On consent: the familiar face of sexual assault and abuse.

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April is Sexual Abuse/Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (#SAAPM, #SAAM). This is the second article I’m posting about the subject. Because the first step in fighting the silent epidemic of sexual crimes is awareness. You can read the first article, on how to support a survivor, by clicking here.

The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available by phone (800.656.HOPE) and online (online.rainn.org). Talk with someone who is trained to help anytime, 24/7.  

You’ve heard it before.

The old line that “no” never means “yes.”

But maybe that bears repeating.

NO NEVER MEANS YES.

According to RAINN, nearly 1/3 of sexual assaults are by people the victim knows. This means they’re in a situation where they ought to be able to say no, but the other party refuses to listen, refuses to respect, and at the end of the day, commits a crime with a lifetime of horrific implications.

The numbers are even more horrifying for minors. The majority of children under 18 who are abused, molested, and assaulted and who KNOW THEIR PERPETRATOR is a whopping 93%.

I can personally testify to the accuracy of this one. 

Those friendly little sleepovers? The relative who’s a little too touchy-feely and insists on getting a child alone? The coach, uncle, aunt, neighbor who takes a special interest in your child? There are warning signs…although many child molestors and family members who commit incest are often charismatic, the “life of the party,” likable, and pathological experts at hiding their crimes. I’ll post more about this topic later. (And click here for important information on warning signs.)

In the meantime, RAINN has a number of great resources on exactly what sexual consent is, and is not, including the article below, provided as a resource for #SAAPM.

Share this with someone you love.

Because no never means yes.

And learning those boundaries could save someone a lifetime of hurt.

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What Consent Looks Like

from RAINN.org

The laws about consent vary by state and situation. It can make the topic confusing, but you don’t have to be a legal expert to understand how consent plays out in real life.

What is consent? 

Consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity. There are many ways to give consent, and some of those are discussed below. Consent doesn’t have to be verbal, but verbally agreeing to different sexual activities can help both you and your partner respect each other’s boundaries.

How does consent work in real life?

When you’re engaging in sexual activity, consent is about communication. And it should happen every time. Giving consent for one activity, one time, does not mean giving consent for increased or recurring sexual contact. For example, agreeing to kiss someone doesn’t give that person permission to remove your clothes. Having sex with someone in the past doesn’t give that person permission to have sex with you again in the future.

You can change your mind at any time. 

You can withdraw consent at any point if you feel uncomfortable. It’s important to clearly communicate to your partner that you are no longer comfortable with this activity and wish to stop. The best way to ensure both parties are comfortable with any sexual activity is to talk about it.

Positive consent can look like this:

  • Communicating when you change the type or degree of sexual activity with phrases like “Is this OK?”
  • Explicitly agreeing to certain activities, either by saying “yes” or another affirmative statement, like “I’m open to trying.”
  • Using physical cues to let the other person know you’re comfortable taking things to the next level

It does NOT look like this:

  • Refusing to acknowledge “no”
  • Assuming that wearing certain clothes, flirting, or kissing is an invitation for anything more
  • Someone being under the legal age of consent, as defined by the state
  • Someone being incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol
  • Pressuring someone into sexual activity by using fear or intimidation
  • Assuming you have permission to engage in a sexual act because you’ve done it in the past

Related:

If you’ve experienced sexual assault, you’re not alone. To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.

Legal Disclaimer
The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) website provides general information that is intended, but not guaranteed, to be correct and up-to-date. The information is not presented as a source of legal advice. You should not rely, for legal advice, on statements or representations made within the website or by any externally referenced Internet sites. If you need legal advice upon which you intend to rely in the course of your legal affairs, consult a competent, independent attorney. RAINN does not assume any responsibility for actions or non-actions taken by people who have visited this site, and no one shall be entitled to a claim for detrimental reliance on any information provided or expressed.

How to support a survivor: #SAAPM month series.

If you’ve followed me for long, you know I’ve always been an advocate for sexual abuse and assault survivors. In fact, my first novel How Sweet the Sound was written as a response to questions I had for the Lord about the subject. (Incidentally, this book will be re-released this fall! Stay tuned for details.)

Each April I do what I can to promote awareness about the subject, in tandem with efforts from non-profits like RAINN.org and others. Shining light into this dark and devastating subject is the first step in combating the evil. Coming alongside survivors is another.

Today’s post is about how to come alongside a survivor, and is one of a few blog posts I’ll release this month with helpful tips from RAINN. How Sweet the Sound tells the story of a survivor as she navigates her own healing journey. A big part of this story is about the friends who come alongside and support her. I wrote it with particular care and sensitivity, based on years of research, talking to survivor groups, and my own recovery. so that survivors could read it and find hope without feeling too triggered.

The following are facts and a helpful message on how to help survivors from RAINN.org:

Sexual violence affects nearly every household in America. Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted, and every eight minutes a child is sexually abused.

One in six American women and one in 33 men have experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes.

On average, there are 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.

When someone you care about tells you they’ve been sexually assaulted or abused, it can be a lot to handle. A supportive reaction can make all the difference, but that doesn’t mean it comes easy. Encouraging words and phrases can avoid judgment and show support for the survivor.

Consider these phrases:

“I’m sorry this happened.”

Acknowledge that the experience has affected their life. Phrases like “This must be really tough for you,” and, “I’m so glad you are sharing this with me,” help to communicate empathy.

“It’s not your fault.”

Survivors may blame themselves, especially if they know the perpetrator personally. Remind the survivor, maybe even more than once, that they are not to blame.

