Start By Believing FAQs
How we respond to sexual assault disclosures affects everyone. Other victims of sexual violence, and even future victims, are watching to see how someone is treated when they disclose a sexual assault. A negative response – disbelief, blaming, questioning, minimizing – can worsen the trauma and make it less likely that victims will rept to police or seek confidential services they need. This fosters an environment where perpetrators are not held accountable. Some research indicates perpetrators will sexually assault several people over their lifetimes. When we keep victims silent, we create future victims and perpetuate the cycle of violence.
Start by Believing is about supporting victims through their struggle. It is not about skipping due process or assuming the accused is guilty. It’s about believing that a victim has been through a traumatic experience and offering the resources they need to work through it and heal. It is up to the system – judicial or Title IX policy process – to do the rest.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I do if someone discloses a sexual assault to me?
If someone discloses to you:
- Listen with empathy and without judgment. Let them tell you as much or as little as they want.
- Ask “How can I help you?”
- Help identify resources for victims of sexual violence, but it is up to them which resources they want to use.
- Avoid “why” questions: these can sound accusatory and make survivors blame themselves.
Remember: Who to tell and when to tell them is up to the survivor. Victims of sexual assault often feel like their options have been taken from them. Putting decisions back in their hands is part of the healing process.
What to say:
- “I’m sorry this happened to you, and I’m here for you.”
- “You can tell me as much or as little as you want.”
- “It’s not your fault.”
- “I’m glad you told me. What can I do to support you?”
- “Do you want to contact an advocate or report it to anyone? I can go to the hospital or police with you.”
Who should Start by Believing?
Even if you may not be aware of it, you likely know someone who has experienced sexual violence. We are talking to everyone across our whole community. Victims can be anyone, any gender, from all walks of life, and every culture.
USU’s 2017 campus climate survey on sexual misconduct tells us that 63 percent of those who said they had experienced sexual assault told a roommate or friend. That gives friends and roommates an enormous opportunity to have a positive impact in the lives of victims and in our community.
Why do we need a campaign specifically for sexual assault victims?
“Start by Believing” means shifting the response from blame to support when survivors disclose incidents of sexual violence. Historically, victims of sexual violence have been blamed for the crimes against them in ways victims of other crimes have not. This approach discourages survivors from reporting, fails to hold perpetrators accountable, and makes it more difficult for them to seek and receive the support they need to heal from such traumatic experiences.
What does victim-blaming sound like?
We’ve all heard statements that blame victims. Some are more subtle, but they still do a lot of damage.
“She should have known better.”
“What did he expect?”
“Did you see what she was wearing?”
“She shouldn’t have gotten so wasted.”
“Why didn’t she fight back?”
“Guys always want it.”
“Why didn’t she just leave?”
“She was asking for it.”
“But he’s (or she’s) such a good person.”
What about due process?
“Start by Believing” does not mean we forget about due process, it means we recognize and confront our own biases and recognize how these biases influence how we view survivors of sexual violence. These biases may include our beliefs about what a rape really looks like – violent, by a stranger – or what a victim looks like – innocent, female. Our biases could include beliefs about spousal duty, morality, modesty or sexual orientation. They could also include our thoughts about the accused and their place in society. In the past, these biases worked against victims, making it even more difficult for them to report.
What about false allegations?
The term “false allegation” means a person reports a crime they know did not happen as they say it did. Though we know there are false reports of sexual violence, just like false reports about other crimes, research shows that these are rare.
National research shows that false allegations of sexual assault are very uncommon; only around 5 percent of reports are false. A bigger problem is that, across the nation, three-quarters of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.
Why do many victims not report or report years later?
We know that victims of sexual violence experience a unique kind of trauma. It is intensely personal, and many victims fear the response of the community or police. They have seen people turn against victims in the past, whether in nationally prominent cases or local ones. Even when evidence is preserved, the case is prosecuted, and a perpetrator is convicted, it is an emotionally draining process. Because of that, we sometimes see victims report later when they have healed somewhat and feel ready to face this challenge.
Victims may not realize that there are victim advocates to help them, or that they can report immediately and later decide if they want to pursue an investigation. We encourage victims of sexual assault and rape to report as soon as possible in order to collect and preserve evidence so they have the option to come back and pursue it later.
We have reports of sexual assault where the victim is often unsure about pursuing an investigation. Even when a victim decides not to work with police, this isn’t interpreted as a false allegation; it often means they are just not ready at that time.