Over the past few months, we have seen a tremendous flood of online messages of support for survivors in Hamilton. Survivors who have bravely come forward to share their stories have prompted others to do the same, to say “me, too,” and to name the people, systems, and structures that have perpetrated harm in their lives and communities. These stories have also greatly impacted those who are not ready or are unable to come forward, those who have stories that they have told before, and those who, perhaps, never realized they had their own stories to tell. These shared experiences have touched our communities in some significant ways, which have prompted many people to question their own roles in and experiences of these events, with many openly voicing their struggles with feeling complicit, unaware, and uncertain.
With all of these interweaving tensions, questions, concerns, and fears – the shared knowledge that we have, perhaps, turned a new leaf in Hamilton around recognizing the prevalence of rape culture – comes a fairly central question that we have begun to reflect on: so what do we do now? This question can be intimidating as we continue to wrestle with these tensions bursting to the surface, these things that are refusing to be ignored. Many people, in their online posts and public reflections, have articulated a burgeoning sense of fear, uncertainty, and restlessness: knowing what I know now, how do I move forward? What can I do to support survivors in Hamilton? How can I challenge rape culture in my everyday life?
SACHA has collectively recognized these pressing concerns and questions. In response, we hope to provide some beginners’ steps for folks who are grappling with these experiences, stories, and personal reactions and who want to show their support for survivors beyond the current news cycle. Know that this is a first step into a lifelong journey toward dismantling rape culture; we still have a long way to go, but we can always start somewhere.
Receiving Disclosures (& Wrestling with Reactions)
- Recognize that these conflicting responses and reactions, where a multitude of emotions can brim, are totally normal for both survivors and people receiving disclosures. There is not one “right way” to respond to trauma and violence, so reflecting on the feelings you’re having is a great entry point to these conversations.
- If someone discloses an experience of sexual violence to you, listen actively and intentionally. While these events often have us seeking immediate solutions, creating space for someone to talk about their experience without judgment, scrutiny, or swift and decisive reactivity is significant. In short, believe them, let them know that they’re not alone, let them lead the way, and, when asking how you can support, really listen to the answer.
- Understand that there are many reasons why survivors don’t come forward and/or don’t report their experiences to formal (like to police or a helping professional) or informal (like friends and family) supports. When many perpetrators of sexual violence are known to the survivor (e.g. as an ex-or current partner, a family member, a boss, a friend, an acquaintance, a co-worker, etc.), survivors may have complex feelings toward them and may not see justice as resulting from the perpetrator being arrested and charged by police. When we know that, statistically, only 3 out of 1000 sexual assaults result in conviction and sentencing of the perpetrator, many survivors may feel that the justice system will not bring them the justice they are looking for. With these factors in mind, take some time to reflect on why survivors might not be telling their stories and think of the ways in which you can make it a safer space to do so on both micro and macro levels.
- If you ever have questions, concerns, or things you want to discuss, call SACHA’s 24-hour support line (905−525−4162), which seeks to provide support to survivors and their allies. Our dedicated team of volunteers is always available to chat about coping with these complex experiences, feelings, and tensions that often accompany learning more.
- If you are in a place where you want to learn more about this issue, start reading or engaging with information about sexual violence from intersectional, feminist, trauma-informed, and survivor-centric sources. For example, you can visit our website and peruse a multitude of resources that discuss sexual violence. See a list of resources at the bottom of this post to help you get started!
- Read books written by survivors and feminists working to end gender-based and sexual violence. Engage with sources that discuss the interlocking systems of oppression shaping experiences of sexual violence, where we must recognize that people who are Black, Indigenous, racialized, disabled, 2STLGBQIA+, low income, houseless or street-involved, and/or sex workers experience sexual violence at a heightened rate due to these systems.
Education & Learning More
Taking Action: Bystander Intervention & Challenging Rape Culture
- If you have the space/capacity to do so, lean into the discomfort of reading about and engaging in conversations about rape culture and sexual violence.
- Use SACHA’s Bystander Intervention model to engage with different strategies to challenge everyday experiences of sexual violence and other forms of oppression.
- Practice consent in your everyday interactions. Ask someone before you take a photo together or before you give someone a hug (especially in COVID times!). Check in with your friends, family, and peers to make practicing consent a normal activity in any context.
- If you are interested in getting more involved, contact your local sexual assault centre or any organization seeking to end violence to discuss potential volunteer opportunities.
- Continue to speak out about sexual violence! Create a zine, a video, a blog post, an art piece, or an infographic. Participate in online campaigns that challenge rape culture and sexual violence (like SACHA’s “I Believe Survivors” campaign).