Getting Started

You have the right to control what happens to your body. Being touched or interacted with sexually in a way that you did not want is a violation of your rights over your body. If this happened to you– no matter the circumstances– it was not your fault and it was not okay.

Everyone has their own thoughts, feelings, and responses to sexual violence. This booklet offers information that may be helpful to you in trying to understand the dynamic and impact of sexual violence– whether it has happened to you or someone you care about.

It is important that every person gets to control the process of navigating life after sexual violence. Each person is the expert in their own life and their own needs. With information and support, survivors can make the best decisions for what comes next.

You Are Not Alone and We Believe You...

  • 1 in 6 boys and and 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused before they turn 18 (National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Fact Sheet, 2015).
  • 1 in 4 college women report surviving rape or attempted rape at some point in their lifetime (Fisher, Cullen & Turner, 2000; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006). This rate has remained the same since studies in the 1980s (Koss, Gidycz, & Wisniewki, 1987).
  • Nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 and 71 men in the United States has been raped at some time in their lives (CDC, SV Facts at a Glance, 2012). In the US, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men experience some form of sexual violence (Smith, S.G. et al., 2017).
  • Moreover, transgender, genderqueer,  and gender nonconforming people are more likely to experience sexual violence than their cisgender counterparts (Cantor, D., et al., 2015).
  • 91.9% of female survivors of rape were a partner or acquaintance of the perpetrator (CDC, NIPSVS, 2011).
  • For male survivors, 52.4% are raped by an acquaintance and 15.1% by a stranger (CDC, NIPSVS, 2010).
  • For female rape survisors, 98.1% of the time a male was the perpetrator. For male rape survivors, 93% of the time, a male was the perpetrator (Black, Basile, Breiding, Smith, Walters, & Merrick, 2011).
  • Sexual assault in one of the most under reported crimes, with at least 60% left unreported (U.S. Department of Justice, 2008-2012).
  • False reports of sexual assault are very low, as 90-98% of reports are true (Heenan & Murray, 2006; Lisak et al., 2010; Lonsway, Archambault, & Lisak, 2009).

What is Sexual Violence?

You should be touched sexually only in the ways you want to be.  Any sexual behavior or contact that occurs without your consent is sexual violence. It is a violation of your rights.  The following are common terms that are used to describe sexual violence. If they do not feel right to you, use whatever language makes sense. It is your experience to define as you choose.

An act that involves an non-consensual physical, sexual contact is called sexual assault. The term rape is used when the sexual assault includes penetration of the mouth, anus or vagina, regardless of the duration and depth of the penetration. the penetration can by with a body part or a foreign object.

Voyeurism is when a person or people watch you in a sexual situation and you did not consent to it or know they were there.

Sexual Harassment is when sexual words, pictures, or gestures are used which create a hostile environment.

Laws on sexual violence vary. Even if something is not illegal, sexual violence is always wrong and certainly has an impact on the survivor. The vast majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows– an acquaintance, friend, family member or partner, for example. Whether or not the victim knows the perpetrator does not lessen the impact that the assault might have. In fact, it may heighten the survivor’s feelings of confusion, betrayal, fear when seeking support.

Research also shows that most people who perpetrate sexual assault are men and many have perpetrated multiple times. While people of all genders can perpetrate sexual assault, men are the primary perpetrators of sexual violence against women/girls, men/boys, and trans* and non-binary people. This is not the same thing as saying all men are rapists, as most men are not. People of all genders can perpetrate sexual assault, although it is much less common.

We refer to people who use violence as “perpetrators” or “rapists.” We us “he” for the perpetrator and “she” for the victim/survivor to reflect the most common gender dynamic. Sexual violence is a type of gender-based violence.  No matter who the perpetrators or victims are, the violence reflects our history of men being expected to have power over others. Sexual violence is one tool to maintain this power imbalance.


Consent is a way to make sure every person involved is eager and agreeable to participate in what is happening. It is everyone’s responsibility when engaging in sexual activities. Getting  consent means that ever person is autonomous, has different experiences, and needs to feel comfortable with what is happening.

