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The Power of Believing The Stories of Survivors

During our research work, we traveled across the province of Saskatchewan and listened to many survivors’ share the reality of their experiences with sexual violence.

One of the recurring themes in our conversations was that many survivors never told anyone about their experience for fear of not being believed. They shared with us that it was one of the main reasons that they didn’t report it or tell a family member or friend what had happened to them. 

Right now, I want you to reflect upon a time in your life when you went through something that was really difficult. Imagine if you didn’t have anyone to share that experience with? Or even worse, the person you told didn’t believe that it happened to you? 

Many survivors of sexual violence are denied the truth about their experience. 

For those of us who have not had a direct experience with sexual violence, it’s hard to comprehend how this could happen to someone. Often, this can lead to developing a stigma or bias about the reality of sexual violence, because we haven’t learned how to support someone through a traumatic experience. 

The thought of sexual violence is fearful in itself so it’s much easier for us to avoid having conversations about it, to ignore the reality that someone we love has experienced it, or to pretend that it isn’t happening at all. 

But it is happening. 

And when we stay silent, we are allowing the stories of survivors’ to remain silent too. 

So now, it is our time to stand with survivors. To be courageous with them in the face of what feels like the unimaginable, because when we do, something powerful happens. 

We raise the voices of those who have long been silenced and we remind them that their power has always been theirs to hold even in the moments when it feels like it has been completely taken away. 

We validate the truth about their experiences and we let them know that it was never their fault, that they are loved, that they are worthy, and that despite it all, they have survived. 

Right now, imagine that the survivor you have chosen to stand with is your mother, your father, your daughter, your son, your sister, your brother, your partner, or your best friend. 

Imagine that they are standing in front of you and you are looking in their eyes and you say, “I believe you.” 

You have the power to change the story about sexual violence by saying those three words. 

Will you?

Here’s how you can create a safe space for a survivor to share their story: http://sassk.ca/how-to-respond-to-a-sexual-assault-disclosure/

Why Survivors’ Stories Aren’t Getting The Attention They Deserve

We’ve heard this story over and over again.

A survivor speaks out about their experience with sexual assault or abuse and isn’t believed. 

They aren’t believed by their family or friends.
They aren’t believed by the community they live in.
They aren’t believed by law enforcement.
They aren’t believed by medical professionals. 

There is a long line of disbelief that is often attached to a survivor’s story. 

What we’ve learned from our research is that it’s not that survivors’ stories aren’t being told, it’s that when they are told, a blanket of disbelief is thrown over them in efforts to cover up the truth and keep the survivor’s experience hidden, silent, and non-existent. 

This blanket of disbelief is made up of barriers. Barriers are people, places, systems, and environments that either indirectly or directly affect the validity of the survivors’ experience. 

It takes what is already a traumatizing experience and layers on even more trauma that comes along with the grief, shame, and guilt many survivors carry with them because they are denied the support they need to heal themselves from a sexual assault or abuse incident. 

Many of these barriers are deeply rooted in systems and institutions that work against individuals who don’t have access to safe and inclusive spaces that are able to provide them with trauma-informed care. 

Eliminating these barriers will take a great deal of change. The kind of change that can only be made by large groups of people and communities coming together to demand that action be taken on what we know isn’t working and hasn’t been working for a very long time. 

When we think about ending sexual violence, it feels as though it has become such an overwhelming and at times impossible challenge. Survivors, advocates, and front-line workers are exhausted from carrying the weight of an issue that is often dismissed, ignored, and not believed. 

That is why it is so important for us on the sidelines to step in, to help out, and to contribute. 

One of the main barriers that survivors experience is a lack of access to free or affordable counselling that is provided by sexual assault centres or multi-service organizations that offer sexual-violence related counselling. 

Many of these organizations in Saskatchewan are currently experiencing waitlists that are up to 6 months long due to a lack of funding that would provide the resources needed to keep up with the demand for sexual violence counselling in our province. 

The simplest contribution you can make right now is to donate to one of these organizations or volunteer your time to help out with crisis call lines. 

Out of all the barriers that exist, one of the most significant is not having a safe space to share stories about sexual assault and abuse with someone that will believe the survivor. 

By giving back to the organizations that provide safe spaces for survivors, we can all do our part in changing the story about sexual violence and help raise the voices of survivors who have been denied the truth. 
Here’s a list of organizations to donate to or volunteer for across Saskatchewan:

For more information about the barriers that exist for survivors, read our research here: http://sassk.ca/