How to respond when a sexual abuse survivor comes forward with their story

How to respond when a sexual abuse survivor comes forward with their story

Let Pakistani social media show you how to be a source of support rather than negativity
15 Jan, 2018

Almost every single woman you know has probably been the victim of sexual assault of some kind. Yes, it's a bleak thought but ask a woman to think back and she'll most likely have a story.

And many of these incidents can be traced back to their childhood.

It's an epidemic that is staring us in the face, in the wake of Zainab's rape and murder; child abuse is a rampant problem in our society, irrespective of class and gender, because men too are assaulted and abused.

Celebrities like actor Nadia Jamil, designer Maheen Khan and PR maven Frieha Altaf have opened up about their own experiences of sexual abuse. With so many people coming forward with their stories, it's important to react appropriately.

Read: The shame isn't ours, say Pakistani celebs as they share sexual abuse experiences

The Cosby allegations, the Weinstein abuse and so many others have had a global ripple effect; we are now quicker to hold people accountable for their actions, we are more likely to believe people when they say something bad happened to them but there is still more work to do — there always is.

Here's some things to consider whether it's someone who confides in you personally or it's a #MeToo tweet you spot on social media:

Don't: Ask them why they took so long to come forward

Every time a woman opens up about sexual abuse, people come out of the woodwork saying "why now?".

Think about what victims face when they come forward: public ridicule and scrutiny, attacks on their characters, having to relive trauma and the unlikelihood of justice. And now imagine the bravery it takes to come clean anyway.

When these stories date back years or even decades,why did the women not say anything until someone else did? The answer lies in the question itself; there is strength in numbers and often it takes one loud voice to pave the way for others to speak up.

Do: Believe them and support them

It sounds like such a small thing but it's truly a big deal: so many victims stay silent for as long as they do because they feel like no one will believe them.

Leave any “why” questions out of the conversation, your job is simply to support this person and the best thing you can do is make it clear to the victim that you are there for them and that yes, of course you trust their word.

Don't: Blame the victim

Victim-blaming may as well be our national sport if Twitter is any indication. Ironically, the ones who actively engage in shaming victims are also always the ones asking why the survivors stayed silent for as long as they did.

They imply that survivors are in some way responsible for what they went through — instead of, you know, their abusers or harassers who put them through it.

Don't distract from the conversation at hand. Modesty or lack thereof does not make someone less worthwhile and does not give permission to anyone to be assaulted.

Do: Choose your language carefully

We understand that it can be difficult to know what to say when someone reveals their suffering to you but language is important, it is crucial in indicating how you're extending your support.

US-based anti-sexual violence organization, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) recommends you use phrases like “I’m sorry this happened/This shouldn’t have happened to you.” or “It’s not your fault/You didn’t do anything to deserve this.”

Steer clear of any statements that might make victims feel like you are judging them, trivializing their experience or express disbelief regarding the attacker, as often the perpetrators are people they've known in a personal capacity.

Don't: Say "not all men"

The long-standing power dynamics between men and women have put men in a superior position in society, more often allowing men a voice. When men avoid validating these stories and start shouting "not all men", that only perpetuates the systematic oppression of women.

And what's even worse is when women start using the same phrase Check your internalized misogyny and your privilege; the assertion that you have not faced such men in your life is not productive and only minimizes many hurtful female experiences.

The fact that “not all men are like this” does not change that a staggering number of men like this do exist and the worst time to talk about this is when women are coming forth with their ordeals; this is not the time to talk about how you're absolved of all responsibility, it's the time to become better allies.