For consent to be valid, every person must be able to freely choose– without force, manipulation, or coercion. If there is any vagueness or confusion about whether or not someone wants to participate, the sexual activity should not happen. Words, body language, and participation should all communicate that a person wants to engage in a sexual activity. If any of these are missing or unclear, the sexual activity should stop immediately.

Rapists often make it seem like consent is confusing- as if there is a miscommunication or misunderstanding. They intentionally ignore a victim’s words, level of intoxication, and/or body language. Rapists may use alcohol, drugs, pressure, past sexual activity, isolation, or any other tool they can think of to take away a victim’s agency and credibility.

If you are incapacitated by drugs or alcohol that you drink or someone gives you, you cannot consent. If you are afraid of consequences for saying no, you cannot consent. Even if you consented before, it does not mean you consent to other times. If you are under the age of consent, you cannot consent. In fact, if you initially consented to sexual contact and changed your mind and the other person did not stop, that is a violation.

Every state has laws about the age at which someone can legally consent to sexual activity. The age of consent laws exist to protect young people who may have been manipulated by someone older and with more power or authority in their lives.

Consent is not confusing. Consent means that it is clear that everyone wants to participate in the activity. If a situation is confusing, it is not consensual.

If you were not able to make a genuine decision about a sexual activity, then you  were not given the opportunity to consent.

It was not your fault. 

Alcohol and Other Drugs at the Time of the Assault

If you were assaulted after using alcohol or other drugs, or if you were given a substance without your knowledge, it was a drug-facilitated sexual assault. Some victims are given alcohol or other drugs without their knowledge to cloud their judgment, incapacitate them, or make it impossible to remember what happened. Sometimes it is not clear if you were given drugs, especially if you were drinking alcohol. If you felt different from how you have felt before, or you have no memory of the situation and this is not usually something that happens to you, you may have been drugged. You know your body best and know when something is not right. If you were using alcohol or other drugs recreationally before being assaulted, the perpetrator(s) may have known and targeted you, but it does not make the assault your fault. Perpetrators sometimes use drug use of drinking as a way to discredit victims and/or as an excuse for their behavior. Being drunk or on drugs does no cause rape. Rape is not a consequence of drinking or drug use. The only reason rape happens is because a person chooses to rape another person.

Responses to Sexual Assault

When we are in danger, our bodies get ready to protect ourselves by turning on our response system. Our survival response systems triggers us to run away, fight back, freeze, or submit. Many victims say they thought they were going to be killed when they were being assaulted. Some were so shocked they could not process what was happening. When we feel this kind of threat, the most common way we react is to freeze or submit. This is a normal, instinctive, and automatic reaction. It is what the human brain is designed to do to survive in the moment.

This freezing reaction means you cannot fight or scream even if you think you want to or should. this reaction might happen subconsciously or is a decision you make to survive. Freezing might be the safest option. If this was your experience, it might seem as though you did not defend yourself. Sometimes this response can make it more difficult to talk to others about the assault(s). You might be worried that they will not understand that you could not fight back. Remember: You did what you had to do to survive and it worked. We know this to be true because you are reading this web page.


Dissociation is common, instinctive, and important for surviving traumatic events. It helps us get through situations that we otherwise may not be able to endure. It is a way our brain protects us from something we should not have to experience.

You may feel as though you left your body or were unable to control what was happening to you. It may feel like you did not do everything you could to protect yourself but this is not the case. You did what you had to do to get through it.

After an assault, your body may identify sensory information like sights, sounds, smells, or touches that trigger your fear response, even if you are not currently in danger. This can be an ongoing attempt by your body to keep you safe after a traumatic experience. You may find that concentrating is more difficult now and that dissociating is keeping you from being present. There are lots of ways that you can work with your body to keep you present. A Safe Harbor advocate or mental health professional can talk with you about these strategies.


During traumatic experiences our bodies’ survival instincts cause our brains to store information differently. Your memories of being hurt are probably different than other memories you have.

