If you are in immediate danger, please call 9-1-1.
Abuse in your family? Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE
In a violent relationship? Call the National Dating Abuse Hotline: 1-866-331-9474
Someone stalking you? Call the Crime Victims Helpline: 1-866-689-HELP
Were you sexually assaulted? Call the RAINN Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE
For resources pertaining to sexual assault on campuses: www.notalone.gov
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SUPPORT A SURVIVOR
It can be hard to know what to do to help a friend or family member who discloses to you that they have experienced a sexual assault or a violent crime. Anyone who has survived a violent situation knows that coming forward and sharing can often be the most difficult part of the experience. We understand that this can be a complicated situation for you as a supportive friend and you may not know how to respond. In light of that, we have put together these tips on how to support a survivor.
- Believe them! The single most important factor in a person’s recovery from sexual assault is whether or not they are believed. And they should be. Very few rapes or assaults are falsely reported. In fact, according to the FBI, only 4 – 8% of assault reports are false reports.
- Assure them that they did whatever they needed to survive. Survivors often suffer from feelings of guilt and shame. Reassure them by telling them they did nothing wrong. Don’t blame them and don’t agree if they blame themselves. Remember that no matter what, no one deserves to be assaulted and that the only person to blame for a crime is the criminal.
- Communication is key – ask the survivor what they want or need. This also helps them regain their power by empowering them to make choices for themselves. Allow the survivor to make choices for themselves, no matter how small. The predator/criminal took away their power to choose, so it is very healing for them to be able to make choices. Ask if they want to sit or stand, talk at your place or theirs, what food they would like, etc. Recognize that making these choices might be difficult for them. Be patient.
- Make sure the person you are supporting is not in imminent danger. If they are, offer to assist them by accompanying them to get medical attention or law enforcement involvement.
- Make sure the survivor is attending to their own physical needs (eating, sleeping, etc.) and if they are not, offer to assist.
- Encourage the person you are supporting to broaden their support network with either counseling, peer support groups or online support.
- Ask and follow their lead when it comes to physical reassurance. Ask before you hug them, hold their hand, etc.
- Let the survivor be in charge of the conversation and always respect their boundaries.
- Don’t ask for details about the assault. Remember that your job is only to listen and support. We are friends, not investigators.
- Respect the survivor’s privacy. Don’t discuss what you are told with others.
- The assault is not about you or your ego. Do not seek revenge against the assailant. Break the cycle of violence.
- Be silent and listen. By allowing them to talk, you let them reclaim their voice.
- Make sure you are finding support for yourself.
- If you find yourself unable to support this individual, either because you are yourself a survivor and are attending to your own process or some other reason, be honest about it.
- If the survivor decides they want medical attention, including treatment of their injuries and testing and treatment for pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) take them to the nearest emergency room. There they will be able to save any evidence in the event that the survivor chooses to press criminal charges against their attacker.
- If the survivor chooses not to get immediate medical attention for the purposes of evidence collection, they should know that they can still seek medical attention and request that their visit be confidential. They do not have to report the assault in order to seek medical treatment.
Here are some helpful things to say:
- I am sorry this happened.
- It’s not your fault.
- I believe you.
- I’m here to listen.
- Thank you for trusting me.
- What do you need from me/us?
- I am here for you and I support you.
- Are you open to receiving medical attention? Professional counseling? Would you like for me to go with you?
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE
Crime Victims Helpline: 1-866-689-HELP
For resources pertaining to sexual assault on campuses: www.notalone.gov
RECOMMENDED READING LIST
The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence
by Gavin de Becker
If you are interested in gaining an awareness of the world around you and learning how to spot signs of danger before it’s too late, this book is an absolute must read. It is the primer by which we created the Girls Fight Back program and should absolutely be required reading for EVERYONE before they graduate from high school. I shared this book with my son when he was fourteen and I am confident that having this knowledge will help him to be safer in the world. Please buy a copy for yourself and your loved ones. Some of my favorite gems from this book include:
“. . . you . . . are an expert at predicting violent behavior. Like every creature, you can know when you are in the presence of danger.”
“Think of charm as a verb, not a trait.”
“Women are expected to be warm and open, and in the context of approaches from male strangers, warmth lengthens the encounter, raises his expectations, increases his investment, and, at best, wastes time. At worst, it serves the man who has sinister intent by providing much of the information he will need to evaluate and then control his prospective victim.”
“’No’ is a word that must never be negotiated, because the person who chooses not to hear it is trying to control you. . . . If you let someone talk you out of the word ‘no’ you might as well wear a sign that reads, ‘You are in charge.’ . . . ‘no’ is a complete sentence.”
“At core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them.”
“People who refuse to let go are becoming more common, and each case teaches us the same valuable lesson: Don’t engage in a war. Wars rarely end well because by definition someone will have to lose.”
“Persistence only proves persistence—it does not prove love. The fact that a romantic pursuer is relentless doesn’t mean you are special—it means he is troubled.”
“When you accept the survival signal as a welcome message and quickly evaluate the environment or situation, fear stops in an instant. Thus, trusting your intuition is the exact opposite of living in fear.”
Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane)
by Gavin de Becker
This follow up book to The Gift of Fear takes the basic lessons from that book and applies them to parenting and keeping our children safe. This is a must read for anyone with kids. Topics in this book include: what to teach our children about talking to strangers, how to interview a prospective babysitter day care provider or school, how to spot sexual predators, what to teach your child about what to do if they are lost, and what to teach your teenagers to help them stay safe.
Beauty Bites Beast: Awakening the Warrior Within Women and Girls
by Ellen Snortland
This book explains why learning self-defense is such an important skill for women and is a great intro to feminism for young women as well! In Ellen’s own words:
“Violence that kills or maims can be as preventable as water injury or drowning. What if you heard of a country where six thousand of its citizens drowned each year, and where 500,000 citizens come very close to drowning? ‘Damn, why don’t those people learn how to swim?’ you would say. You would say that because you are not burdened by the erroneous belief that some people simply cannot or should not learn to swim. Sadly, most human beings are still burdened with the belief that it’s impossible for women to defend themselves or others when confronted with violence. The purpose of this book is to convince you of just how wrong that belief is—and to inspire you to become a ‘beauty’ who fearlessly ‘bites back’ when your safety, or that of a loved one, is threatened.”
In addition to presenting strong arguments for why all women should learn self-defense, Ellen peppers this book with real life stories of survivors. Powerful and an engaging read.
Elizabeth Smart and Chris Stewart
Most people are familiar with the story of Elizabeth Smart, kidnapped from her home at 14 in the summer of 2002 and enduring 9 months of brutal captivity and abuse before being reunited with her family. What you may not know is that she is now a nationally recognized advocate for children’s rights and the President of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation. She also developed a survivor’s guide titled “You’re Not Alone: The Journey from Abduction to Empowerment” designed to help children who have had similar experiences to not give up and know that their lives can go on after these tragic events. Her faith, strength, and pure resilience make this a must read survivor story. She says in her book, “…it’s very important to stress that every survivor must create their own pathway to recovery. What works for one might not work for another…ultimately to get better, I simply made a choice. Life is a journey for us all. We all face trials. We all have ups and downs. All of us are human. But we are also the masters of our fate. We are the ones who decide how we are going to react to life.”
At Girls Fight Back, we focus on using your intuition as one of the greatest tools of personal safety. Gonzales examines how the mind works in patterns to make us more safe at times and at other times to put us in more danger. Awareness is always the key, illustrated by the story he tells of a firefighter who sets his watch alarm to go off every hour during a fire. When that alarm goes off, the firefighter uses it as a reminder to stop to, “…look around and question what he’s doing, what he’s missing, what he ought to notice. Moreover, he stops to consider what he’s feeling in his gut too. Maybe there’s a signal he is ignoring.” We all need a mental alarm to stop and asses to prevent us from going too deep into a “vacation state of mind.” He concludes this book by stating, “Although it’s easy to pass through life as if in a waking dream, we can enrich our lives, make ourselves more effective, and sometimes even cast a protective web around ourselves and our children, by a habit of knowing—a craving to know—our world and ourselves and by the simple act of consciously paying attention.” This is a great read to start you down the path of awareness. Gonzales is also the offer of another great book Deep Survival.
Amanda Ripley’s book, The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes—And Why, focuses on how humans react in disasters or stressful situations and how those reactions can save us or doom us. This intellectual approach to examining human response is both intriguing and enlightening into how you view the normal and the extreme risks that we are all exposed to in our day to day lives. Ripley teaches readers about The Survival Arc which includes the stages of 1) Shock, 2) Deliberation, and 3) The Decisive Moment. If you have ever wondered how you would react in a life or death situation, it is encouraging to know that, “Again and again, studies have shown that people perform better under stress if they think they can handle it.” In other words, dress rehearsal can prepare you for the real thing, which is why, at Girls Fight Back, we advocate empowering self-defense. In addition to muscle memory and critical knowledge, learning self-defense (both verbal and physical) helps women gain confidence. That confidence alone, can one day save your life. “The most important point is that everyone, regardless of IQ, can manufacture self-esteem through training and experience. This is what soldiers and police officers will tell you; that confidence comes from doing.” WE AGREE!
The Safety Godmothers: The ABCs of Awareness, Boundaries and Confidence for Teens
Ellen Snortland and Lisa Gaeta
One of the basics that all children learn when they go to school is the ABC’s. What they don’t usually learn, but all really need, is the ABC’s of safety. Ellen Snortland and Lisa Gaeta have stepped in to fill the void with their essential new book, The Safety Godmothers: The ABC’s of Awareness, Boundaries, and Confidence for Teens. Through the riveting true stories of 26 interviewees, they spell out the basics of what we all need to know to be safe and live with confidence. Topics covered include boundary setting, dating violence/domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, muggings, fear, verbal strategies to escape a bad situation, violence against the LGBT community, de-escalation, how to say no (the right way), and how to physically defend yourself if there is no other option. The book also includes three sections by the nation’s best known expert on the prediction and management of violence, Gavin de Becker, and a thorough appendix with access to more in depth looks at some of the topics covered. This should be a must read for all teens. Girls Fight Back approved!