After the media fallout stemming from the accusations of sexual harassment, abuse, rape, and coercion by Harvey Weinstein and other Hollywood personalities, social media began to see the #MeToo movement. Women who have been sexually oppressed in any manner have been posting the hashtag “#MeToo” on the internet. Some followed it up with a brief explanation of its purpose to spread awareness, some went into detail on their personal experiences, and some simply typed and posted those two words.
The #MeToo movement itself is credited as being started in 2006 by social activist Tarana Burke, encouraging MySpace users to post. Eleven years later, the movement received a rebirth from actress Alyssa Milano, on more updated social media platforms. I gathered with a small group of colleagues to sit down and discuss their thoughts and experiences with sexual oppression, as a means of getting a better understanding and spreading awareness on the topic. This series chronicles that discussion.
We Can Help
In the last three months of 2017, many stories of sexual oppression have surfaced, and more are sure to pop up in the future. Our society and history have been wounded for quite some time now. Those who have perpetuated this wound have been covering it up with a bandage for so long now, but it has only grown and decomposed to the point where it can’t be ignored anymore. In light of all this, what can we do to help? How do we help those who have been oppressed?
Sharing Their Story: Do’s and Don’ts
If someone is brave enough to share their story with you, listen and offer your support. If they only share the bare basics of the story, don’t pry for details. Chances are, if they wanted to provide them, they would have.
Don’t ask how they could have avoided the abuse— that will likely only fill them with doubt and self-blame. Never question the validity of their statements; if you have doubts, keep them to yourself. Minimizing someone’s experience in any way could end up being more damaging than the experience itself.
While they are sharing, avoid cutting them off or trying to share how you can relate to them. They may have been preparing for weeks or months what they are going to say and how they are going to say it. By cutting them off, you may end up causing them to close up and stop sharing.
When they finish, make sure you thank them for trusting you to share their experience. Some people are very selective in choosing who they share with, and some people only trust one person only with their story.
If you want to sympathize or empathize with them, whether that is sharing sadness or anger, that is okay, as long as your emotions and words are of support for them and not in judgment of them. Remember to stay positive and encouraging. Let them know that you love and support them no matter what and that you don’t think of them any differently after learning of their experience. It would be helpful to offer them extra love and support, especially if the person sharing is a child.
Language Is Important
When talking to someone about such a vulnerable moment, the words that you use can have a lot of power. Remember that the word “victim” can have negative connotations not only to the public but to the person who has had to deal with the offense. “Survivor” has more positive connotations that can help the person who has dealt with sexual oppression to better recover and move on with their lives.
Using phrases like “I understand” instead of “I know” can change the way you are perceived by the person sharing. This can change the impact that you have on them while they share. Remember though, they likely did not come to you for answers, but for you to listen. If you show that you are available to offer and maintain support, they’re likely to understand that they can trust you, and may come back to open up more.
Asking for advice after this kind of situation may be too difficult for them to bring up on their own. Instead of suggesting what they “should” do, try using the phrase, “What do you need me to do?” If they do end up feeling that they need advice after you’ve asked what they need you do do, and you’ve let them know that you are available to help, they may end up back coming to you later on.
If you do want to offer advice, make sure to phrase it carefully; “One thing that helps me when I’m upset…” or “I know someone in a similar situation who did…” are careful ways of offering advice instead of telling them what they “should” do. If you are still unsure of how to help, offer resources or other people or groups meant for sharing stories of sexual oppression. If they don’t need advice or help, though, respect that and don’t push the issue.
Helping Children Understand Their Own Autonomy
As discussed in earlier volumes, children are not immune to sexual oppression. They are vulnerable because they are still developing their understanding of love, respect, right and wrong. Although one doesn’t have to go into the horrific details that come with sexual oppression when speaking with a child, you can instill values to help children save themselves from these situations.
Teaching children that they don’t have to hug or kiss someone if they don’t feel comfortable is normal. Teach them that they have the right to say “no” when it comes to their private parts. Help them understand that “no” means no. If a child says “no” to something, respect that, and stop. Even if they might not mean “no” at the time, by respecting the word for them, they will learn to respect the word and only use it when they do mean it.
With that, when you as an adult say “no” to something, make sure that you mean it and are firm with it. Children may try to charm you or plead with you to get something that they want. If you stand your ground on the word “no,” you also teach them to respect the word. Giving a rational explanation behind your “no” can help them to better understand the intention behind it. By developing the skills to say no and opening up the pathways of trust, we can help children potentially save themselves from sexual oppression, or at least help them open up if they have been attacked so they can get the help that they need afterward.
Let your child know that no matter what they end up sharing with you, no matter the severity, that you will not change your opinion of them and will love them just the same. This is something that they need to hear, which can be practiced on a regular basis. Children have bad things happen to them and they may feel shame for different things. When they share with you, tell them and show them love and support so that they know that they can always come to you, no matter what.
If you are willing to be open for someone to share with you, let it be known. You may end up helping someone find the strength to talk simply because they know you are available. Remember, everyone heals at different paces. An event that occurred decades ago could still be raw in the mind of the person who endured it. Be positive, be supportive, and be open to talking and/or listening when it comes to such a serious topic. By having these conversations, you are taking steps towards helping prevent sexual oppression in the future.
For more resources about Sexual Assault, Violence, Victim Assistance, and other forms of Sexual Oppression visit www.rainn.org/national-resources-sexual-assault-survivors-and-their-loved-ones or call (800) 656-HOPE (4673)
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