Often the memories will not be in chronological order, will come back in pieces, or the information will be more sensory than contextual. You might remember colors, smells, feelings, or flashes of an event. Memories can also come back in nightmares making sleep difficult and falling asleep scary. Some memories may come back as if you are watching a movie of the assault. Other memories can make you feel like you are experiencing the assault again. These are all ways that our brains remember traumatic and dangerous situations.

Sometimes a memory comes back after being triggered by a reminder of some sort. Triggers can be sensory–a sound or smell, for example. Sometimes they are metaphorical, or ideas that are connected in your mind to the violence.

Memories can be frightening and can make you feel out of control. Sometimes we try to change our lives to avoid the terrifying memories. While it makes sense to avoid painful flashbacks, this can limit our lives. You may find yourself not doing the things you need and want to do to live a happy and full life. If this is happening to you, you do not have to figure it out alone. A Safe Harbor advocate, counselor, and/or a loved one can help you. There are ways to start to feel more comfortable, joyful, and in control of your life.

It can be hard to explain frightening situations because the language part of our brain can work differently when we recall this kind of experience. You may find it helpful to write about violence instead of or before talking about it.

Remember that these are normal responses and part of your survival instincts. People like Safe Harbor advocates, who understand the impact of sexual violence, will understand you.

You are not alone.

The Impact

How you are affected by sexual violence may take you by surprise. Every person and situation is unique so everyone is affected differently. The period after violence or the time at which you are grappling with sexual violence from another point in your life can be challenging and you’re deserving of support. It is important to pay attention and take care of yourself in ways that are good for YOU.

Sometimes survivors see their lives as “before” and “after” violence. You may not feel like the same person and feelings as though you do not recognize yourself can be difficult. You may feel as though your world has turned upside down. The way we think about the world and whether or not we can feel safe again can change.

Most women and people who identify as LGBTQ+ have had experiences of sexual violation. Some experience many violations throughout their lives and each has a different impact. In general, people try to make sense of things that happen but it may not be possible to make sense of sexual violence. There is no good reason that anyone would hurt you in this way and experiencing sexual violence is not a requirement for you to grow into a fully-formed human being. Sexual violence is not a punishment, nor is it a stepping stone into adulthood.

If you know and trusted the person who hurt you, it may feel unsafe to be with anyone. It might even make you doubt your own judgment. If the person who hurt you was a stranger, it can seem as though anyone unfamiliar can be dangerous.

Whatever the situation, it is common to feel scared and/or anxious for a long time after an assault(s), or for a long time after remembering a past assault(s). There can be a frightening realization that the world is not as safe as we once thought. This is not only true for the survivor but can be for friends and family as well.

Our bodies call up a lot of energy to protect ourselves during and after an assault(s). It can feel exhausting just getting through each day. You are not being lazy and there is nothing wrong with you. Your energy is being use to process what has happened. It is okay to be gentle with yourself, take your time, and do things that feel good to you for self-care.

You may experience bursts of energy or anxiety connected to reminders of an assault. Sometimes the feelings may not appear to have any connection. This energy is part of your body’s survival instinct and can create an undercurrent or nervousness that can be hard to understand and handle. It is also common to feel out of control and afraid, sometimes feeling on way one minute and the opposite the next minute. Powerlessness, anger, panic, sadness, pain, nausea, jumpiness, being on guard, wanting to withdraw, loss of trust in others, and eating and appetite changes are other common responses. These are all normal reactions. It can help to talk to someone like a Safe Harbor advocate who knows about sexual violence and can refer you to a counselor to process these reactions and work through them.

Despite all of this, many survivors come to understand all of the ways that they are strong and capable. It is a struggle to come to terms with being violated and what that means in your life. You are a whole person and you are more than the violence that has been done to you. While the experience of violence is a part of your story, it does not have to define you.

Alcohol & Other Drugs After the Assault

Alcohol and other drugs can seem like they offer an escape from reality. It is easy to turn to substances as a way to avoid thoughts or feelings. This can be a dangerous way to cope long-term, as perpetrators may take advantage of the additional vulnerability of being under the influence. It is also possible to develop a physical dependence to alcohol and drugs. Substance use often feels good at first but the aftermath can feel bad physically and emotionally. Often people feel guilty or are blamed for using substances but struggle to stop. This can be further isolating and drive survivors to continue using to cope.

