It’s the long weekend and reading week is just around the corner. Some of us are heading home, staying with chosen family or staying alone. That can bring up different feelings. For many survivors of sexual violence the holidays can be particularly challenging. You might be feeling burnt out, stressed about school, worried about the things family members might say to you about sexual assault or it could be the first time you are feeling ready to tell someone what happened. Here are some ways to care for yourself, push back against sexual assault myths and ways allies can support you.
1. Connect: Create a Whatsapp group with friends to talk to throughout the week away. You can share how you are feeling and be reminded that you are not alone. Physically connect with care by keeping a item on you that brings you strength. It can be stone that brings you calm, a small stuffed animal you carry in your bag, a image you can look at when things feel too much. Of course if you have a family pet cuddle up with them!
2. Take planned breaks: Binge on cartoons on Netflix, take a social media break, build a blanket fort for naps, exercise, or colour our #ConsentComesFirst Coloring Book found here. Give yourself permission to say no to uninteresting invitations and yes to yourself. Your time is precious. Your energy is precious.
3. Music, Music, Music: Put on some tunes, hold a dance party in your room, create a new playlist. Jamming out helps release stress and produces endorphins, which are the body's natural painkiller to reduce stress #boutodanceinthemirror
4. GRUB UP: Nourish your body with food that you love. If large meals feel too much, try breaking it down into snacks throughout the day. Bonus: if a conversation is getting to be too much with a family member or chosen family you can always use the excuse “I have to grab some water”. Opportunity to get away AND drinking water helps cleanse your system too.
5. Breathe deeply: Sometimes when we are feeling full, we hold in our breath. Deep breaths can help calm your nervous system. Meditation takes it a step further. If you like to try mediation here is one we love - Black Feminist Guided Meditation found here
If you like certain smells. Light a candle or warm up some scented oils. If candles or oils are not your jam, trying going to a place, coffee shop, friends house or park that has a comforting smell. Lastly you can try grabbing a piece of clothing and smell that. YES! Don’t act like you haven’t gotten nostalgic with your best friends shirt or blanket. *walks away with pink blanket*
Be it talking about stories in the news or sharing your own experiences of sexual violence - sometimes people we care about say victim blaming statements. These comments can come from lack of education about sexual violence, internalize shame or guilt or misguided stereotypes. No matter what, it’s not okay. When a comment comes at you here are some things to tell yourself or even those close to you.
1. What were you wearing? What did you do to lead them on?
What you were wearing or doing prior to an attack doesn’t matter, no one has the right to anyone’s body. You clothing is not an invitation.
2. Were you drunk? Were you flirting with them? Did you give them the wrong impression?
All you should expect when drinking is a hangover, not assault. Being drunk does not mean consent either does flirting does not mean consent. Consent is given by an enthusiastic yes - there is no grey area here! Remember your actions never invite violence. The responsibility for sexual violence is the perpetrator’s actions not yours.
3. Why didn’t you fight back?
Survivors usually do not consciously “choose” their particular fight, flight, or freeze response to sexual violence. The most common response to sexual violence is freezing, not fighting back. We may feel a significant amount of shock or shame about how we reacted in the moment. Remind yourself, and if you have the energy the people around you, that there is no right way to react to violence. What we should be focusing on the actions of the perpetrator. This article by Jackie Hong speaks to common responses to sexual violence, check it out here.
4. Are you telling the truth or exaggerating?
It’s hard enough to talk about experiences of sexual violence without being told we are lying or over-exaggerating. If someone challenges your truth, remember that is a reflection of them and not you. #dropthemic
5. You “should”… (*insert unsolicited advice here*)
Nobody knows what you are going through but you. There is a time and a place for advice, and it’s okay to tell people to keep their judgements to themselves. When you are talking with a friend let them know what you need - validation, comfort, to be heard. It’s your choice.
When someone tells you that they have experienced sexual violence, it's okay to not have all the answers. The best thing you can do is listen. A disclosure can bring up a lot of feelings remember to be gentle on yourself, connect with professional help - lots of sexual assault centre support allies too - and practice self-care. It is just as important for you as it is for the survivor. Here are some ways you can support survivors;
1. “You’re feelings are valid.”
Let them know that any of the thoughts and emotions that they are experiencing are real, valid, true and deserve be to honoured.
2. “It’s not your fault.”
Learn about rape myths and how to address them. One that survivors hear too often is that somehow they brought it onto themselves. Nobody is entitled to one's space, body or time. Someone who was sexually assaulted should not have to justify anything to anyone #mindyourbusiness. Violence is ALWAYS the responsibility of the person who caused harm, and nobody deserves to be violated.
3. “This is how we take care of each other”
Sexual violence can be incredibly isolating, especially when it feels like those who are close to us don’t understand. Intervene when you witness victim blaming or survivor shaming comments. You can do this by changing the subject, calling in comments that are not okay or distracting the person causing harm so the survivor can leave. Know your own limits as a bystander and intervene in ways that feel safe for you and supportive of the survivor. To learn more about bystander intervention check out the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centre’s Draw the Line Campaign
4. “You are Not Alone.”
Check in with your friend be it by text or in person. What are their plans for the weekend and during reading week. If they are unwelcomed at their family home you could invite them to yours for part of the time, help them find community spaces to be in or connect them with other people in your friend group. No one should be alone during the holidays.
5. “I support you in however you choose to proceed.”
There is no right way to heal. There is no right way to survive. A person could report, share with a friend, they could want to be alone, they could continue to date the person (which is hard, but a reality). You can support by helping them locate resources and connect with professional like a Sexual Assault Centre or counselling phone line.
Resources for Survivors and Allies:
Good2Talk line for post-secondary students at 1-866-925-5454, 24/7
Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres at http://www.sexualassaultsupport.ca/
LGBTQ Youth Line 4:00-9:30 PM Sunday-Friday. Toll-Free: 1-800-268-9688 Text: 647-694-4275. TTY: 416-962-0777 E-mail: email@example.com
Trans Lifeline Ph: 1-877-330-6366 Hotline staffed by transgender people for transgender people.
Support Service for Male Survivors of Sexual Assault: 24/7 Ph: 1-888-887-0015