Support Sexual Assault Victims: Stop Victim Blaming

By Franchine Peters

When sexual assault victims step forward, they are already facing a myriad of physical and emotional challenges. Then, in addition to their pain and suffering, they are often faced with societal stigmas, hurtful comments and reactions that indicate that they in some way caused their assault.

Sexual assault is defined as any sexual activity where consent is not freely given. In the U.S., someone is sexually assaulted approximately every two minutes. Additionally, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports sexual assault continues to be the most under-reported violent crime in the country.

Sadly, victim blaming is a common occurrence. Victim blaming is any instance when a victim of sexual assault is believed or felt to have played a role in the assault. This can happen when a victim’s story is questioned, when there is doubt because the accuser is a well-known person, or when a victim is discredited because of what he or she had been drinking or wearing.

Other times, people may not realize that their reactions and comments are harmful. Questions such as “What were you wearing?” “Were you drinking?” “Did you scream?” “Did you fight back?” are all examples of victim blaming. These types of questions suggests that the victim played a role in the assault and should be held partly responsible. This is not true; no one asks to be sexually assaulted.

Sexual assault is not just about sex. It is about power and control. When we make comments that questions whether a victim is telling the truth or if he or she did something to bring on the assault, we are creating an unsafe place for victims to come forward for help.

At the Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital, we provide free and confidential services for both men, women and adolescents 12 years of age and older, who have been affected by sexual assault.

If you have been sexually assaulted, please know:

  • We believe you
  • You did not cause the assault to happen – no matter what the circumstances
  • Coming forward, or speaking about the assault with someone you trust, is a brave and courageous thing to do
  • Free and confidential help is available, regardless of any police involvement or when the assault took place
  • It may help to speak with someone, whether it be a counselor or others in group therapy

If someone confides to you about being sexually assaulted, be mindful of what you say and how you say it. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Be patient with the person, it may be very difficult for them to share what happened
  • Do not ask probing or prying questions or push for more details
  • Do not disbelieve the story just because you know the person accused of sexual assault
  • Put aside personal biases so you can fully support the victim
  • Assure them that what happened was not their fault
  • Encourage them to get professional help — free and confidential help is always available

Next week, join us as we raise further awareness about sexual assault and support victims on April 28th for Denim Day. The day began in Italy in 1992, when a girl was raped by her driving instructor. The man was arrested and charged, but later released when courts argued that if she was wearing jeans, the man could not have taken them off of her without her help, therefore claiming it was consensual sex.

Women in the Italian Parliament were enraged by the verdict and launched protests wearing jeans. People around the world joined in and now, we celebrate Denim Day in support of educating others about sexual assault and consent.

If you, or someone you know, was sexually assaulted and needs help, call our 24/7 helpline. Our center is always open, and we have people standing by to offer medical treatment, counseling and support.

You do not have to go through this alone. Call our 24-hour Helpline at 305-585-7273.

Franchine Peters is the program director of the Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center at Jackson Health System. The center is a non-profit, hospital-based sexual assault crisis center located on the campus of Jackson Memorial Hospital.