You thought it was going to be a low-key night, snuggled up on the couch with your sweetie, popcorn in hand. What's better than the Oscars? Chris Rock blasting racism. Mega stars dressed to kill.
And then Lady Gaga takes the stage and gives a heart-breaking rendition of her latest single, "Until It Happens to You," highlighting the perils and trauma of campus sexual violence. When she finishes, she's joined on stage by dozens of survivors. Intense. Powerful. A true Lady Gaga moment.
You hear a sniffle, and look over at your girlfriend to see her eyes filled to the brim with tears. Do you assume she's just moved by the performance? Or do you suspect something deeper might be going on?
As a guy, your next move defines your character. You can offer her a tissue and a hug, and leave it at that. Or you can take the opportunity to deepen your relationship by responding with a little more finesse.
If you suspect your girlfriend is a survivor of sexual violence, here are five simple things you can say (while still handing her a tissue and offering a hug, of course):
Sexual violence is far too common -- and that's unacceptable to me. Whether campus sexual violence, child sexual abuse or other kinds of sexual violence, nearly one out of four women will be impacted in their lifetimes. That should make you really, really angry. It's okay to let your girlfriend know how unacceptable sexual violence is for you -- and that you know how many women -- and men -- are survivors.
I'm here for you. I believe survivors. Survivors need to be heard and believed. It's one of the most important ways to launch a survivor on a pathway to healing. If you have a sneaking suspicion that your girlfriend might have a history of sexual violence, just speak those words out loud. It can go a long way. Maybe you aren't 100% sure if you could handle hearing someone you love share a story of being sexually assaulted or abused. Believe me, you can.
I want to learn more. Know what you don't know. And if you know that you need to learn more about sexual violence prevention, intervention, and response, do it now. Ask your girlfriend where she goes for information. Visit The Enliven Project for information tailored for men. Show up at a workshop on your campus. Educate yourself as much as you can.
Help is out there for survivors -- and they deserve to heal. Too much of the coverage of sexual violence focuses on survivors in the immediate aftermath of assault. As a survivor myself, I can tell you that this trauma is real -- and can have dramatic effects on your life. Many survivors struggle with depression, PTSD, substance abuse, or eating disorders. However, with help and support, survivors can find a way through that darkness and live a life of full potential. A strong support system is part of that - and that's where you come in. But professional help is also usually necessary. Your local rape crisis center can provide free and confidential support -- and refer you to providers for the long term as well.
Let's volunteer together to support survivors. A community of support, where survivors don't have to feel shame or stigma, is a key element of the healing process. Find an organization on your campus or in your community that works with survivors or leads prevention work. Organize an event on their behalf and bring your community together to support the on-the-ground work that matters the most.
If your girlfriend is a survivor, you have first-hand knowledge of what the aftermath of sexual violence looks like, and the long road to healing that survivors face. But you also know the beauty that comes with strength and resilience in the face of trauma. And you know how to be an ally to survivors and champion for the cause. Male voices matter, and are an important part of the movement to end sexual violence.