There are ways to cope that are safer and healthier than self-medicating. You can talk to a Safe Harbor advocate, your doctor, or counselor about what you need. Advocates will not judge you for using substances and can help you think of other ways to reduce anxiety and dependence. People can find support with group counseling, medications, relaxation, and other body-minded techniques such as Somatic Experiencing, Sensorimotor Therapy, or yoga.

You can take back your life.

Attempts at "Mastery"

Sometimes people unconsciously try to “reenact” a time that they were powerless in order to prove to themselves that they can change the outcome or to create a sense of control over the situation. This is called “mastery.”

Some survivors will unconsciously seek out situations that are similar to their assault(s) in hopes of having a different outcome, thus “mastering” what happened. If you were assaulted after going to a certain place, you might go back there to try to prove to yourself that you can be safe under similar circumstances.

It can be hard to understand why people continue to talk to or have contact with their perpetrators or return to the place where they were assaulted. Instincts to try to normalize or regain control over a dangerous situation are strong and do not mean that the violence did not happen. In fact, these behaviors are not uncommon, though perpetrators may use this impulse to discredit or further target victims. If you think this might be happening, it could be helpful to talk to someone about it.


For many people, anniversaries can be difficult. Even if you are not aware of the connection, you may experience physical or emotional reactions or symptoms on anniversaries related to violence. Taking extra care to notice how you are feeling and get support around these dates might be helpful. You have to find out what works for you. Indulging in soothing activities can be a good place to start and you deserve to feel good. You are the expert in your own process and can decide what you need.

Evidence Collection and Healthcare

Your health is important and you deserve care. If you go to the hospital after being sexually assaulted, you can be seen by specially trained providers called Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE). They are trained to provide medical care after sexual violence and collect forensic evidence from the assault. You may have heard this called a “rape kit.” You can have evidence collected even if you are not sure you want to involve the police. It can be collected and stored anonymously for at least 90 days while you decide what you want to do.

Evidence collection through a forensic exam must happen within 72 hours after an assault in Alabama for Alabama Crime Victims Compensation to pay for the exam, though the time frame varies by state. Generally speaking, the sooner the evidence is collected, the better. Please remember that survivors who obtain a forensic exam should not be financially responsible for it. East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika is the only local facility with a SANE program. A Safe Harbor and/or RCEA advocate can talk to you about what might happen at the hospital, meet you there, and be with you during any exam.

Even if you do not want to have a forensic exam, it is worthwhile to see a healthcare provider in case of injuries, sexually transmitted infections (STI), or pregnancy. There are medications which reduce the chance of contracting an STI or becoming pregnant if the assault was recent.

Some medications are available at the student or employee pharmacy (emergency contraception or “Plan B”) or most stores with a pharmacy section. Please remember that emergency contraception can help prevent pregnancy; it is not an abortion and will not terminate a pregnancy. Working with a primary care provider can be a good place to start if it is more than 5 days after the assault.

If you are under 18 years old, and you tell a provider that you were assaulted, the medical provider will have to report the assault to the police of child protective services. While it can be helpful to know your options, it can also feel overwhelming.

Advocates are available for support as you decide what is best for you.

You have choices.

Police and Court

It is important to remember that laws vary by state and are indicators of the lowest bar for acceptable behaviors; your experience of violence may or may not be against the law but it is still real, valid, and problematic. Deciding whether or not you want to report it to law enforcement is entirely up to you. For some people, it can be empowering to involve the criminal legal system and for others, it can be re-victimizing.There are valid reasons for each choice and your decision does not make your experience more or less valid. You can talk to an advocate about your options, what to expect, and you can decide what makes sense for you.

If you are wanting to pursue the criminal process, a Safe Harbor advocate can help schedule a meeting with a detective at a time and location that would be best for you. If you’re reporting to Auburn Police, this means you can meet with them privately on campus, at the main Division, or at one of the discrete on-campus locations. Because crimes are investigated in the towns/cities in which they occur, your advocate may need to help you contact law enforcement in a different district.

