety; nobody should treat you like that.”

Instead of “I’ve told you many times I don’t like them; I hope you learned something from this,” you could say “I’m glad you’re telling me, I’ve been worried about you, it must be upsetting to have someone you care about hurt you.”

Instead of “I did warn you about them, I wish you listened to me back then. I can’t stand around and watch this. When you’re ready to do something, let me know” you could say “you don’t deserve this, I really do want to help and I’ll just listen if that helps. I’m here for you.”

And listen. The abuser already gives lots of “advice.” What does the survivor want? How can you help make that happen? Sometimes they are seeking concrete advice. Sometimes they want to be heard and believed, and that alone can be validating and powerful.  Supporting survivors should be on their terms.

These common statements and alternatives are based in the training I got from DAWN’s DV Institute. DAWN provides support for persons experiencing domestic/dating/intimate partner violence, primarily in south King County.

Finally, take care of yourself. Really listening to and supporting survivorsSupporting each other, supporting survivors is wonderful, and you’ll probably hear stuff you wish you hadn’t. Find your own supportive friends and family. Recognize you could be in this for a while; as I mentioned earlier, this is a long-term process. Figure out how to manage your own frustration without taking it out on the survivor you are trying so hard to support.

We are approaching the end of 2021. Not a whole lot of new classes for the rest of this year, but there still are openings for both Teen Girls and Women. Stay tuned for Winter offerings — although two six-week courses are open for registration.

Stay safe, live life.

I’m occasionally asked why rape is under-reported. Not asked very often, because most of us know without ever having to be explicitly told. Most of us recognize that rape victims, far more so than victims of any other crime, are made to bear a disproportionately large responsibility for their victimization.

A recent article illustrates this: http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/12/28/bahamas.baseball.rape/index.html?iref=obinsite. Actually, it’s not the article, it’s the comments. A college baseball player is accused of rape. The article is pretty bare-bones. But the comments on the article tend toward the vitriolic side, against women who report rape. See, there’s a vocal segment who feel that rape is an entitlement. Not that they’d actually phrase it that way, because rape is a crime. But what counts as rape?

Or how about this article (http://detnews.com/article/20101110/METRO/11100371/Alleged-rape-victim–14–taunted–kills-self), where a high school freshman accused a popular senior of raping her. After the allegations because public and her identity revealed, other students in her school were polarized and she was subjected to verbal attacks. Apparently the possibility that the rest of the alleged perpetrator’s life could be ruined (by his own actions no less) evoked more sympathy than anger at the possibility that he was a rapist. She killed herself. The county prosecutor initially decided to drop the sexual assault case because the one witness was gone, but since then another victim has come forward (http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/dpp/news/local/joe-tarnopolski-facing-new-allegations-20101111-wpms).

Or this article in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/29/world/europe/29iht-letter29.html?_r=3&ref=julianpassange&pagewanted=all), where the author asked some of her friends (women in their 30s) if they thought the charges against WikiLeaks principal Julian Assange were rape. The responses were resoundingly no. One woman said that these charges “cheapen rape.” Really? How?

FYI, at least in Washington state, and probably most if not all states in the USA, having sex with someone without consent IS legally rape. That includes the victim having too much alcohol or drugs in their system to give consent. How about when they’re sleeping — where’s the consent there?

Or look at the reactions of many prominent personalities when Al Gore was implicated in sexual assault. Now I like polar bears and the polar ice caps as much as the next environmentalist, but to give their most celebrated proponent an a priori pass just because of who he is, well that’s too much.

Almost half of all women and girls who are raped either tell only one other person or nobody at all.

Most rapists are someone the victim knows, often someone the victim (and their friends) like. And, judging by the way we treat victims, it can’t be rape if that person is well-liked, right?

It’s not only the general populance that has issues with sexual assault victims. This recent article took a comprehensive look at how reported sexual assaults were handled by law enforcement, and found that the actual rate of false report of rape is much lower than that assumed by many people, particularly by law enforcement. This article notes that

[O]ne of the most important challenges for successfully investigating and prosecuting cases of non-stranger sexual assault is the idea that many—or even most—reports are false. As long as this belief is accepted by law enforcement professionals, prosecutors, jurors, and others, our efforts to improve the criminal justice response to sexual assault will have only limited impact. Only those cases that look like our societal stereotype of “real rape” will be successfully investigated and prosecuted.

I teach an annual weekend workshop for rape victims. Each year I ask of those who did report their rapes, by a show of hands, how many have had positive experiences with law enforcement during the reporting process. A few raise their hands. And then I ask how many have had negative experiences. And all of those who said they reported their rapes report negative experiences with police or prosecutors. The predominant issue is that the victims felt that they were being accused by law enforcement personnel of being to blame.

The #1 reason why rape is under-reported, not a big surprise, is the prevailing cultural undercurrent of blaming the victim.