SAAM: Tell Your Truth

SAAM // With April beginning, teal is the color to be seen. The ribbon and color is to be worn to show your support in bringing awareness to sexual violence. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

by Melissa Duarte

68 seconds. Every 68 seconds an American falls victim to a crime of sexual violence. It’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it’s time to talk about physical responses, outlets, and understanding how to help the victims of sexual crimes. 

15% of victims of sexual assault are between the ages of 12 and 17, 54% of victims are between the ages of 18 and 34, 28% of victims are between the ages 35 and 64, and 3% of victims are above the age of 65. A message to all victims: we stand with you. 

Physical Responses:

The flight or fight response is a known physiological reaction to an event that is perceived as frightening or stressful, another, lesser known response often occurs: freeze

The amygdala is part of the brain that is responsible for sensing danger, and the hippocampus is responsible for storing memories. When the amygdala senses danger it surges an enormous amount of adrenaline, and in this moment the hippocampus switches gear and begins pumping cortisol which stops the body from feeling pain. During the act of a sexual crime, the victim essentially begins to freeze because the amygdala and the hippocampus produce intense power to protect themselves from the emotional and physical pain. That incredible amount of pain is the reason victims struggle to recount their story to the police because their body is protecting itself from the crime. 

When conducting an interview, it’s vital for police to have a victim of a sexual crime recount the details through the link of their five senses with questions formatted like: 

-What did you see around you?

-What did you feel around you?

-What smells were prominent?

Outlets & Resources: 

There are many public resources available for sexual assault victims. The first resource is Signs of Hope. Signs of Hope, formally known as the Rape Crisis Center, is a non-profit organization that has hotlines, group meetings, and counseling sessions to help those who have experienced or are currently facing sexual violence/harassment/assault. It’s open to anyone of any age and exists to help you heal. 

Another public resource is RAINN (Rape Abuse Incest National Network). This non-profit organization is currently trying to improve public policy, universal education on sexual crimes, consult and train volunteers, and help survivors. RAINN even has a mobile app that is available in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store which practices self-care, finds support, and learns more. There are people who care for you out there when you are ready to take a step forward. 

If you need assistance at school telling your truth, there are available resources. Ms.Chura has been working as Coronado’s social worker for six years. Chura goes further than the title of a social worker. She is willing to walk through the darkness with you so you aren’t alone. She goes above and beyond for the students who confide in her. She has even started a girl’s group that takes place in the conference room in the library every Wednesday through both lunches. The purpose is to allow girls to develop meaningful friendships, and discuss their lives. There are those around you who have experienced similar experiences; support is there when you’re ready. 

How do we help?

When a victim of a sexual crime begins to share their truth with you, open your ears and let the victim relieve themself of their thoughts and emotions. Sharing such an experience takes a lot of courage and bravery, so the victim needs your full attention and awareness. Another bit of support is thanking the victim for sharing their story. This reaffirms care for their well-being, and understanding that the crime was wrong. You want to let them know you are on their side. If a victim is insinuating that the crime is their own fault, remind the victim that the only person at fault is the abuser; reassure them that nothing they did was their fault. Some comforting phrases when talking to a victim of sexual assault can be: 

-I believe you.

-It took a lot of courage to tell me this, and I’m so proud of you for being able to share this part of yourself with me.

-It’s not your fault, and you did not deserve anything that happened to you.

-You are not alone.

-I’m always going to be here for you. 

-If you ever want to talk, I’m more than willing to listen.

Help doesn’t just stop once the conversation is over. The trust needs to continue, so check in on the victims. From time to time, ask them how they are feeling and how they are holding up. Give them reassurance in your word by showing them you are thinking of them and their well-being. 

Sexual crimes have nothing to do with the gender, outfit, race, sexuality, etc of the victim, but instead with what the offender decided to do. There is no one to blame, except the offender.

Word of advice, don’t let it consume you. When you’re ready, when you feel you can do this, reach out. It doesn’t have to be today, tomorrow, or the next day, but when you’re ready there is a community waiting to comfort and support you through the decisions you decide to make.