“I believe you.”

It can be extremely difficult for survivors to come forward and share their story. They may feel ashamed, concerned that they won’t be believed, or worried they’ll be blamed. Leave any “why” questions or investigations to the experts—your job is to support this person. Be careful not to interpret calmness as a sign that the event did not occur—everyone responds differently. The best thing you can do is to believe them.

“You are not alone.”

Remind the survivor that you are there for them and willing to listen to their story. Remind them there are other people in their life who care and that there are service providers who will be able to support them as they recover from the experience.

“Are you open to seeking medical attention?”

The survivor might need medical attention, even if the event happened a while ago. You can support the survivor by offering to accompany them or find more information. It’s okay to ask directly, “Are you open to seeking medical care?”

“You can trust me.”

If a survivor opens up to you, it means they trust you. Reassure them that you can be trusted and will respect their privacy. Always ask the survivor before you share their story with others. If a minor discloses a situation of sexual abuse, you are required in most situations to report the crime. Let the minor know that you have to tell another adult, and ask them if they’d like to be involved.

“This doesn’t change how I think of you.”

Some survivors are concerned that sharing what happened will change the way other people see them, especially a partner. Reassure the survivor that surviving sexual violence doesn’t change the way you think or feel about them.

Continued Support

There’s no timetable when it comes to recovering from sexual violence.

If someone trusted you enough to disclose the event to you, consider the following ways to show your continued support.

Avoid judgment.

It can be difficult to watch a survivor struggle with the effects of sexual assault for an extended period of time. Avoid phrases that suggest they’re taking too long to recover such as, “You’ve been acting like this for a while now,” or “How much longer will you feel this way?”

Check in periodically.

The event may have happened a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean the pain is gone. Check in with the survivor to remind them you still care about their well-being and believe their story.

Know your resources.

You’re a strong supporter, but that doesn’t mean you’re equipped to manage someone else’s health. Become familiar with resources you can recommend to a survivor, like the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800.656.HOPE (4673) and online.rainn.org.

Remember that the healing process is fluid. Everyone has bad days. Don’t interpret flashbacks, bad days, or silent spells as “setbacks.” It’s all part of the process.

The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available by phone (800.656.HOPE) and online (online.rainn.org). Talk with someone who is trained to help anytime, 24/7.

Miracles at midnight.

I got my first pair of progressives recently.

Friends who’d already celebrated that midlife milestone warned me to go easy on the stairs. The eye doctor told me to get used to pointing my noise at what I want to look at. And I marveled at the modern miracle of watching TV and reading at the same time.

I had taken for granted the ability to focus on the near and the far simultaneously.

Me and my new progressive specs. (Photo cred: selfie)

I’m currently reading a rather long-haired, transcendentalist-style book by Annie Dillard called Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. It’s a book to be read in much the same way I imagine she wrote it…slowly, savoring each word, turning over phrases like she turned over rocks to study entire, unexpected squirming communities of life living beneath them. I’ve underlined and dog-eared half the book (and I’m only half-finished). I love it.

One phrase, in particular, stood out to me today:

“These are our few live seasons. Let us live them as purely as we can, in the present.” ~Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Considering I’d just spent two hours at the local super store with half of the rest of my town, I was immediately convicted of the fact that I most certainly am not–nor have I been–living in the present. Part of it is the holiday season: no matter how determined I am on December first to have a calm and peaceful month, I always feel stressed by the end of it. Getting three kids through finals, Christmas budgeting and shopping, and my Scrooge-ish tendencies don’t help. The other part of it is the fact that…

…I just can’t reconcile the broken places of the world with the shimmer and shine and fuss and rush and packages tied up with strings.

Maybe you can’t either.

But maybe we don’t have to.

Maybe we’re not supposed to.

It’s hard to see life up close and apart from ourselves. And yet, no matter how many strings of light we hang or gifts we wrap or candles we light, no matter how many Christmas songs we sing or cards we send or Hallmark movies we watch, the broken world is still there. Our broken lives are still there.

No wonder our culture brazenly flings itself at all the distractions of the holidays. It’s a lot tougher to live real and in the present, after all. The present means being still long enough to notice the pain in others and in ourselves. The present means living with the tension of unfinished goals and imperfect loved ones and untied bows.

But the present and the broken, well, that’s where the miracles occur.

And that’s why so many of us miss them.

When we keep ourselves busy, we lack the focus needed to see that love didn’t come when things were fixed up and dressed up and fancy.

Love came to a world of hurt and mess.

Love didn’t come in a sleigh or on a stage or to an audience.

Love came to a girl in a barn.

Love didn’t come on a bright, sunny day.

Love came kindly.

Love came gently.

And love came in the pitch, black night.

It’s not easy to look up from our phones, to give up on the contest to give more, be more and do more in this season. To do so means coming face-to-face with our inadequacies and the dark places in our hearts we’d rather avoid. But to do so means discovering a whole new way of living. To do means seeing joy can co-exist in the near and the far, the past and the future, and the broken and the healed.

Miracles, after all, don’t happen in times of plenty.

Miracles come when we’re at the end of our rope, when there’s not enough oil to keep the flame burning, when there’s not enough of us to go around.

Miracles come at midnight.

My favorite Christmas song lines are from this stanza of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear:

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

Rest, dear friends.

The road is weary.

My form is bending low, right along with yours.

But rest anyway.

You just might hear the angels.

Enjoy this beautiful rendition of the song by Sara Groves: