~by Autumn Miller, Hi-Line’s Help for Abused Spouses
During the long winter months of constant darkness and cold, looking forward to spring is the only sparkle that seems to add warmth to our souls. Trees will soon be waking up from their long period of lifelessness. The first flowers will be shooting up, infusing life into brown rough soil. Spring can be an exciting and beautiful time of year. William Shakespeare once wrote: “April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.” In Montana it’s more like Doug Larson’s “Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush.”
For some, Spring is just another season, April just another month. For some, weather and season changes don’t hold any real luster or cheer. For some, their fearful world is full of torment, abuse and neglect without access to safety or justice.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness month and now, more than ever, we need to recognize the importance of families and communities working together in order to validate survivors and challenge the culture which questions the actions of victims, rather than those of their attackers. These crimes do happen in our rural communities and regrettably, quite frequently. We must work together and do all we can to prevent child abuse and sexual assault from ever happening in the first place.
Unfortunately, society tends to turn a blind eye and/or blame victims. When a survivor of child abuse or sexual assault decides to open up and talk about their traumatic experience(s), the best way to respond is simply to start by believing. The first person they tend to confide in is usually someone they trust, like a friend or family member. A positive, supportive reaction can increase the chances they will report to law enforcement and reach out for help from other sources, as well as enhance the progression of their healing. Sadly, most victims never report the crime to law enforcement, sometimes because of the responses they receive from friends and family members. One failed response can more than likely lead to continued abuse and additional victims. Survivors are often very hesitant to speak out, thinking others won’t believe them, or that they themselves will be blamed for what happened. Knowing how to respond is important because a negative response can worsen the trauma and foster an environment where there are no consequences for the perpetrators. It is important to simply listen, offer support and whatever types of assistance they need; let them take the lead. Let them decide what they want to tell you about the abuse/assault – don’t force them to talk if they aren’t ready. When in doubt, just ask how you can help. Let the survivor know you are there for them, but always let them make the choice to accept your help or not. Refrain from asking the “why” questions. Even with the best of intentions, these can sound accusatory and cause survivors to self-blame. Here are a few suggestions on what you could say:
No one deserves to live in fear. Hi-Line’s Help for Abused Spouses (HLHAS) in Conrad, MT breaks the silence and stops the cycle of violence by helping others improve personal and professional reactions, giving a voice and support to survivors and their families, and offering as many services, resources and referrals we can to survivors. We can also provide a multiple training workshops to promote public awareness and education.
For additional information and resources on Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month, call Hi-Line’s Help for Abused Spouses at 406-278-3372 or check out: https://www.nsvrc.org/saam and https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/preventing/preventionmonth/