In recent days, social networks in Quebec have been overwhelmed by testimonies and accusations by women about abuse, harassment and other forms of sexual assault. The victims are numerous and the support is more necessary than ever. Professionals enlighten us on the path to support victims of sexual violence.
How to recognize the signs of sexual violence in a person around him?
“What we observe is that the experiences and consequences of a sexual assault are very different from one person to another,” said Gabrielle Caron, social worker at the Help Center, straight away. and the fight against sexual assault (CALACS) Truce for her. Following an assault, the victim may experience emotional changes – fear, anxiety, shame – and physical changes – eating disorders, pregnancy and STIs.
Over time, the symptoms crystallize and can take a completely different form. “The person can experience flashbacks, nightmares and dissociation. She can also adopt self-destructive behaviors, such as mutilation, ”adds Caron.
Signs of sexual violence are not always visible, however. Defense mechanisms such as forgetting and repression can conceal the effects of a sexual assault. “We must make the loved ones feel guilty. They may not have seen anything. That does not mean that they are bad people ”, underlines as for her the sexologist Maude St-Germain.
What are the different forms of sexual violence?
Sexual violence is not just the act of forcing someone to have sex. There are many forms of sexual violence and each has its own subcategories. The Federation of Women’s Shelters lists several, ranging from the sexual exploitation of a person for pornographic purposes to daily harassment at work, at home and on the street. “Sexual violence is also recurrent jokes, inappropriate comments or rumors that aim to destroy a person’s reputation,” says Ms. St-Germain.
One criterion remains in all forms of sexual violence: there is no presence of consent. Feelings of guilt, uneasiness or fear following an act deemed to be aggressive can also be an indicator of sexual violence. “It is important to listen to what we feel,” reiterates Ms. St-Germain.
What attitudes should be adopted when a person confides that he has been a victim of sexual violence?
When a person confides. This is a crucial nuance. “It is very important not to force a disclosure,” insists Ms. Caron. Even if you have doubts, you have to respect the person’s rhythm. We can underline our support and our presence without imposing a confidence on him. Instead, the loved one can, for example, take this opportunity to learn about the issue of sexual assault. “In the event of disclosure, we then have certain knowledge on which to rely,” continues Ms. Caron.
The discretion and reserve of the relatives of victims of sexual violence should not stop there, as does the initiation of legal proceedings. “It is not the role of the loved one to assess the situation,” explains Ms. St-Germain. He or she must respect what the victim wants to do, even if it is nothing. “
The most important thing is to listen to the person, taking care to be objective, to remove their personal glasses, often tinged with preconceived ideas and stereotypes. In this sense, let the victim speak in his own words and not ask too many questions. The loved one must also avoid reacting too strongly: their emotions should not take the space of those of the victim. “These are attitudes that are not always easy, but that give small powers, both to the loved one and to the victim,” believes Ms. Caron.
What to do if you are in doubt about the safety of a victim of sexual assault?
While it is important to respect a victim’s requests for confidentiality, it may be tempting to contact the police in situations where there are concerns about their safety. However, this is a solution of last resort, which can be very harmful to the person concerned. “These are very harsh steps, which will infringe on the rights of the victim to ensure their safety,” says Caron.
According to her, the best approach is one that is done in transparency. “When we have reasonable doubts about the security of the person, we first express our concerns. Then, if it does not work, we explain to him what our steps will be and we ask him to accompany us in them. Thus, nothing is done behind the victim’s back, and the bond of trust between the two parties is further strengthened.
How to protect yourself?
Relatives are the blind spot of the problem of sexual assaults. Between the emotional burden of a disclosure and the pressure (often inflicted by oneself) to accompany the victim in long and painful proceedings, loved ones sometimes suffer more than they let it appear. “A disclosure can play a role in the personal problems of the loved one. The person may have experienced sexual violence before. It can turn her upside down, question her about her past experiences or her own behaviors, ”illustrates Ms. St-Germain.
The sexologist insists: a loved one can and must impose their limits. If he feels overwhelmed by the situation, there are solutions to preserve his mental health, while respecting the victim’s requests. “The relative could ask to contact resources that respect the concept of confidentiality, for example a hotline. “
Most of CALACS provide services for loved ones of victims of sexual assault. Support groups, hotlines and professional counseling are also part of the range of resources available to loved ones. One thing is certain: everyone has the right to help. “Relatives, like those who are denounced, concludes Ms. St-Germain. It is by healing each of our wounds that we will be able to live in peace, in a world less marked by violence. “
Toll free line for victims of sexual assault (everywhere in Quebec): 1 888 933-9007