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Believing Victims When Someone You Know or Admire Is Accused of Sexual Violence

We are at a critical moment in American history. Time Magazine just named “The Silence Breakers” as its person of the year for 2017, honoring all those who spoke out against sexual abusers. While we believe that no victim of sexual violence should ever feel compelled or pressured to talk about her or his experience in any way, we acknowledge that those who have chosen to do so, including Tarana Burke who started the #metoo movement more than a decade ago, have created an opportunity for significant change.

At Blackburn Center, we believe victims. We are heartened that much of our society has chosen to believe those victims who are now telling their stories, and we anticipate that this change will result in more support and resources for all who need it, regardless of whether or not they choose to publicly share their experiences. We also hope that this movement will result in an overall change in our society, so that this type of violence is no longer seen as inevitable — and the next generation will be raised free from the inequality, toxic gender norms and other forces that lead to sexual and other forms of gender-based violence.

When it comes to believing victims, one complicating factor for many people is what to do when the accused is someone you love, know or admire. It can be hard to reconcile the fact that someone who has treated you well — or seems to have treated others well — may have harmed another person. Yet as we have noted in the past, simply because a person has not hurt you does not mean that he or she has not abused another person. It is possible that someone you have respected – for example, a friend, relative, favorite actor or comedian, or a politician you have supported – has treated a woman, child or man terribly and still been kind and loving towards you, still produced great art, or still sponsored laws that benefit victims of sexual violence. Like all people, abusers are complex, and they can be capable of great things while also being violent and predatory.

A stereotype of sexual predators is that they are always the proverbial stranger hiding in the bushes. In reality, the opposite is true; the vast majority of predators choose to victimize someone known to them. For this reason, it is not surprising that many of us may know people who have sexually abused and harassed others. The question then becomes how we respond to it when we realize that someone we know, and perhaps like, is accused of sexual abuse or assault.

While choosing to confront an abuser is something that each person must decide for himself or herself, it is normal to feel a wide range of emotions if you learn that someone you care about has been sexually abusive. There are a number of actions that you can take to continue to support victims of sexual violence, such as donating to sexual violence prevention organizations like Blackburn Center, pledging to examine your own actions, speaking up when you hear sexist comments, and setting an example for your children and others.

One of the most important aspects of this process is to continue to honor victims by making the choice to believe them. Supporting victims of sexual violence is critical, even as you process the complex emotions that often accompany learning that someone that you love may be an abuser. As always, we are here if you need to talk. Our hotline is open 24/7, is confidential, can be anonymous, and is available free of charge: 1-888-832-2272 or 724-836-1122.

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