Sunday night at the Oscars Lady Gaga gave a powerful performance of “Till It Happens to You” from the documentary The Hunting Ground, shedding light about sexual assault on college campuses. The message that Lady Gaga, as well as Vice President, Joe Biden, who introduced Lady Gaga, conveyed is that “We must and we can change the culture so no abused woman or man ever feel they have to ask themselves “What did I do?” They did nothing wrong.” As Lady Gaga communicated the message of her song, 50 sexual assault survivors took the stage boring phrases on their arms such as “Not Your Fault”, “Survivor”, “Unbreakable”, and “It Happened to Me”.

This powerful performance not only encouraged sexual assault survivors to stand together on stage but also has encouraged others to break their silence and share their own story, including model and actress Jamie King, and The Bachelor’s Jade Roper.

It may not be easy to know how to react when finding out a friend or loved one has been sexually assaulted.

Here are 5 ways to show support:

  1. Listen. Listen without judging and allow the individual to be truly heard. Many people do not report their assaults because they believe “no one would want to listen” or they “thought it was not important enough”.
  2. Understand that How Survivors Respond is Varied. Individuals experience sexual assault in different ways. Survivor’s responses will be multi-layered and many may experience emotional effects such as depression, phobias, anxiety, shame, guilt, and suicidal ideation.
  3. Be Patient. There is no specific timetable for recovering from a sexual assault. Avoid pressuring the individual to engage in activities they are not ready for.
  4. Respect their Autonomy. Even though we may have the best intentions in mind it is important to respect the individual’s ability to make their own decisions. At the time someone is sexually assaulted their ability to make decisions, and to be in control of their life, is taken away. When we say that someone “needs” to do something we are again taking away their ability to make their own decisions. Genuinely asking of they have considered talking to a professional is a good place to start, while making sure to be open to whatever answer they may give you.
  5. Offer Resources. If the individual is interested in obtaining resources several options are:

The Victim Service Center of Central Florida’s 24 hr hotline at (407) 497-6701. They provide crisis intervention, service options, and information on sexual assault whether your assault is recent or in the past. Total Life Counseling also has licensed and trained trauma therapists on staff to help with recovery and advocacy.

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Author: Stephanie Booth, MS a Registerd Mental Health Counselor Intern at Total Life Counseling Center in Orlando. Total Life Counseling Center specializes in depression & anxiety and our experts can be reached at (407) 248-0030.