It is important to keep in mind that providing a statement to the police may start an investigation. It can be difficult to answer all of the specific questions the police ask about what happened. They are trying to anticipate what defense lawyers may argue in a trial. A Safe Harbor advocate, an advocate from Rape Counselors of East Alabama (RCEA), and/or loved ones can be with you when you give your statement and throughout this process.

Even though we hear people talk about someone “pressing charges” or “getting someone arrested,” in fact, only the police can arrest and only the state can “take someone to court” for a criminal offense.

Working with the legal system can be a long process and the crimes that are being charged may seem confusing or different from what you experienced or expected. A Safe Harbor and/or RCEA advocate can be with you the whole time and help you navigate your case. You may also be able to access a Victim’s Advocate from the state to help you understand the process. A Victim’s Advocate is part of the investigation so information you share will not be confidential.


Having an attorney can be helpful if you are considering reporting to the criminal legal system or if you want to know about your rights after an assault. Criminal charges are generally handled by the District Attorney’s office. Private attorneys can work with survivors regarding civil legal needs after an assault to protect your privacy or address complications with work, school, or housing. Your rights may have been violated by a business or institution in addition to the perpetrator. You may also be able to access money to pay for damages or harm. Safe Harbor may be able to help you identify attorneys who may be able to work for a reduced fee.

What Helps

When someone violates us, it can feel like we have lost control over our own bodies and lives. Getting back your own control and power is important. This includes being able to make your own decisions about how you want to move forward in your life. Some things to consider:

Give yourself permission to have as much time as you need to process. Remember, you survived the assault. Recognize your inner resources, your strength, and the steps you have taken to get you this far and celebrate them. There is no timeline, it is not something to just “get over.” In fact, you may need or greatly benefit from support in processing your experience(s) of violence.

Find a sense of safety. You deserve to feel safe. Take time to sense when you are comfortable in your life and honor that feeling. You can gently and carefully explore the edges of discomfort but do not force it. If you start to feel like you cannot feel safe doing anything, it could be a sign that you need more support. Reach out to your advocate, counselor, or safe and supportive loved one.

Take a break. Your life is more than your experience(s) of violence. You likely have a lot going on in addition to trying to deal with the aftermath of violence and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. This doesn’t mean you must immediately process every detail of the trauma but, if possible, try not to ignore what happened. It is okay to prioritize yourself (even in little ways) like finding time for a cup of tea, a healthy meal, a walk, time with a pet or outside with nature, visiting a special place, being creative, or whatever is soothing for you.

Move your body. Movement can help reduce anxiety. Yoga, tai chi, and other mind-body practices can be particularly helpful, especially if the teacher has some knowledge of sexual assault or trauma. Pay attention to how your mind and body respond; if you find that any of these practices are triggering or causing additional stress, give yourself permission to stop and try something else.

Get it out. People can feel a sense of relief when they share their “story” or experience(s) of violence.  Writing or creating art can feel validating, release some emotions and give you a way to express your experience and maybe share with other people.

Find and talk to people who support you. Telling someone can be an important part of your process, as long as that person will support you in ways that are helpful. Being listened to and believed by others can make a huge difference. You may not want to tell anyone because you do not know what the reaction will be. You can start with one person who you are pretty sure will be understanding. See what that is like and build out from there. Friends and family can also talk to a Safe Harbor advocate to better understand the impact of sexual violence, and how to be supportive. However, your advocate will not discuss your specific situation without your permission. Your decision to tell someone about your experience is solely based on your readiness and is not indicative of your relationship with that person—your story is yours alone to tell. You are in this position because your right to control your body and your life have been violated. You get to have control over who, when, how, and how much you share—in fact, this is often how survivors begin to re-establish control in their lives. Deciding you are not yet ready to tell someone you love based on your own healing process is okay; it does not mean you love or trust that person any less.

