Taking a Stand to Believe Victims and Survivors of Sexual Assault

As few as one in five sexual violence victims ever report their assault, so it is crucial that if a victim chooses to disclose, they are met with support.

Since April 2011, Start by Believing has been an annual campaign that End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) launched to increase awareness of sexual assault and improve societal responses to victim disclosures. The campaign has made a profound impact in the lives of survivors, paving the way for safe and supportive environments for survivors to disclose. So on the first Wednesday of every April, EVAWI encourages people all over the world to “Start By Believing” victims and survivors about their experiences. Too often victims are met with disbelief, blame, and anger while going through one of the most traumatic events in their lives, and it can make all the difference if their stories are met with acceptance and support.

It’s hard for victims to talk about what happened to them

Sexual violence happens — whether it occurs in an abusive relationship, date rape, or sexual assault by a stranger — and it happens often. But as few as one in five victims ever report their assailant after an assault happens. Here are some facts to put the reality of some victims’ experiences into perspective and shed light on why many victims and survivors keep quiet after an assault:

  • Sexual violence is tragically common. Over half of women and almost 1 in 3 men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetimes. [CDC]

  • Many victims choose not to report. Research shows that only 5-20% of victims report their sexual assault to law enforcement, and less than half seek medical care. Many victims choose not to report because they are scared of the perpetrator, they fear not being believed, being blamed, or they are embarrassed and ashamed of what happened. [EVAWI]

  • Justice is not easily won. Of 100 forcible rapes, only 0.4 to 5.4 will be prosecuted, 0.2 to 5.2 will result in a conviction, and 0.2 to 2.8 will result in incarceration of the perpetrator. Many victims already know this when deciding not to disclose. [EVAWI]

A victim has a lot to deal with in the aftermath of an assault, and misplaced judgment or disbelief makes their experience even more challenging. It can make an incredible impact if the first response to a survivor’s story is an understanding and trusting one. 

Take a pledge today to support victims

Victims and survivors have a lot of pressure surrounding them — whether they choose to disclose or not. If they choose to tell a trusted family member or friend, that does not mean they will want to report to law enforcement. When someone has experienced any kind of sexual assault, control has been taken away from them, and it's important that we create support systems that allow survivors to begin to regain some of their sense of control and safety. As a support person, you have an opportunity to believe them and help them through the steps they choose to take.

If you want to help change the world for the better for victims and survivors, take a pledge today to always believe first when someone tells you about a sexual assault, and sign the Start by Believing petition to support victim-centered approaches to sexual assault. How you respond to someone in the midst of pain matters, and you have the choice to believe them.


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