The recent news involving the Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has gotten me thinking about how we are a society respond to victims and survivors. Far too often survivors are met with victim-blaming statements and questioned by folks who do not understand the dynamics of sexual assault. At GNESA, we believe that it is crucial to support all the survivors who bravely come forward with their story. Supporting all survivors of gender-based violence is essential. Supporting survivors is vital because many survivors like Dr. Ford face substantial barriers by coming forward and speaking publicly about their experience of sexual violence. Those barriers include not being believed, ongoing threats, harassment, retaliation, minimization, and denial of their experience. As a society, we need to treat victims and survivors with respect by creating spaces where they feel safe to come forward.
Treating survivors with respect means more than just that, though. For example, we have to understand that survivors will often request confidentiality or privacy. And, that request for confidentiality does not reduce the veracity of their claims. Sometimes a victim seeks confidentiality or privacy because they have experienced PTSD, depression, or mental health challenges. They may have concerns about family and friends finding out about the assault or having their identity revealed by the news media. We also know that for some victims, navigating a criminal justice process may exacerbate their trauma. Other concerns could be about becoming pregnant, contracting a sexually transmitted infection, or having their sexual history examined in a courtroom. These cases are not as simplistic as some would have you believe. How we as a community treat Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has meaning for survivors all over the world. Survivors are noticing how we show up in those moments. Do we navigate those moments in a way that is respectful of people and their truth or do we shame, belittle, and question them as they navigate difficult moments in their lives?
Above all, we have to have spaces for survivors to feel safe. We have to have spaces for survivors to be supported. We have to have spaces for survivors to be believed. We have to respect survivors’ wishes for confidentiality and privacy. Part of our work as people is to take care of one another, which means examining our own actions and whether we have ignored things that worried us. Also, we have to be real about if we have ever behaved in ways that contribute to a culture of disrespect that allows for sexual harassment or misconduct. We have to be real about if we have perpetrated violence or if we have stood idly by while violence has been perpetrated. If you see something, then say something. Call attention to behaviors that are harassing, sexist, or coercive. That is what it means to be safe. That is what it means to promote safe spaces. Everyone deserves that. What are you doing to be a safe space for others?