For anyone, reporting a sexual assault can be an extremely difficult thing to do. In an effort to end the cycle of silence surrounding sexualized violence, April 5 has been named Start By Believing Day, and both the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre and Halifax police are working to communicate the message.
“A lot of times when people disclose that they’ve been sexually victimized, they’re not believed or they’re blamed,” said Jackie Stevens, executive director of the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in Halifax.
“So this campaign is to try and turn that around.”
The Start By Believing campaign first kicked off in 2012 with a poster campaign. Over the past five years, the movement has expanded.
People are now encouraged to sign a pledge committing to providing a safe, non-judgmental environment where a victim will be listened to and supported. Those who take the pledge are asked to post a selfie using #StartByBelieving to help spread awareness.
Stevens said the organization often hears of people having negative experiences with police when they report sexual assaults.
“A lot of cases are being named unfounded and that a lot of cases that are being reported aren’t necessarily getting through he criminal justice process or resulting in effective responses for victims,” she said.
The campaign says that when victims open up about an assault and are doubted or blamed, they may never tell anyone else.
#StartByBelieving says little words make a big difference for survivors. If someone opens up to you about a sexual assault, the campaign says the best responses are often simple ones, like reassuring victims that what happened isn’t their fault and that you’re there for them.
It’s also important to avoid asking “why” questions, like “why didn’t you call me?” or “why didn’t you say something sooner?” That’s because those types of questions often make the survivor blame themselves. If you aren’t sure what to say or do, #StartByBelieving encourages people to simply ask the victim what they can do to help.
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Recently, police across the country have come under fire for how they handle sexual assault cases.
Stevens said she is happy that Halifax police are involved in the #StartByBelieving campaign and are working to take a lead in the way they respond to victims and survivors of sexual assault.
“It was after the sexual assault and death of Rehtaeh Parsons that Halifax really has gotten mobilized and is no longer staying silent about the historical and systemic forms of violence occurring in our community,” she said.
Halifax Regional Police say the campaign is a chance to help remind officers how important it is to create a positive environment when dealing with cases of sexual violence.
“I think it’s a good reminder how difficult it is for a victim to actually come forward and confide to somebody what happened to them,” said Supt. Jim Perrin.
“From the police perspective, investigations can be very long and very complex. All we can do is create a climate where somebody feels comfortable to come to us, tell us their story and we’ll start by believing.”
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