If you can, try to tell your person what you want and need. People are often unsure about what would be helpful and are scared to do the wrong thing. Sometimes they get so worried about making a mistake that they do not do anything or they avoid the topic. Sometimes people desperately want to help and go into “fix it” mode without knowing what would actually be helpful for you. While it is not your job to take care of them, if you know there are certain things they can do or say that would help, see if you can tell them or write it to them. A Safe Harbor advocate may be able to help you with this or can refer you to a counselor for additional support.

Connect with other survivors. This might be in a support group, an online community, or just in your regular life. Sexual violence is so common that you likely know other survivors even if they haven’t disclosed to you. Many survivors find strength in being together, helping others, volunteering, and working to end sexual violence. Safe Harbor may be able to help connect you with other survivors and allies.

Help from Professionals

There are many people who can support survivors but their training, approach, and understanding of sexual violence vary. Finding helping professionals who help you feel safe and understood is important.

Safe Harbor advocates understand the dynamics of sexual violence, and work together with survivors to figure out how to get whatever it is that the survivor needs. Advocates have information about resources, systems, victims’ rights and community partners that may be helpful in making decisions about what to do next. Any communication with advocates is privileged, which means that if you are over 18 years old they cannot share information about you without written permission. All Safe Harbor support is free and confidential.

Student Counseling and Psychological Services offers one-on-one and group counseling. Additionally, your Safe Harbor advocate or Student Counseling and Psychological Service’s case manager can help you find a provider in the community if that would be a better option for you.

We live in a world where sexual violence is common. You are not alone. How you understand and process what happened is unique to you. Experiencing trauma after an assault is a normal reaction—there is nothing wrong with you. You deserve to have professionals who understand both the social and individual impacts of sexual violence which is why Safe Harbor advocates and Student Counseling and Psychological Services clinicians are here to support you.


It is not your fault. No matter what you were doing or what the circumstances were, sexual violence is something that was done to you only because someone else made the terrible decision to harm you.

You survived. You are here, courageously reading this booklet. You have the strength to heal and so many possibilities for your life.

It is normal to have times that are hard. You experienced something that no one should ever have to experience. Be gentle with yourself and practice self-compassion on those hard days. Give yourself credit for doing the best you can.

You are not alone. Moving forward can seem overwhelming, but there are lots of people who want to support and help you. Identify one person who is safe and reach out to that person. It can be hard to ask but you deserve help and support from people you trust.

Join with others to end the violence. It can be empowering to use your voice to speak out against violence when you are ready. Talk to your advocate about how you can get involved in your community while honoring your healing journey. We are stronger together.


Be patient with yourself. We all have our own process and we each need to work at our own pace. Healing is not always linear and we may have to go slower than we initially want.


Be good to yourself. You may find comfort in walking, eating well, taking baths, cuddling a pet, being creative, visiting a special place, being outside, having alone time, or having time with friends. You deserve to have joy in your life. The more positive moments and activities you have in your life, the more you can process the difficult parts.

Breathe. Just remembering to breathe is good. Taking slow, deep breaths is great.

This is your life. You are worth it.

Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence

It is hard to know what to do when someone we love has been hurt. Often, we want to help but are not sure of what to do or are afraid to do the wrong thing. If someone has shared their experience of sexual violence with you, they are telling you that they trust you. You can start by letting them know that you believe them, care about them, and want to support them in whatever way they need. It is important to resist the urge to begin fixing or telling the person you love what they “should have done” to avoid being harmed. They are safe now and they are reaching out to you for support.

People may respond to sexual violence in lots of ways. They may behave differently and your relationship may feel like it has changed. Try to keep in mind that they are grappling with something very frightening right now and their mood and needs may change quite a bit over the next few months. Despite this, your loved one is still whole–the assault does not define who they are. Expecting someone to behave a certain way or act the same as before is not realistic or helpful.

Supporting survivors is very important. In fact, the support they receive when disclosing after an experience of violence is one of the strongest predictors of healing. The most important thing you can do is ask how you can be helpful to them and help them regain a sense of autonomy and control in their life. Here are some general suggestions:

Listen. Let them talk without feeling judged. Many feel a sense of relief when they share their “story” or experience(s) of violence. Try to balance talking about it and not talking about it. Let them bring it up when they want to. Avoiding the subject can feel isolating, but it does not have to be the only thing you talk about. If you are unsure what your loved one needs, ask them directly if they want you to check in about how they’re feeling or if they prefer to only talk about it when they bring it up.

