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Victim advocate suggests ‘start by believing’

Alex Mueller, victim advocate at the Family Support Center, a program of Rural Resources in Colville, said that when people disclose that they have been sexually assaulted, it’s important to believe them.

End Violence Against Women International has resources available through its “Start by Believing” campaign.

“The first person a victim confides in after an assault is typically a family member or friend,” she said.  “That friend or family member’s reaction is going to have a big effect, so let’s make it a good one.”

What should a person do if someone comes to him or her and says, “I’ve been raped”?

“You don’t need to be trained therapists, police officers or forensic examiners to respond,” Alex said.  “We just need to be supportive, and encourage the person to go to the hospital to be checked.”

After affirming the person, she suggests that people in Northeast Washington contact the Family Support Center or the 24-hour National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE.

When instances occur in rural communities, she said, disbelief, hesitancy and denial are typical.  She shared some of the common misconceptions she has encountered:

• “We’re a small community: that doesn’t happen here.”

• “If we don’t talk about it, it didn’t happen.”

• “That’s something that only happens to poor people.

• “Only women need to worry about that.”

• “Only promiscuous women need to worry about that.”

“Sexual assault is wrong. So are these statements,” Alex asserted, dispelling the stereotypes.

“It happens in Stevens County.  It happens even if we deny it.  It happens to the poor, the rich and everyone in between.  It happens to men.  It happens to women regardless of the number of sexual partners they’ve had,” she said.

“So what do we do about it?” Alex asked.  “We start by believing the person.”

She described a scenario.

“After the immense pain and distress of being violated, ‘Pat’ somehow musters the courage to tell ‘Terri’ she was raped.  Instead of support, Pat receives a shaming message.  Terri said, ‘Well, what did you expect? You should have known better than to go out by yourself.’  Pat is now less likely to seek help and is more likely to develop psychological problems such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),” Alex said.

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Copyright © May 2013 - The Fig Tree