When a victim of abuse comes forward to reveal, for the first time, the trauma of their abuse, how the first person they speak to responds can mean a world of difference in the victim’s recovery and healing.
The problem is, a lot of people don’t know how to handle the deeply personal revelation, explained Associations of Communities Against Abuse (ACAA) program director Stephanie Hadley.
Over the years she’s worked in the industry, she said she’d heard stories of how people have responded when victims had revealed the secret of their abuse, and the range is astounding.
A friend of hers told her about how he told his family he had been abused by a family friend. His mother had said they would “pray on it” and that was that. It took years for her friend to come to grips with what had happened in his life.
What he had needed to hear at the time, Hadley said, was “I believe you” and “It’s not your fault.”
Those two phrases are the most important things people can say when a victim comes forward with stories of abuse, Hadley said. Taking the step to admit what happened is deeply personal and leaves the victim feeling vulnerable, open to being re-victimized by people who are either in denial or so flabbergasted they don’t know what to say.
Stettler’s ACAA is taking part in the #IbelieveYou campaign, a movement by the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS). The campaign is endorsed by almost all post-secondary institutions in the province, with the few hold-outs having organizations on campus taking part.
The movement, spread on Twitter and Facebook, is also making rounds through small video spots – two girl friends, two guys palling around, a mother and a daughter. All of them have the same theme – they are silent and wordless, save for music – with text across the bottom.
“I believed you when you said I could tell you anything. I believed you when you said you’d always have my back. I believe you now.”
By helping people understand how to respond to victims coming forward, AASAS and ACAA hope to help victims reduce the chance of being revictimized when they come forward seeking help, Hadley said.
ACAA focuses on helping victims of childhood sexual abuse in central Alberta, with its home base here in Stettler. Its clients range from children to seniors, all who suffered sexual abuse at a youthful age.