Believe. You may really not want to believe that something harmful has happened to someone you care about or was done by someone you care about. It might be really tempting to try to come up with other explanations that seem less terrible. Keep in mind that decades of research has shown that the vast majority of people do not make up or lie about sexual violence. If someone says they were assaulted, it is imperative we start by believing them.

Put blame where it belongs. Perpetrators use excuses about what people were doing, drinking, wearing, or where they were to try to undermine their victims. These factors did not cause the assault. The perpetrator made the decision to cause harm and is the only person responsible for the sexual violence.

Stay connected. When someone is violated, they may feel powerless and out of control. When supported and encouraged to make decisions that are right for them, survivors can regain that power. Tell them how proud you are that they survived, that you know it can be a struggle, and that you respect their process.

Give them time. You may want so badly for the person that you care about to “get better” or to be happy again. Rushing someone may make it feel like they need to pretend to be fine around you, or feel badly that they are struggling. It is really important for everyone to have the time they need to process what happened to them, and how they want to move on. It is not linear, there will be good days and bad days. Be patient.

Encourage survivors to do what makes them feel good.

Walking, eating well, taking baths, practicing yoga, or spending time with friends can be healing activities. Everyone’s wants and needs are different so your loved one may need to try different things to identify what is comforting. You may want to offer to try activities with them or give them reassurance that they are worthy of comfort and care. Do not assume that you know what they need or what will help. Ask them what they want.

Let go of expectations. Just like other major life events, people integrate their experiences of sexual violence into their lives in their own ways. Some people are never the same while others go about their lives as if nothing happened. Both of those outcomes and everything in between are okay. There is no timeline or expectation for how people process and understand the violence they experienced.

Support yourself. One of the best things you can do for your loved one is get support for yourself. Knowing about the violation may make you angry, but expressing your anger to the survivor may not be helpful or may force them into taking care of you instead of focusing on their own healing. Supporting someone else can be painful and draining work; you, too, are worthy of care and support. For help locating resources in your area, go to

Compassion is to share the pain without sharing the suffering.

– Shinzen Young

Culture Change

There are many ways that culture has traditionally cultivated and supported power-based personal violence. The portrayal and reinforcement of seeing women, girls, and femme-identifying people as objects instead of whole people paired with the pressure for men, boys, and masculine-identifying people to constantly prove their dominance and power over others perpetuates an inequality called oppression. This systemic imbalance of power allows people with power to cause harm and/or commit acts of violence against others groups to maintain power. We see this in a spectrum of behaviors that range from objectifying or inappropriate jokes or comments to committing actual acts of violence. Because so much of this is normalized in our culture, sexual violence prevention requires us to also work to change the culture that supports it.

Culture change can seem like an impossible task given the scope of power-based personal violence but if you remember that culture change happens when a lot of small but visible actions add up to create change, it feels much more managable.

Here at Auburn University, we believe bystanders play a crucial role in identifying potentially dangerous situations and providing appropriate help and support in the moment. WE.auburn, our Green Dot Bystander Intervention program aims to eradicate power-based personal violence by training people how to be educated, safe, and empowered bystanders. While many people think being a bystander simply means stepping in the middle of a conflict, it’s important to remember that there are lots of safe ways to intervene. To remember our options, we use the 3D’s: Direct, Delegate, and Distract.

  • We can Directly check in with either person in a tense situation.
  • We can Delegate to someone who is better positioned to intervene like a bartender, law enforcement, or a brave friend.
  • We can Distract the person(s) involved in a potentially harmful situation by asking a question or creating a some kind of safe disruption that de-escalates a situation

You can help change the culture by being an active bystander, by supporting survivors of power-based personal violence, and by having informed conversations with people in your life. No one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something. How can you show that you are committed to reducing power-based personal violence?

To learn more, visit