One year of the #MeToo movement and how to support a loved one who has been sexually assaulted

With the rise of stories being told from sexual abuse survivors taking prominence in today’s society and people posting their stories on Twitter under the hashtags #WhyIDidntReport and #MeToo – it’s without a fail to say at least once a week most of us read a story of someone’s unfortunate and heartbreaking experience of sexual abuse.

While we applaud survivors’ courage to share their story, it can understandably leave many conflicted asking themselves “Where do we go from here?”

With a culture where one in ten reported incidents to the police of sexual abuse in England and Wales go to trial. It can feel disheartening. What do you do when you hear so many stories, and probably from those close to you? How do we help those who go from feeling like a victim to a survivor?

In recent pop culture, Lady Gaga shared an emotional yet empowering speech at ELLE’s Women in Hollywood event. It moved an audience across the world as her eyes welled up with tears when she described the harrowing experience of being sexually assaulted by someone in the music industry at 19 years old.

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She said on the aftermath of the event “I changed forever. Part of me shut down for many years. I didn’t tell anyone. I avoided it myself. I felt shame even still today. I feel shame for what happened to me. I still have days where I feel like it was my fault. After I shared what happened to me with very powerful men in this industry, nobody helped me. No one offered me guidance or a helping hand to lead me to a place where I felt justice. They didn’t even point me in the direction of the mental health assistance I was in dire need of. Those men hid because they were afraid of losing their power. And because they hid, I began to hide. I hid for a long time until I started to feel physical pain.”

Following this she went to the doctor and was diagnosed with PTSD and Fibromyalgia, a syndrome that chronic pain illness thought to be caused by stress induced events or traumatic events.

With the reincarnation of #MeToo’s one year anniversary being celebrated last week, it prompts reflection on the campaign’s achievements and the breakthroughs seen in today’s culture against sexual abuse.

There were the ‘silence breakers’ of the #MeToo taking centre stage on the cover of TIME magazine as their Person Of The Year.

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Ashley Judd, Susan Fowler, Adama Iwu, Taylor Swift and Isabel Pascual on the cover of TIME magazine’s Person Of The Year issue in 2017

The 75th Golden Globes saw the launch of the Time’s Up movement, founded by agents and celebrities in the entertainment industry on 1 January 2018 which who wore black to promote a safe and equal environment for women at work.

Celebrities such as Halsey and Bella Thorne came out sharing their stories. The last year has also seen the downfall of sexual predators – the Olympic gymnastics team’s doctor, Larry Nassar, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and comedian Bill Cosby who faced prosecution for sexual assault charges pressed against them.

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Singer Halsey sharing her poem at the New York Women’s March in January 2018

Jeannie Mai from the US panel show, The Real recently shared her story being sexually abused from the ages of 9 to 13 during a taping of a talking segment covering the #WhyIDidntReport topic. She said on how to support a friend who has been sexually assaulted “Ask questions on how you feel, and encourage them that this is your voice and this is your place to say something.”

Here are some more tips on how you can support a friend or family member who has been sexually assaulted:

  1. Respect their comfort level of speaking out about their experience 
    Have an open ear and give them room in the conversation to go into as much detail as they feel comfortable sharing, avoid asking intrusive questions that may make them recoil.
  2. Don’t pressurise them to immediately report it – For some victims, relieving the trauma may be too much for them at that moment. It’s more important to offer them encouragement and support for whatever they decide and standing by them is vital.
  3. Applaud their courage – The fact that they felt they were able to speak out about what happened to them is a true example of bravery, so respect their vulnerability and understand it would have taken a tremendous amount of courage to confide in you.
  4. Leave an open door for support and regularly check up on them – It’s important to be there as your loved one is going through the recovery process. Of course, they may not feel like always talking about it but having a shoulder to lean on and source of love and support is essential.
  5. Encourage them to seek professional help – Whilst supporting them is key,  encouraging them to seek a professional who will be able to provide them with adequate support is incredibly beneficial to them as well as yourself if you worry you may feel out of your depth. Below are some resources from various charities and helplines that are able to provide further support for survivors of sexual assault:
  • Survivors UK – For survivors of male rape and sexual abuse, they offer an online helpline, group work and individual counselling.
  • The Survivor’s Trust – They are a UK-wide national umbrella agency for 130 specialist organisations for support for the impact of rape, sexual violence and childhood sexual abuse throughout the UK and Ireland.
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