Ask Ava

Ask Ava, Episode 84: "Why do people have trouble believing survivors of abuse?"

November 04, 2021 Ask Ava Season 1 Episode 84
Ask Ava
Ask Ava, Episode 84: "Why do people have trouble believing survivors of abuse?"
Show Notes Transcript

Episode 84: "Why do people have trouble believing survivors of abuse?"

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On today’s episode, we’re answering a question from local teens about several reasons why people might not believe survivors of abuse or violence.

This is Jessica Skultety, Community Outreach Associate at Safe+Sound Somerset. We are Somerset County, New Jersey's lead domestic and sexual violence response organization, providing services to survivors at no charge for over 40 years.  

Today's question from local teens is: “Dear Ava, “Why do people have trouble believing survivors of abuse?”

Going hand in hand with last week’s topic, which was the question, “Why is it difficult for survivors to tell their stories of abuse?”, we wanted to talk today about society and its effects on survivors. 

So, why do people have trouble believing survivors of abuse? There are a lot of reasons, unfortunately. First, sometimes it’s easier NOT to believe something horrible. People listening might go straight to denial simply because it’s easier to handle. They might also say something like, “It couldn’t have been that bad,” or “Are you sure that’s what happened?” which are forms of gaslighting, or trying to make the survivor believe that their feelings aren’t real or valid.

People also might be in denial because of their own histories of trauma or abuse, and they simply can’t cope with a loved one’s reports of abuse. Another reason for not believing could be that they know the person who used abuse, and believe that that person “could never hurt someone.”

Victim-blaming is also a huge part of non-believing. This is when people think the victim or survivor did something to deserve the abuse, or that maybe it was even justified. People might say something like, “What were you wearing that night?” or “Why didn’t you leave them if you thought they might get violent?” Abuse and violence are always the responsibility and fault of the partner – NOT the survivor or victim. We aired a whole episode on victim-blaming, if you’d like to learn more about this topic. Look for Episode 59, “What is victim-blaming, and why does it matter?”

Another thing to keep in mind is that, often, the media or news will emphasize events where someone was found to be making up abuse. For example, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center explains that false reporting of rape in America ranges between about 2-10 percent. So, when an important case is found to be false, the media reports about it and may exaggerate it, which then makes people think false reports are extremely common. 

But they’re not. People write fewer new articles when abuse cases are proven to be real, which is the large majority of cases. Again, for this example, between about 90-98% of reported rape cases are real. It’s also important to note that the majority of rape cases are never reported. So, overall, the media and news tend to focus on the false reports, and people think those are happening more than they actually are.

When people don’t believe survivors’ stories, or victim-blame them, it does real harm. It makes it harder for that survivor to get help, and it makes it harder for other survivors to come forward. It also makes it less likely that people will take action to stop abuse. When we believe survivors, we all take steps as a collective society to making abuse unacceptable in all of its forms. We need to hold people who abuse accountable. Teens ask us all the time how they can best help people who experience abuse or assault. One of the most effective ways to help is to BELIEVE someone when they say they are a survivor or a victim!

To speak with an expert about dating violence, call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset 24/7 confidential hotline at 866-685-1122 for supportive listening, information, and safety planning. 

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