Common Responses

  • “I don’t know what to say or do.” – We can be good listeners and validating. Let them know about BARCC’s (24-hour hotline: 800.841.8371) that can help with counseling and legal advocacy. 
  • “It wasn’t sexual assault.” – Laws vary by state, but any kind of unwanted sexual touch can be considered sexual assault. It is important to ask for consent to avoid any confusion.
  • “They were sending mixed signals or dressing provocatively. She has a history of problems” – Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. Avoid victim-blaming. Reinforce rights, and asking for consent.
  • “Their space is important and helps a lot of people.” – It’s common for people gain trust and access by using positions of power and their resources. Reinforce acceptable behavior, asking for consent, and making spaces safer.
  • “They’ve always been nice to me. I’m sure they didn’t intend to cause harm. I don’t know who to believe.” – We can still be part of the conversation to raise awareness about sexual assault in general, because it is still big problem that impacts many people:

(1) Intention vs Impact. Sexual assault is unacceptable, and never excused. Victims of sexual assault can experience many long term impacts like PTSD and lost wages.

(2) Most people will know their attackers. Attackers are often in a position of trust and power.

(3) False allegations are rare. It’s common that people don’t come forward because accusers often face a backlash and not being believed. When someone comes forward, it is an act of bravery.

(4) People who commit sexual assault need to be accountable and change their behavior. They need their friends and family to help them understand, rather than make excuses for them, allowing the problem to continue.

Guidelines

  1. If you or someone you know is in immediate need of help following an incident of sexual violence, you can reach BARCC at their 24 hour hotline (800-841-8371)
  2. Balance the victim’s right to privacy with the public’s right to know.
  3. Judge when details are needed for public safety and when they only serve to re- traumatize the victim or reinforce myths about the victim’s role in the attack.
    • Details about the attacker are relevant: physical description, how access was gained, whether a weapon was used, and if additional physical violence was involved.
    • Details about the victim’s private life are NOT relevant, habits, sexual history or physical appearance, for example, do not contribute to the public’s safety and usually lead to victim blaming.
  4. Carefully choose words and phrases to avoid furthering the notion that the victim is culpable for the crime. Consider using alternative terms like:
  5. * “victim” instead of “Innocent victim”— all crime victims are innocent.
    • “reported rape” instead of “rape allegation”. The word “allegation” is not a neutral term and strongly implies doubt.
    • “acquaintance rape” instead of “date rape”. “date rape” is often broadly used in cases where the victim knew the perpetrator, not just when the assault occurred “on a date”.
  6. Reflect trends and realities of sexual assault, including the frequency with which it occurs, and the frequency with which it is committed by an acquaintance as opposed to a stranger. Go to http://barcc.org/information/facts/stats for up-to-date statistics.
  7. Download the full guide at http://www.barcc.org/assets/pdf/Journalists-a_guide.pdf