Supporting the whole person: Strategies to help sexual assault survivors of all identities

Reading Time: 10 minutes Certain sexual assault survivors may experience marginalization based on their race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, class, sexual orientation, or gender. Keep these strategies in mind as you support your friend through this difficult time.

Ask the counselor: “How do I survive in a racist community?”

Reading Time: 2 minutes

—Gala C., Dordt College, Iowa

It’s not easy being in a community that you feel has hatred toward others because of their race. It’s stressful to hear negative comments or see discrimination and feel like there isn’t much you can do to stop it. Racism is also bad for your health. Research has shown that the everyday stress of racism can harm your mental and physical health, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

You might find you become filled with hate toward those who are racist. But don’t match hate with hate; meet it with heart.

Heart is reminding yourself that those people’s beliefs and actions aren’t based in reality. Racism and other forms of hatred often come from lack of information and understanding about others. They’ve been taught something that’s untrue. Over time, with exposure to new ideas or to people from other groups, it’s possible that they can gain more acceptance. Heart is understanding that there’s a better way to live, and even things as horrible as racism can be overcome.

If you do plan to talk to people about their actions or beliefs surrounding racism, here are some tips:

  • Take time to discuss with them your positive experiences with people of other races.
  • Remind them of the great contributions different races have made.
  • Appeal to the good parts of their personality when they want to instinctively react with hate. For example, remind someone of their religious values (e.g., being a person of peace) or recall how much they suffered through a bullying experience as a way to create empathy toward the individuals who are being attacked.
  • Pick times for these discussions when things are neutral and everyone is calm.

Don’t try to argue and lash out; that probably won’t end well. Remember: Hate will lead to hate. Help them relearn a better way.

Group of friends on lawn with backs turned

Becoming an agent for change

As for yourself, another way to deal with racism is to become a person of positive change. For example, join an organization in your community or an online organization that works toward unity, or start your own. This way, you’re around like-minded people of other races who can support you.

You can also educate yourself about what racism is, learn the history of efforts to overcome racism, and look up resources to help address racial equity. A great place to start is the Racial Equality Resource Guide, which offers tool kits, a list of organizations across the country, and other resources to help you in your effort to effect change.

Stay calm

When you’ve confronted something that has you seething and you need to calm down now, practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, exercise, and engaging in activities that bring you joy.

When is it time to go?

If you feel physically in danger, consider leaving the community. Sometimes the best efforts to make a change take time and distance. If you’re still living at home or aren’t financially able to leave just yet, you can still make a plan. Start to identify the places that you can live or spend time in where diversity is valued.