How To Support Rape & Incest Survivors In The Wake Of Steve King's Comments

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On Wednesday, Iowa Representative Steve King controversially suggested that civilization might not exist if rape and incest weren't practiced throughout history. If so much as reading his comments makes your blood boil, you may want to know more about how you can better support rape and incest survivors. The list below offers some tips on what you can do to be a strong ally in the wake of these remarks and beyond.

As the Des Moines Register reported, King's comments came as he was discussing why he didn't include exceptions for rape and incest in a piece of anti-abortion legislation he attempted to pass in Congress.

"What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled out anyone who was a product of rape or incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that?" King said to the Westside Conservative Club in Urbandale, Iowa on Wednesday. "Considering all the wars and all the rapes and pillages that happened throughout all these different nations, I know that I can't say that I was not a part of a product of that."

As The Hill reported, King's comments drew immediate condemnation from other legislators, many of whom took to Twitter to slam him for disrespecting survivors of rape and incest — and demand that he resign. If you similarly want to take a stand for survivors in the wake of King's comments, here are some expert-recommended suggestions for showing your support.

Push Back Against Victim Blaming

To support survivors, it's crucial to speak out against victim blaming if you ever encounter it in conversations. "Everyone is responsible to speak up and push back when they hear victim blaming," Terri Poore, MSW, the Policy Director at the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, tells Bustle. "You can say things like 'Hey, that's not cool' or 'I have a lot of compassion for survivors. That must be something very hard to experience.' People shouldn't be saying things that make it worse."

Dr. Elizabeth L. Jeglic, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Psychology at John Jay College, City University of New York, shares similar thoughts with Bustle.

"In the broader sense, we need to understand that being abused is never the survivor’s fault and, thus, our job as a society is not to question them but rather to foster a culture of support and understanding to promote healing," she says. "We should not be tolerant of those that question or disparage those who have been sexually abused and we need to let them know that their comments are not only hurtful but offensive."

Listen & Create A Safe Space

Amy Oestreicher, a sexual abuse survivor and advocate, tells Bustle that "everyone has a place in sexual assault prevention." Oestreicher emphasizes that, as a sexual assault survivor, she knows that survivors often face difficulty verbalizing what happened to them — and also don't know who to tell.

Therefore, if and when a survivor decides they want to tell someone about their assault — and you are the person they choose to tell — it's absolutely crucial that you create a safe space for them. "To help someone overcome their barriers to reporting, create a safe place for that reporting to happen, with an open heart," Oestreicher says. "It took years for me to feel comfortable sharing my own story, but knowing how imperative this was for my own healing process inspires me to help others do the same. The best thing to do is simply LISTEN."

Make It Clear You Believe Survivors

Megan Thomas, the communications specialist at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, tells Bustle it's important that people in your life know that you stand in solidarity with survivors. That's because it's quite likely you know someone who has experienced rape or incest, even if you're not aware of it.

"Chances are, there’s a survivor of sexual assault in your life, even if they haven’t told you, so the way you talk about the issue really matters to them," Thomas says. "One of the most important ways to show your support is to make it clear that you believe survivors. If someone in your life has told you about an experience of sexual assault, let them know that you will support them in whatever way they need."

Donate & Volunteer

Poore, of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, also notes to Bustle that "a great way to support survivors is to donate and volunteer for your local rape crisis center or sexual assault program." She indicates that you can find a local program for which to volunteer via Raliance's (a sexual violence prevention organization) website.

More broadly, if you'd like to donate to organizations that support survivors on a national level, consider checking out this list of 11 different advocacy and service groups.

Educate Yourself

Dr. Jeglic also tells Bustle that, if someone you know is a rape or incest survivor, it can be " ... helpful to educate yourself on some of the impacts of sexual abuse and how it can affects people so you are better able to understand what they are going through."

RAINN's list of the effects of sexual violence offers an overview of some of these impacts and could serve as a good place to start your research.

Be Mindful Of Your Impact

Erinn Robinson, a spokesperson for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), tells Bustle that, if a survivor does decide to confide in you, you may very well be the first person they are telling about their assault. As Robinson says, your reaction to a survivor's disclosure could have a substantial impact on their wellbeing and their future actions, so it's important to be mindful of this.

"The first person a rape victim tells has an enormous influence on what happens later. If you’re supportive, that will likely do a lot to help their healing process, and will make it more likely that they choose to report to police," Robinson says. "If you’re not supportive — or worse, if you say things that make it seem like you think they are to blame — there’s a good chance that you’ll be the last person they tell for a long time."

Robinson adds, "So, be a thoughtful friend or family member — there’s nothing more valuable to someone who has just experienced a major trauma. Remember, they’re not looking for you to solve a problem or analyze what happened, they’re looking for your love and support."

Overall, these represent a few ways you can support survivors of rape and incest, either on a personal level or more broadly. In the wake of King's comments, it's certainly more important than ever to make survivors aware that there are people who have their backs and want to help them in any way they can.

Editor's Note: If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.