Fahad Jan 15, 2018 06:50pm
The biggest problem in this country there is no proper platform, further everyone shared his or her opinion on social media.
Sabeen Jan 15, 2018 06:59pm
It's really shamful act no implementation of Islamic laws is the main reason of all this cruelty
Dr UN Nandakumar Jan 15, 2018 07:38pm
Yes, it is equally important to continue follow up action in bringing positive social changes by creating public opinion from all corners.The present positive environment should be promoted all over the world and further taken forward to logical action.
Asad Abbas Jan 15, 2018 07:50pm
There will be less sexual abuse if the society was less sexually repressive. Of course it happens in permissive societies as well but certainly to a much lesser extent. Let us do away with the hypocrisy and accept that people , particularly the young ones , will be sexually active. Sex is an instinctual behaviour in the way that eating or sleeping are.
sadaf Jan 15, 2018 08:10pm
For all those people who are saying why now? my reply to them is that zainab has given courage to all these highly respectable ladies to speak out. Even in the most advanced societies its not easy for any one to speak out about sexual abuse. Instead of questioning their intention we should sympathize with them and encourage more people to talk.
Harmony-1© Jan 15, 2018 08:47pm
Child abuse is rampant. Some trolls love to claim otherwise by comparing with the West. The reality is lack of reporting of such cases in subcontinent is still minuscule. Only a fraction of such cases get reported because of fear of humiliation, tendency of blaming the victims and huge social stigma inherent in our culture.
Noori Jan 15, 2018 10:04pm
When it's even difficult for people to discuss their abuse with their family, these courageous women have shared it with whole world and yet people critisize them for not sharing soon. Do these people have any idea how difficult it is to share something like this. No doubt people judge so harshly.
Imraan Jan 15, 2018 11:06pm
Many many years ago, I was molested by my class fellows and friends I got to know on telephone. It was carried out in cars, sea view and eating places. I was only 16-17. All of my abusers are very successful, proud mothers now. One of them is a doctor in USA, other one is a corporate lawyer and third one is a happily married homemaker.
rizwan Jan 15, 2018 11:42pm
A 'real 'man is one in whose presence all women including his wife feel safe and protected!Sick barbarians roaming around in the streets of the sub-continent are not a picture of manhood but reflect abject criminalisation of body and soul!
Mehran Jan 16, 2018 12:09am
Here is the vicious cycle: - Girls hide these kinds of incidents because their families FORCE them to. - This leads perpetrators to believe that they can get away with it - This leads other people to believe that things like these do NOT exist in our society - This leads LEA to believe everything is hunky dory and nothing gets done. The cycle continues while we keep accusing other countries that they don't respect their women like we do... Nice..
Lubnakhan Jan 16, 2018 12:51am
I think all these celebrities are very brave and theirbstori s will give courage to those who have suffered from sexual. Abuse . It’s very important that we can not stop all such incidents but Victims should be encouraged to become survivers.
Abbas Jan 16, 2018 01:41am
Nicely put forward: the honour of my family not packed in my body. Why the onus of upholding the honour always remains on girls.
H Jan 16, 2018 03:38am
I was molested by my brother from age 8-12. I thought we were playing. I dont know what my mother and father were doing which is why i was molested by him but once my aunt found out and she told me to stop saying ill get pregnant but didnt tell my brother to stop. Sometimes i still have terrifying feeling of that happening again. Im on good terms with him now too. But i know its something im going to die with
Maryam Siddiqu Jan 16, 2018 04:09am
Its a great article and I agree with most of it, but I don't agree with the part that says we shouldn't say 'not all men are the same'. I think it is important to say that not all men are the same. And yes it is also important to share that some women also abuse children. I also feel that blaming the criminal is not enough because there are criminally minded people everywhere. We need to be aware of these criminal minds and use prevention. One of them is realizing the importance of population census but most of us don't participate and we allow people/tenants into our community without any background checks. People don't pay enough tax to allow government to install security cameras. If there wasn't this privately installed camera then it may have been impossible for police to catch the criminal.
syed ali Jan 16, 2018 04:27am
we as a nation have always be a copy cat and always follow west---since west is reporting now,we have started it not that it is not happening here but it would have been better if it was originated here --besides the stories of all kind of abuses all over the globe raise a basic question what is wrong with global culture irrespective of educated,uneducated,affluent,poor,industrialised developed and developing nations--the story is more or less the same---so where is the problem---the problem lies in human understanding rather misunderstanding of basic relationship between man and woman--and how the culture and laws should be made to protect this relationship and how to implement them in case of breach---the entire world must think about it and how to remedy this ---there are solutions available but we due to our biases dont accept them
Aafaaq Ali Khan Jan 16, 2018 08:35am
Everyone so occupied, to even care or look after people they are responsible for, yet vows on social media like they care.
Wali Ahmad Shah Jan 16, 2018 09:09am
These harassment stories are the harsh realities of our society. Now it is time to stand all against such evils and raise our voices continuously for the generation of a society which is much safer and conducive for our children.
Alanore Jan 16, 2018 04:47pm
@Asad Abbas I don't think you get the point. It's not about sex it's about rape. A minor who was the 12th victim in a town was taken raped and killed. So don't mix sex with rape.
FM Jan 17, 2018 01:17pm
It is such a horrible situation to be in for the victim and the family even for the community. I hope we all learn something from recent events. A request to all the liberals and blood sucking NGOs please try to create awareness rather than spreadig hate and poisoning the delicate mind of a woman by indicating that every female has been a victim of such harassment somehow.
N abidi Jan 18, 2018 09:45am
Pakistan is having a me too movement, there are many molestation stories, and in most cases it is someone the victim knows. Thus, there should be people that can educate the masses. Teach safety skills for prevention. On going therapy can be offer for coping. The abusers should be punished, and the shame should be put on the abusers,where it's belong! Shame and punish the abusers!