This month, I had the privilege of engaging with lots of different kinds of people in conversations about sexual violence. Between a session with SheGeeksOut, a night at MIT with Duane DeFour and an op-ed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, I heard from a diverse group of people on the ways in which sexual violence is challenging to discuss. There are three themes worth sharing:
- When we start talking about this issue, men and women naturally start thinking about the survivors in their lives, and often wonder how to bring up the topic with them again in an appropriate way. Well, it obviously depends a little bit on who the survivor is, who you are, and your relationship, but here are some ideas and suggestions:
- Be direct. “Hey, I just wanted you to know that if you ever want to talk about your experience as a survivor, I’m here for you.”
- Drop some breadcrumbs. You can open the door by talking about attending or watching something educational about sexual violence, inviting the survivor to an event like the Walk for Change, or sharing empowering messages for survivors on a social media account you know they follow.
- Set realistic expectations for yourself. Even if it doesn’t turn into a big, deep conversation, you are doing a small part in making their experience as a survivor less lonely and stigmatized.
- Activists and advocates sometimes express frustration of having to explain sexual violence to less informed colleagues, mostly men in the tech industry. This totally makes sense to me! You can be tired of talking about this, even if I’m not. Some quick thoughts on how to deal:
- Do what you can. It takes A LOT of conversations to counter our culture of shame, blame and silence. Most parents don’t talk to their children. Most schools don’t provide comprehensive education on this topic. You do not need to feel responsible for changing the world by yourself. There are lots of us working on this.
- Get curious, not furious. Find out WHY people hold the views they hold. Lots of people are awkward when they talk about this issue, and understandably so.
- Remember male survivors. An estimated one in six men are survivors of sexual abuse or assault themselves. We cannot forget these survivors when speaking broadly about this issue.
- Take care of yourself. Set boundaries. This is a key part of creating a culture of free of sexual violence. Find solidarity with others. Exercise self-care. Take a break. Walk away sometimes.
- Finally, during conversations with young men and others, I hear about the fear of saying the wrong thing – a fear that sometimes prevents people from speaking up.
- Practice taking your foot out of your mouth. “Wow, I’m going to just shut up and listen now.” “That did not come out the way I intended. Let me try again after I do some listening.”
- Ask practical questions. I’ll answer any question you have about sexual violence on Facebook or Twitter. If you still feel to shy to ask, watch one of the Facebook Live videos or check out my YouTube channel.
- Take some risks. As awful as it feels to say the wrong thing, it’s not as awful as being sexually assaulted or abused. That’s just the truth. So take a deep breath, and jump on into a conversation.
My ability to talk about sexual violence doesn’t come from magic. It comes from practice. I’ve had thousands of conversations about sexual violence in my lifetime. You can get better at talking about sexual violence too, if you start practicing today.