Northwest Missourian Opinion

Women no longer need to stay quiet — a statement widely used but rarely respected. Sexual violence isn’t something to sweep under the rug, and survivors have the right to be heard, understood and most importantly, respected.

Everyone prides themselves on being a sexual violence advocate. One thing we, as a society, don’t take into account is the weight survivors carry on their shoulders every day. Every survivor handles their personal trauma differently, so it’s hard to tell how well they’re actually carrying that weight.

While being a sexual violence advocate and speaking up for others should be on everyone’s to-do list, the survivors should always come first. You should put aside your personal beliefs and morals to be attentive. This doesn’t just mean listening; it means giving feedback and assisting them through anything they’re going to need going forward.

I was pissed after hearing about the recent controversies with the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It hurt to see the amount of women crying, dreading to be seen outside as stories similar to their own echoed across campus.

If someone entrusts their experiences of sexual violence to you, keep that information confidential. This includes your best friend or your parents. Of course, you’re entitled to freedom of speech, but it’d be wise to consider how much power this information holds.

Survivors live their daily lives embarrassed to admit they’re a survivor of sexual violence. For most women, saying they’re survivors and not victims can take months or years to accept. When someone opens up to another person about this trauma, it takes more effort than many may realize. There’s a slight chance that revealing their trauma won’t harm them, but there’s a better chance they won’t show up to class the next day because you shared it with untrustworthy ears.

Our generation can make changes to create a better world for those after us. If this is something we believe, then why are we still disrespecting the privacy of others? Why are we still hurting each other?

I’ve seen the damage sexual violence does to a person. It’s, essentially, their life falling apart because a man decided to lie about the harm he caused while everyone points fingers at the survivor. It doesn’t matter what she was wearing or how drunk she was; she was not the one to blame.

Although men aren’t the only perpetrators in sexual assaults, more times than not, a man will be the aggressor toward a woman. Regardless, no actions should occur without the presence of consent.

Unfortunately, almost every survivor has heard the words “get over it” in some aspect. They’re looking for the one person that won’t turn them down, someone who will listen to their story. Just listening — not telling other people.

For all of the stories told, dozens more remain hidden. Plenty of women sit in silence because they’re afraid to be wrongfully deemed a liar.

Hearing about an assault that happened to someone you care about is one of the hardest things to listen to, but it’s still not your story. You’re not in charge of solving the problem, you’re there to assist them with anything they need.

In elementary school, teachers taught all of us to think before we speak. At least in my school, we were lectured on how badly words can hurt people, directly and indirectly. Then there was the “treat others the way you want to be treated” conversation. Before you tell someone about another person’s experience, think about whether you would want someone to be sharing this about you.

Be present and be aware of the people around you. Don’t share other people’s stories and life experiences if they’re not yours to tell. It’s the respectful thing to do.

We can’t change the past or the things that happened to survivors, but we can make the world a better place for them — for everyone. Survivors come first. Listen to them and what they need from you.

To report a sexual assault or speak with a sexual assault advocate, call UPD at 660-562-1254. The National Sexual Assault Hotline is 1-800-656-HOPE. For more information on the North Star Advocacy Center call 660-562-2320. The Toll-Free Crisis Line is 1-866-382-7867.

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